31 December 2009

Seven Swans A Swimming

Seven Swans A Swimming
This Beautiful Card is Available from Bill Ewart

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Seven Swans A Swimming, And they can go on swimming, because I'm not cooking one even if they are supposed to be very tasty. 

On the seventh day the lover sends seven swans. Swans have been associated with royalty and are often used on royal symbols.. Swans are also found in myths and folk tales dealing with love, so it seems are "true love" is getting even more romantic despite his fixation on avians.   At least he seems to be wealthy.
The Act of Swans, passed by Parliament in 1482, limited ownership of swans to landowners, provided they marked the swans to show ownership and kept them on their lands. If a swan went off the owner's land, the owner had a year and a day to find it and bring it back to his property. Under the act, all swans in open and common waters belong to the crown. While the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act protects all swans and makes it illegal to kill them, the Queen still technically owns all the swans in Great Britain, except for those in the Orkney Islands where the swans belong to the people. However, the Wildlife and Countryside Act applies in the Orkney Islands as well, which limits the rights of the people of the Orkney Islands to watching but not killing or eating their swans.
Until the nineteenth century, roast swan was on the menu for the king's Christmas dinners and other royal banquets. Since the nineteenth century, the turkey or goose has replaced the swan as the bird of choice for fall and winter holiday feasts.  With its close connection to royalty and royal holiday feasting, the choice of seven swans as a gift for this high born lady from her lover is appropriate.

Since I've decided not to bump off the birds, one of them should be named Sylvester since this is his Saints' Day.  According to stories, he was a pretty generous fellow delighting in using his fortune to dispensing charity, good will and food to anyone passing through his city.  As pope he is said to have been responsible for baptising Constantine and bringing to an end the persecution of early Christians.  This then becomes a day to give to charity or assist the lost and lonely.

30 December 2009

For Midnight 12/31

On the other side of the dateline tomorrow is dawning, so they will be getting a head start on this. Whenever your December 31 midnight happens, you will be prepared and won't stand around wondering what to do and why they play that silly song every year.  This is a tradition, so you might as well do it right.

First make arrangements for a darkhaired someone to knock on your door at 12:01 A.M. A custom known as "first footing" dictates that the first person to cross a home's threshold after midnight on New Year's Eve will determine the homeowner's luck for the new year. The ideal visitor bears gifts—preferably whiskey, coal for the fire, small cakes, or a coin. Why dark-haired? The answer hearkens back to the 8th century, when the presumably fair-haired Vikings invaded Scotland: a blond visitor was not a good omen. It is permissable for someone to leave the party before midnight and then reenter at 12:01, but they can't leave and re-enter after midnight has already passed.

Now for the other guests who arrive earlier:

Form a circle with all your guests, friends, and relatives. Cross your hands in front of you and then join hands with the people on each side. This will force you in close shoulder to shoulder as you move in the circle while singing. Full lyrics provided below as well as the translation of Scottish terms so that you will know what you are singing.

Usually in a group, only the first and last verses are sung though the recording above is the full song. Sing out because this is all followed by lots of hugging, kissing, drinking and dancing which is about the best way to say farewell to the old year and welcome to the new after taking the time to remember those now gone or from whom you are separated but love still.  Here are all the original lyrics and a translation from the Scots so that you will know what you are singing.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

And surely you'll be your pint stoup,
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne!


We twa hae ran about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit
Sin' auld lang syne.



We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
Frae morning sun til dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin' auld lang syne.



And there's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine,
And we'll tak a right gude willie waught
For auld lang syne!


Meaning of unusual words:

jo = dear
ye'll...stowp = you'll pay for your pint measure (of drink)
twa = two
braes = hills or hillsides
pou'd = pulled or plucked
gowans = daises
mony = many
fitt = foot or step
paidl'd = paddled or waded
burn = brook or stream
dine = dinner time or noon
braid = broad
fiere = friend
gie's = give us
guid willie-waught = goodwill drink
Here is the "translation" into modern English. There is no doubt that Burns did it better!

Days Long Ago

Should old acquaintances be forgotten
And never be remembered?
Should old acquaintances be forgotten
and days long ago?


For days long ago, my dear,
For days long ago
We'll drink a cup of kindness yet
For days long ago!

And surely you'll have your pint tankard
And surely I'll have mine.
And we'll drink a cup of kindness yet
For days long ago.


We two have run about the hills
And pulled the daisies fine
But we've wandered many a weary mile
Since the days long ago.


We two have paddled in the stream
From morning sun till dinner-time
But the broad seas have roared between us
Since the days long ago.


