In 2018, the Mid-Autumn festival in China falls from September 24-26. One of the most traditional treats for Mid-Autumn festival is the mooncake, made of a glutinous rice flour skin filled with lotus paste and sometimes an egg yolk (to represent the moon). Though mooncakes may be the best-known Mid-Autumn festival food, we were looking for something a little different. That’s where Osmanthus comes in – a flowering blossom that is in season at this time of year. According to mythology, the Osmanthus tree grew on the moon. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, Osmanthus can be found in everything from Osmanthus tea (steeped with black or green tea leaves), to Osmanthus jelly, to Osmanthus Wine. Osmanthus has a unique flavor, and though it is related to the cinnamon tree, it also has fruity apricot notes. For a double whammy, you can even make Osmanthus-flavored mooncakes!
Category Archives: Holidays
In honor of Bastille Day, we are going to highlight a taste of France right here in Chicago: St. Roger Abbey. St. Roger Abbey is a French religious order of Friars and Nuns with a worldwide presence, but an American base in Chicago. We first learned of St. Roger Abbey when we came across the nuns selling macarons at Christkindlmarkt one year. The order has a wide variety of authentic, organic French pastries including palmiers, madeleines, Breton cakes and croissants that they sell to raise funds for their charitable work. They even have a cafe in Wilmette (1101 Central Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091) and an online store where you can support their mission. Sounds like a good reason to buy some croissants!
Sorry for the long absence… I meant to post this at the beginning of Ramadan, which was May 15. So, clearly this post is a bit late, but fortunately I managed to write this post before the end of Ramadan, this upcoming Thursday, June 14. One of the most important parts of Ramadan is the nightly Iftar, or breaking of the day’s fast after sunset. We of course have an eye to the sweet, so we decided to share one of our favorite Ramadan desserts, which is enjoyed throughout the former territories of the Ottoman Empire, Tulumba. Tulumba is a fried, extruded churro-like pastry dipped in a sugar syrup. We thought immediately of Indian jalebi when we first had them. A sweet tooth is definitely required for this recipe! You can find Tulumba throughout North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, under a variety of names (it is known in Iran as Zoolbia/Zolobiyah Bamieh, in Egypt as balah ash-sham and in the Middle East as asabe Zainab), though it may be most associated with Turkey. Given the geographical range of Tulumba, you can be sure to find regional variations from country to country. The Spruce has a recipe from Turkey (seen below), and here are other versions from Greece, Egypt, Iran, and the Middle East.
Dyngus Day, celebrated every year on Easter Monday, is something of a city-wide holiday in Cleveland. Dyngus Day (from the Polish Śmigus-dyngus) is celebrated in the US by Polish-American communities, which makes sense that is it especially popular in a city that is as proud of its Eastern European roots as Cleveland. There is a whole slate of festivities in Cleveland, including a Dyngus Day parade, the crowning of Miss Dyngus and Polish restaurant specials and music throughout the city. The festivities are centered in Gordon Square neighborhood, but a trolley will also take you to satellite Dyngus Day locations in Tremont and Ohio City. We partook in Dyngus Day celebrations last year at both The South Side (seen below – 2207 W 11th St, Cleveland, OH 44113), and Prosperity Social Club (1109 Starkweather Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113)– the Tyskie was flowing and we enjoyed plates of pierogis, potato pancakes, kielbasa, sauerkraut and stuffed cabbage.
Of course, a key aspect of Dyngus Day is the polka music, for which Cleveland is particularly known, Cleveland.com even made a Dyngus Day mix of Cleveland-style polkas. You can combine food and music at most venues, and restaurants were getting pretty creative – The South Side even had polka bingo! or if you have a sweet tooth stop in at Brewnuts (6501 Detroit Rd, Cleveland, OH 44102) for a special Dyngus paczki, or Dyngus Day Specials at Mitchell’s (1867 W 25th St, Cleveland, OH 44113). If you want a really old-school experience with your pierogi, polka and beer, check out the Polish Veterans Alliance ( seen below – 2234 Professor Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113) and the Polish League of American Veterans (2442 Professor Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113) and Tremont. Happy Dyngus Day!