And here's my hand, my trusty friend,
And give me your hand too,
And we will take an excellent good-will drink
For the days of long ago.

Six Geese A Laying

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me .... you've got it:  More danged birds with the
Six Geese a-laying.  This is shaping up to be quite a flock:  Partridge, Turtle Dove, French Hen, Blackbird, Pheasant, and now Goose.

Geese were among the first birds to be domesticated. Our Neolithic ancestors discovered that, rather than spending days searching for animals to kill or nests to rob, it was easier to capture them live and keep them penned by the cave. The heard or flock could be increased by having them mate. The food supply became more regular as one could just go outside and slaughter a bird or other animal in the pen for meat or collect eggs from the fowl nesting in the enclosure. Since geese were a common barnyard fowl in England it is natural that geese were included in the carol. Also, over time, goose became a traditional Christmas meal.

To this day, a roast goose is still a Christmas tradition in Britain. 

29 December 2009

Five Golden Rings

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Five Golden Rings.  Again, the true love is popping up with more food.  Unlike the four collie birds in the previous stanza who just had their name changed to a non-existent bird, the five rings in this stanza changed from five ring-necked pheasants to five pieces of jewelry. While gold rings for one's fingers have been around since ancient times, the word ring, even today, has different meanings. It is not unusual to discover that people in the 1500's used the shortened term ring to describe a ring-necked pheasant as well as jewelry for their fingers.

Pheasants have long been a popular game bird and pheasant hunting has long been a popular sport in Europe
Pheasants were a prized bird as they were both tasty and, more importantly, had long been associated with the nobility.  So the five golden rings in this stanza refer to five ring-necked pheasants, a dish that was sure to be served at some of the king or queen's Twelfth Night feasts during the Twelve Days of Christmas celebrations.

In the liturgical calendar, the fifth day of Christmas is dedicated to St. Thomas Becket, who if the stories are all true wasn't much of a saint in his younger years though he did end up as "this troublesome priest" and martyred.  Not to mention the story being turned into a great movie, "Becket" starring Richard Burton as Becket and Peter O'Toole as King Henry II.

28 December 2009

Four Collie Birds

"On the Fourth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four colly birds."  Yes you really have been singing it wrong all these years.  The original English version translated from the French is "Four Colly Birds".  So what in the world are "Colly" birds.  The word has the same source as "colliery" as in a mine for coal, and as with the coal, a colly bird is simply a black bird.  Four black birds is another gift of food as in the childhood rhyme of "Sing A Song of Sixpence".  Should you ever take it into your head to duplicate this feat, here is the recipe:

Black Bird Pie


•10 inch pie crust
•3 cups All Purpose Flour
•1 teaspoon salt
•3/4 cup unsalted butter
•6 tablespoons shortening or lard
•6 to 8 tablespoons ice water
•1 large egg


•2 slices bacon
•1 large onion chopped
•1 cup fresh mushrooms
•2 tablespoons butter
•Vegetable oil
•All Purpose Flour
•4 lbs bird meat of your choice or poultry (left over Thanksgiving turkey)
•1 cup chicken broth
•2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
•1/3 cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
•1/2 cup white cooking wine
•1/6 teaspoon ground mace
•1 pinch ground cloves
•1 sachet garni
•Salt pepper and garlic to taste

•1 ½ cups Gravy Mix


2.Mix flour and salt. Cut in butter and lard with pastry blender until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Sprinkle the cold water over flour mixture and quickly mix in, using a fork. Gather dough into a ball, wrap in wax paper and chill for 30 minutes.

3.1. In a 6-quart dutch oven, saute the bacon over medium heat until almost crisp. Remove bacon and place on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Add onions and saute until golden brown. Add the mushrooms and saute a couple of minutes, being careful not to soften the mushrooms. Remove onions and mushrooms from pan and reserve. Add 2 tablespoons butter to pot.

4.2. Put some flour seasoned with salt and pepper into a mixing bowl and dredge the bird pieces in flour. Brown the bird pieces in the pot of bacon fat and butter. Add more fat if needed. Remove bird from pot when browned. Add 1/3 cup chicken broth and scrape pot to blend browned bits. Return birds to pot plus mushrooms, onions and crumbled bacon. Top with carrots, potatoes, sachet garni, cooking wine, parsley, and remaining chicken broth. Stir in mace, cloves , salt, pepper, and garlic. Cover and bring to a boil, than reduce heat and simmer gently until the birds are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the bird and vegetable mixture from dutch oven with slotted spoon, leave sachet. Cool in refrigerator.