For a long while we thought that giant chocolate Easter eggs wrapped in bright metallic paper were a Brazilian thing, since that was where we saw them first. Turns out that large, hollow chocolate eggs filled with candy or other treats were an Italian thing all along, likely brought to Brazil by Italian immigrants. In Italy, it turns out the art of the chocolate egg has reached a completely new level, with gigantic, ornate varieties. You can get an astonishing variety of chocolate Easter eggs in Italy, as seen below, from cheap store brands to decadent (and expensive), specialty eggs. Your local Italian grocery store may have a few to choose from, though you won’t find the selection you would in Italy (or online).
Another sweet treat you may find on Italian Easter tables is the Marzipan Lamb or Pecorelle di pasta reale! Fanciful, shaped marzipan is a mainstay for Italian holidays, such a frutta martorana for All Saints’ Day, so it is only appropriate that we find a special Easter-appropriate lamb for this holiday. If you have the almond paste (which you can usually buy ready-made) it is not terribly difficult to make a Marzipan lamb, and you can find them in many Italian bakeries around Easter, though this also has us hankering for the decidedly more American lamb cake! If you are looking for more Italian Easter treats, be sure to try the colomba cake or pastiera.
March 21st this year is Nowruz, also known as Persian New Year. This festival, whose name means “new day” in Farsi, is tied to the Zoroastrian religion, and is not only celebrated in Iran, but in other parts of central Asia and the Balkans. The holiday represents the arrival of spring, and the Nowruz table is typically filled with festive foods including seven symbolic items, the Haft-Seen. One of the the items that is a must for the Haft-Seen on a Nowruz table is green sprouts known as Sabzeh, and you can even grow your own. Many of the other dishes served on Nowruz are green with fresh herbs, appropriate for green’s springtime connotations. There are several Persian dishes that are emblematic of the holiday including Sabzi polow ba mahi, a heavily herbed green rice topped with fish and Kookoo/Kuku Sabzi, an egg omelette filled with herbs. The LA Times documents a family’s homecooked feast with recipes for Rice with herbs, pan-fried white fish and smoked white fish (sabzi polow ba mahi), Fresh herb kuku (kuku-ye-sabzi), Rice with toasted noodles (reshteh polow) served with lamb. You can find more Nowruz recipes at Whats 4 Eats, Fig and Quince and My Persian Kitchen.
We are heading to New Orleans for two of our favorite only-in-New-Orleans events, St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) and the Sunday closest to it, known as “Super Sunday” (which we can assure you has nothing to do with the Super Bowl). Super Sunday is the day when Mardi Gras Indians parade their finery through the streets, and St. Joseph’s Day is a holiday with origins in Sicily that celebrates the miracle of St. Joseph saving the island from famine (see our previous coverage here). And oddly enough, these two days are related, and Mardi Gras Indians also march on St. Joseph’s night.
Though other areas in the US obviously have Sicilian-American populations, the tradition of the St. Joseph’s Day altar is observed with fervor in New Orleans, owing to its particularly concentrated Sicilian population. St. Joseph’s Day is observed in New Orleans to a much larger degree than it is elsewhere, even Sicily. Every Catholic church and high school in greater New Orleans seems to have an elaborate St. Joseph’s Day altar, and they can range from modest altars in homes to unthinkably huge, sometimes taking up the entire Church community center. The altars, contributed to by parishioners and the community, traditionally have three tiers and are decked out with statues, flowers, photos, candles and food. All of the photos in this post are from altars we visited in 2016.
Typical St. Joseph’s Day altars are decked out with tons of food, including citrus, fanciful breads in shapes representing Joseph’s trade as a carpenter (or even fish or figures), whole fish, dozens of varieties of cookies, fava beans, and more (You may even see a lamb cake or two). And if you visit a church on St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans you will probably be treated to a bowl of Pasta Milanese or other meatless favorites. Pasta Milanese is similar to pasta con sarde, but with tomatoes, and of course you have to top it with breadcrumbs, representing the Joseph’s carpentry sawdust – check out this recipe from Sicilian Girl.