5.3. Prepare pie crust.

6.4. Mix gravy according to recipe on package.

7.5. Place bottom crust in baking dish.

8.6. Remove the bird and vegetable mixture from refrigerator, place onto pie pan. Pour gravy over the mixture. The gravy should come almost half way up the pan. If gravy does not cover high enough, add chicken broth or add heavy cream, but do not water down the gravy.

9.7. Cover with the top crust. Place a hole in the center of the crust for a steam vent. Brush the crust with an egg wash.

10.8. Place in a preheated 400 degree oven for 60 minutes. The crust should be browned and the pie should be bubbling hot.

11.9. Remove and allow to cool.

27 December 2009

On The Third Day of Christmas

On the Third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Three French Hens.  At the time the carol was written to enumerate the twelve days of celebration from Christmas to Epiphany.  In the liturgical calendar, this was the Feast of the Holy Family with the readings dedicated to "Honor thy father and mother".  On a private scale, this was a day devoted to family and food and the feasting included these three domesticated chickens:  Crevecoeur, Houdans and the La Fleche.

The Crevecoeur

Crevecoeurs are a beautiful, black crested breed from France that is widely thought to have developed from the Polish breed. They were developed for meat and egg production but aren't great on either and are today kept purely for ornament and show. Crevecoeurs are critically endangered but can be purchased at a few of the major hatcheries.

HOUDAN - Introduced into England in 1850 from France, it takes its name from the town of Houdan and has been developed for table qualities. It is a heavy breed and is one of the few breeds carrying a fifth toe. Other distinctive features are the crest, leaf-shaped comb, muffling and beard and there is but one colour standardized. This is mottled which is black with pure white mottles, evenly distributed.

La Fleche Chickens have been bred for many years in the Valley of La Sarthe, where the town of La Fleche is located. The La Fleche Chickens originated from crossing of Black Spanish, Crevecoeur, and DuMan blood lines as evident by its high carriage, activity, large white lobes, V-shaped comb and the trace of crest on its head, which crops out on specimens of the French breeds.

26 December 2009

Everything You Needed to Know About Boxing Day

This week's Take This Tune will be longer than most because December the 25 starts off with a whole lot of feasting, partying, and dancing and just doesn't end for another 12 days.  So party on folks.

Hope everyone's holidays are going well and that the gift giver of choice was both kind and generous.  Now for the day after traditions before heading into the new year:

The Second Day of Christmas - December 26th
The Feast of St. Stephen

This day is holiday in many countries. There are various explanations of how it became a tradition, but they all boil down to the idea that this is a day to be generous to those who are less fortunate than yourself. The day celebrates the first person to give his life for the sake of Christ, St. Stephen, who was also one of the first deacons ordained to serve the poor.

Another saint who is closely associated with this day is St. Wenceslas of Bohemia whose charity to the poor is remembered in John Mason Neale's wonderful carol. Try to take time today to perform an act of charity. If you make end-of-the-year gifts to charities, write the checks today. Remembering St. Stephen and good King Winceslaus make this a good way to recover from the excesses of the sometimes too commercial a season that Christmas has become.,

25 December 2009

20 December 2009

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

This week's "Take This Tune" is Emmanuel, the beautiful Advent chant:  "O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  It immediately reminded me of a wonderful book read many, many years ago:  "In This House of Brede" by Rumer Godden which was later made into a movie starring a couple of truly great Dames, Judi Dench and Diana Rigg.  The Constant Librarian reviews the book as follows:
The main character is Phillipa Talbot, a 40-ish successful career woman who enters an English Benedictine monestary. Author Rumer Godden skillfully weaves several plot lines that tell Phillipa's story as well as the stories of many of the other nuns. Sister Cecily the musician, learned Dame Agnes who becomes Phillipa's bete noir, tragic, silly exaggerated Dame Veronica, a victim of the rigid British caste system, and Dame Catherine who is elected Abbess. The writing is so beautiful--there is one description of the seasons of the year that never fails to move me no matter how often I read the book.
As the author takes you through the life of one woman in a very confined setting, the outside world becomes clearer as bits and pieces of it enter with each new novice. The absolute power present in a life given over to an ideal becomes a decision that we all must make at some point. What do you believe, who do you love, what will you do with the years granted?

In looking to write this, I found two pieces of interest. A modern description of a retreat taken at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Benedictine Monastery in Westfield, Vermont, "A Day Within The Walls" and on You Tube another beautiful chant by the nuns of St. Cecilia Abbey..