Our favorite St. Joseph’s Day food is probably the fig-filled cuccidati cookie, which are also traditionally made at Christmas. We bought a cookbook on St. Joseph’s Day at one of the churches we visited a few years ago, which now provides us with our go-to cuccidati recipe. The St. Joseph’s Day altars are cookie heaven, and volunteers spend weeks making literally tens of thousands of cookies for some of the larger altars. We also like to seek out some of the unique foods that are probably unseen outside of a single parish, like the amazing, giant, fleur-de-lis crawfish-shaped “Craw-fig” cookie below, that we spotted on an altar in Metairie.
At the end of St. Joseph’s Day, the altar is symbolically broken in the “Tupa tupa” ceremony and the food and donations are distributed to charity. You will probably also get handed a fava bean for luck, and a bag of cookies to take home. And if you manage to steal a lemon from the altar it means you will get married (or have a baby) by the next St. Joseph’s Day. We love to go around New Orleans and the surrounding area on St. Joseph’s Day and visit all of the altars, since no two are alike. For 2018 we found a few guides (Italian American Center, ABC) to all of the St. Joseph’s Day churches in the area.
It’s always intriguing to find out about celebrities’ secret recipes. Well of course they probably eat (or ate) like we do, but it is sort of charming to think of them actually cooking for themselves or friends. Such is the case with Katherine Hepburn, who apparently made a mean batch of brownies. This recipe was published first by the New York Times after her death in 2003, and purportedly makes a delightful, fudgy brownie. Looking at the recipe, it seems like this chocolaty dessert might be perfect for Valentine’s Day. And if you are looking for a perfect Valentine’s movie pairing, I also recommend one of my favorite Hepburn romantic comedies (which also just happens to star Cary Grant) 1938’s Holiday (seen above).
Cleveland has a huge amount of Slovenian culture and Slovenian descendants, so it it perhaps not surprising that Cleveland is home to a local celebration of Slovenian Mardi Gras – Kurentovanje. The emblem of Kurentovanje are the Kurents, big fuzzy beasts who romp through town during Mardi Gras (called Pust in Slovenia), ringing bells loudly. The Kurents are rumored to have the power to chase away winter with their ruckus. For Slovenian Mardi Gras, a traditional food is Krofi – or doughnuts. Doughnuts are a popular choice for Mardi Gras celebrations around the world, since they would use up some of the ingredients that would then be forbidden in Lent: sugar, butter, and oil! Slovenian krofi are simple to make, and mirror the other Mardi Gras fried sweet fritters found worldwide like Paczki, Malasadas, Semla and Chiacchiere. Here are recipes from homemade krofi from E-Slovenie and Homemade Slovenian food. Though krofi looks delicious, we are more intrigued by the Kurents!
Though it has faded from memory a bit – 12th Night – occurring on January 5th and 6th was once a major holiday celebration in the UK. It marked the end of the holiday season, and the Epiphany, which in Christian tradition is the day when the three wise men arrived to see the newborn Jesus and bestow gifts upon him. Occurring 12 days after Christmas, Twelfth Night was one last night of feasting and merriment before the Christmas season was officially over.
One of the key treats of 12th Night is Wassail, a warm alcoholic punch with fortified wine, apples and warm holiday spices. Some recipes even include eggs, in the manner of eggnog. Wassailing also refers to the tradition of roving door to door and singing carols, including of course “Here we come A-Wassailing.” You can find a variety of recipes at Lavender and Lovage, Nourished Kitchen, or a more modern take at LA Weekly.
A Twelfth Cake is also a traditional food of the holiday – it is a basically a fruitcake with a dried in it – much like the trinket found in a Rosca des Reyes or Galette des Rois. The person who found the bean was then the king or queen for the day. Though the shape and form of the cake is not as codified as in some other cultures, 12th night cakes were increasingly elaborate by the end of the 19th century. Here are some historical 12th Night Cake recipes from the 1800s and an updated version from English Heritage.
Over the years we have discovered that one of the most universally beloved foods is the fried dough ball. In the Netherlands, fried dough balls are a traditional New Year’s food called Oliebollen (which translates to “oil balls” – the singular is oliebol). They have been variously known in the US as “Dutch doughnuts” and are called smoutebollen and croustillons in Belgium. Oliebollen have a long history in the Netherlands and were part of Germanic Yule celebrations, and the first written recipes date from the 1660s. The painting below, “Meid met oliebollen,” by Aelbert Cuyp is from 1652.
The legend behind Oliebollen is actually more morbid than I was expecting. According to Paste Magazine:
Eating oliebollen was considered a surefire way to ward off the whims of a cruel pagan goddess named Perchta. Her Teutonic name meant bright or glorious, but she was not always friendly. During the 12 Days of Christmas the goddess was said to fly around with evil spirits looking for something to eat. In her quest she might even use her sword to slice open the stomachs of those who’d already eaten to get at their food. Tradition said that eating oliebollen protected you because the fat absorbed from the cooking oil made Perchta’s sword slide off of her victims.
Oliebollen doesn’t stick to its fearsome origins anymore, and is mostly sold on the streets, accompanied by fireworks! There are tons of recipes for Oliebollen online including The Dutch Baker’s Daughter, Allrecipes and The Dutch Table.
Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas! Having a roast pig for Christmas Eve/Christmas – lechón – is a major tradition in Puerto Rico and Cuba, and it is one of our favorites. Consequently there are many songs that extoll the virtues of the humble pig. In honor of the lechón-filled holiday, here’s one of our favorite Christmas lechón songs: “La Fiesta de Pilito” by Puerto Rico’s stalwart musical group. El Gran Combo.
Here are the most important lyrics:
A comer pasteles y a comer lechón
Arroz con guandules y a beber ron
Que venga morcilla, venga de todo
To eat tamales and eat roast pork
Rice with pigeon peas and drink rum
Let blood sausage arrive, let everything arrive
We hope you are having a delicious holiday – maybe with some lechón!
Today is St. Lucia’s Day, a day I have always associated with Scandinavia, though St. Lucia’s Day is also a big deal in parts of Italy. She is particularly venerated in Sicily, where she is the patron saint of Siracusa. One of the typical dishes you would eat for the Feast of Santa Lucia, and throughout the Christmas season, in Italy is Cuccìa. Cuccìa is a dish made of boiled wheatberries and sugar, and can have a variety of other add-ins including almonds ricotta, candied fruit, chocolate, or even chickpeas. I am not a major fan of porridges, but I have never tried wheat berries in this context, so I think I am willing to give it a try! According to tradition, no wheat is eaten on St. Lucia’s Day except for the Cuccìa. You can find a variety for sweet or (more rarely) savory Cuccìas, but feel free to improvise your own. Here are some versions from Slow Food, Mama Lisa and Serious Eats (pictured below). Don’t forget the accent on the I when you are searching though, without the accent, the word “cuccia” means “dog’s bed!”
Happy first day of Hanukkah – now it’s time for the treats! We wrote a little bit about the classic Sephardic Jewish dessert fritters, Buñuelos, in the past. However, we underestimated just how popular these little fried dough treats from Spain were. Though they are symbolic Hanukkah dish, and the frying of the dough represents the oil that burned for 8 nights, Buñuelos are also enjoyed as a Christmas treat. Buñuelos, (aka Bimuelos, Burmuelos, among other names) were initially created by Spanish moriscos centuries ago, but have since spread in popularity across Latin America.