18 December 2009

The Ending of A Song

The ending begins tomorrow night with the Waters of Mars.  There will be three more episodes and then David Tennant will cease to be Doctor Who with "The End of Time", Parts I & II.  In my extended involvement with the Doctor, I have been through many transitions since the 1960s, but Tenant created the best Doctor ever.  I will miss him.  In fairness to this creation of one timelord in one rather odd mode of transportation, I have promised two things:  I won't read any of the spoilers and I will give the next incarnation a chance to become a great doctor. 

Still there will be mourning and I fully expect more than a few tears to be shed, not to mention the gnashing of teeth and screams of outrage over the loss.  When you give a great actor a great role, then wonderful things happen.  David Tennant is a marvelous actor and Doctor Who may be one of the iconic characters of all time.  One of these days, I may have the opportunity to see Mr. Tennant play Hamlet as he has done in Great Britain.  Until then, thank you for this Doctor Who.  Oh how you ran!!

17 December 2009

Jennifer Jones 1919 - 2009 RIP

Jennifer Jones was always a favorite. We shared a March 2 birthday and she starred in one of my favorite movies which begins below. If you have never seen Portrait of Jeannie, it is one that is worth the effort to find.












CARRIE (1952)










THE IDOL (1966)



14 December 2009

Light One Candle

For this week's Take This Tune the song was Peter, Paul and Mary's "Light One Candle" for Chanukah.  Mary over at Work of the Poet, contributed Adam Sandler's Chanukah Song for her participation.  This was too much fun not to spread around and in the process, I discovered that there are two more editions.  So here you have all three variations with lots and lots of famous people celebrating The Feast of Lights.

If you would like to join in on the fun, just hop on over to Take This Tune and sign in then let us know where the song takes you.  You might also want to whip up some of the doughnuts down below.

12 December 2009

A "Stolen" Stollen

This recipe came from a little card a baker left laying around about five decades ago.  Somehow that little card ended up in my first recipe box ... Oops


3/4 c.  Candied cherries
1/2 c. Sultana Raisins
1/4 c. Currants
1/4 c. Candied citrus peel
1/4 c. Brandy (or water if you must)
1 tbsp. finely shredded orange peel
2 tsp. finely shredded lemon peel
1/2 c. toasted slivered almonds
1/4 c. powdered sugar
4 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 pkg. dry active yeast
1 c. milk
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs

In a medium bowl combine cherries, raisins, currants, citrus peel and brandy (or water). Set aside. In a large mixer bowl combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour and yeast.

Heat milk, butter, brown sugar and salt over low heat, stirring constantly until warm (120-130 degrees). Add dry ingredients along with eggs and shredded fruit peels. Beat on low speed with electric mixer for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl. Stir in fruit mixture, almonds and enough flour to make soft dough.
On a lightly floured surface knead in enough of the remaining dough to make a soft dough that is smooth and elastic (5-6 minutes). Shape into a ball. Place dough in a greased bowl, turning once. Cover and let rise until doubled in mass (about 1 hour).

Punch dough down. Divide in half. Cover and let rise for 10 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface roll each half to a 10 x 8 inch oval. Fold lengthwise in half so that the top half overlaps to within 1/2 inch of the bottom half. Press folded edge firmly. Place on greased baking sheet. Cover, let rise until double (about 45 minutes). Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool. Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar. Makes 2 loaves.

11 December 2009

First Night

Every year between the end of November and the end of December, Jewish people around the world celebrate Chanukah, the Festival of Lights to commemorate that took place more than 2000 years ago in the land of Judea, which is now Israel.  This year the beginning of the eight day festival starts at sundown on December 11.


The Syrian king, Antiochus ordered the Jewish people to reject their religion and worship the Greek gods. One who refused was Judah Maccabee.  Judah and his four brothers formed an army and after three years of fighting, the Maccabees drove the Syrians out of Israel and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem. The Maccabees wanted to clean the building to remove the Greek statues. On the 25th day of the month of Kislev, the job was finished and the temple was rededicated.

When they finished cleaning the temple, they wanted to light the eternal light, but there was only a tiny jug of oil enough for one day. The oil lamp was filled and lit. Then a miracle occurred as the tiny amount of oil stayed lit not for one day, but for eight days.  Jews celebrate Chanukah to mark the victory over the Syrians and the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. The Festival of the Lights, Chanukah, lasts for eight days to commemorate the miracle of the oil.

Chanukah has many fun traditions and recipes.  Jewish children often play the Dreidel game for gold foil wrapped pieces of chocolate called gelt.  Last year, I gave you the recipe for Latkes.  This year artery clogging comes in the form of Sufganiyot (jam filled doughnuts)


1 scant tablespoon (1 package) dry yeast
4 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup lukewarm milk or warm water*
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter or pareve margarine, softened*
Apricot or strawberry preserves
Vegetable oil for deep-frying

*Use butter and milk if serving at a milk meal, and water and pareve margarine for a meat meal


Mix together the yeast, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and the milk. Let sit to make sure it bubbles.

Sift the flour and mix it with the remaining sugar, salt, cinnamon, egg yolks, and the yeast mixture.

Knead the dough until it forms a ball. Add the butter or margarine. Knead some more, until the butter is well absorbed. Cover with a towel and let rise overnight in the refrigerator.

Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch.

Cut out the dough into 24 rounds with a juice glass, or any object about 2 inches in diameter. Take 1/2 teaspoon of preserves and place in center of 12 rounds. Top with the other 12. Press down at edges, sealing with egg whites. Crimping with the thumb and second finger is best. Let rise for about 30 minutes.
Heat 2 inches of oil to about 375°. Drop the doughnuts into the hot oil, about 5 at a time. Turn to brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
Roll the doughnuts in sugar.

09 December 2009

Garlic Butter Cookies

Life is still getting away from me in a mad scramble, but still try to make rounds when I can.  Today I had reason to look up the Gilroy Garlic festival and found this winning recipe for a cookie/savory that sounds spectacular if you like flavors that bite back.

Andrew Barth of Winnetka, CA won this category of the 2009 Gilroy Garlic Festival. Since I love both garlic and feta, the recipe immediately went in to the box to try soon.

How to make Spicy Garlic Butter Cookies with Garlic Goat Cheese and Honey:

Makes 20-25 cookies



1 cup all-purpose flour (unbleached preferred)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 stick plus 3 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
5 cloves roasted garlic


3 ounces goat cheese, softened
3 cloves roasted garlic
Hungarian paprika

Method of Preparation:

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne pepper in a small bowl.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the cloves of roasted garlic and beat for another minute or until cloves are incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture. Mix until just combined. Form dough into an 8″ to 10″ log (approximately 2″ diameter) and wrap it in plastic wrap. Chill dough until firm.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut log into 1/8″ to 1/4" slices and fill ungreased large baking sheet(s), arranging slices about 1″ apart.

Bake cookies until the edges are golden, approximately 12 minutes. When pulled from heat, immediately indent center of each cookie with the back of a spoon. Cool on the sheets then transfer to wire racks to completely cool.

Meanwhile, combine softened goat cheese and 3 cloves of roasted garlic in a small bowl, combining well.

Once cookies have cooled completely, add a good-sized dollop of garlic goat cheese mixture in the center of each cookie. Drizzle some honey over each, add a dash of Hungarian paprika and serve.

06 December 2009

Children Go Where I Send Thee

This week's song on Take This Tune took me off on a major tangent because as a child I was often "SENT" on a round of relatives.  One of the alternate living locations was frequently Fresno.  On the surface Fresno may look like a rather dusty backwater in the center of California, but due to a series of events it is a culinary multicultural banquet and an active training ground for dance, music, and theater for young people who then go off to pursue their talents in larger cities but with a solid resume.  Fresno may have lacked a feeling of security and home, but it more than made up for it in a multiplicity of experiences of people and art.

Audra McDonald is the one everyone points to simply because she was remarkable from the beginning.  Born in Berlin, Germany and raised in Fresno, California, she began to study acting at a young age.  McDonald graduated from the Roosevelt School of the Arts program within Theodore Roosevelt High School in Fresno.   She got her start in acting with Dan Pessano and Good Company Players, beginning in their Junior Company.  That was good training, as it prepared her for Julliard graduating in 1993.  Within five years of entering on her professional career, she became a three-time Tony Award winner by the age of 28.

I returned to Fresno as an adult and had the privilege of being on the board of The Lively Arts Foundation which sponsored many of the amateur and professional dance productions in town.  In addition, I frequently went to the Good Company Player productions for dinner theater and amateur and semi professional productions or to the Saroyan Theater for road show companies from Broadway, name music entertainers and the symphony.  One night about two decades ago, I had the pleasure of standing in line with Ms. McDonald's aunt and mother just casually chatting about this young woman who had brought them so much pride in her accomplishments.

In addition to her several Broadway roles, she has entered on an extensive concert schedule. So just to bring this back full circle to the music of the season, here she is singing "Go Tell It On The Mountain".

04 December 2009

New Take This Tune Prompt

The Newest Take This Tune prompt is up.
I hope you will all join in.
Click link for video and lyrics

01 December 2009


My nose is on strike and I can't type and blow at the same time.