Just how many Buñuelos varieties are there out there? It’s hard to say, but here we have tried to compile just a few variations on the humble Buñuelo:
- Sephardic Buñuelos with honey – a classic Jewish recipe
- Colombian Buñuelos, Venezuelan Buñuelos, and Nicaraguan Buñuelos – These are made from yuca flour and filled with cheese
- Mexican Buñuelos – These tend to have more of a flattened shape and are sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon
- Cuban Buñuelos – Perhaps the most different, these are anise-flavored and are shaped into a figure eight
Can you believe that it is already December 1st? I know I can’t. Today the first of our holiday decorations went up, and I am scheming about which holiday recipes to make first (maybe something with gingerbread?) In conducting a search for holiday recipes, I came across a Christmas classic from the Philippines: Bibingka. Bibingka is a coconut cake made with rice flour and topped with coconut, duck eggs and even cheese. In the Philippines, you will see bibingka sellers peddling these cakes on the street around the holiday season. The traditional way to make bibingka is in a terracotta pot lined with banana leaves, cooked over open coals. However, bibingka has now adapted to the contemporary kitchen, and you can make it in a conventional oven. The following bibingka recipes vary a bit, but the rice flour is a must: Kawaling Pinoy Recipe, Panlasang Pinoy Recipe, New York Times Recipe, Zestuous Recipe. Asian in America Mag has a version of mini bibingka that are cooked in muffin tins with banana leaf “liners.”
Hope everyone in the US has a lovely and delicious Thanksgiving! We are looking forward to some turkey and mashed potatoes – and cherry pie!
There is a theme with some Day of the Dead treats to be a bit literal – and usually that involves some form of bones! Pan de muerto is demarcated with a crisscross of bones on the top and ossi dei morti literally look like white, powdery bones! Spanish “saints bones” (huesos de santo) follow this trend, and are a bone-like, tubular marzipan with an egg yolk filling (sometimes squash). Maybe that filling is supposed to resemble bone marrow (cool! gross!)? Spain Recipes, Blue Jellybeans and The Spruce have recipes to DIY your own saints’ bones. These cookies originate from Madrid and have a history that stretches all the way back to the 17th century! Along with panellets and buñuelos, you’ll find these typical treats in many Spanish bakeries.
From Spain Recipes: Some accounts attribute their origin to 17th century Madrid, a theory that’s supported by their mention in Francisco Martínez Montiño’s cookbook, Arte de Cozina, Pastelería, Vizcochería y Conservería (The Art of Cooking, Pastries, Cakes and Preserves). Written in 1611, the book states that these sweets were “made to commemorate all the Saints and all the dead at the beginning of November”.
Candy corn is one of the most divisive candies on Halloween – one ETW member thinks it was one of the worst candies you could get trick or treating (better than raisins but worse than Tootsie Rolls), while the other member just willingly bought a bag of candy corn to consume by themselves. Whether or not you are pro candy corn or not, it seems like it has been a part of Halloween forever. According to the National Confectioners Association, more than 35 million pounds (or 9 billion pieces) of candy corn will be produced this year. And candy corn HAS been around a long time – it originated in the US sometime in the 1880s, but was first commercially produced by Wunderle company, and production of candy corn was taken up by the Goelitz Candy Company by 1898 (the ancestor of the current Jelly Belly Company). It was originally called “chicken feed,” which appealed to the agrarian sensibilities of America at the time. Candy corn has been popular ever since! Though now automated, the process of making candy corn was originally very time-consuming, and each color was individually poured into molds and had to harden before the next layer was added. if you are really a fan, you can even make your own homemade candy corn!
It’s that time of year – Halloween, Day of the Dead and All Saint’s Day are right around the corner – which means it is time for special holiday treats! Like in Latin America, All Saints’ and All Souls Day in Italy (especially in Sicily) is not a morbid affair, it is an occasion to celebrate your family and ancestors. It also used to be one of the few days a year children in Italy would get presents, said to be brought by their dead ancestors. Italy is big on treats for Ognissanti – All Saint’s Day – and we have previously featured Torrone dei Morti and Ossi dei Morti, classic Italian treats. One of the most common treats you will find in Italian bakeries this time of year, along with fanciful marzipan shapes – Frutto Martorana– is pan dei morti (bread of the dead). Though it sounds similar to Latin American Pan de Muerto, these two holiday treats are very different. Italian Pan dei Morti is a cocoa biscotti-like cookie filled with fruits and nuts. You can check out recipes for Pan dei Morti at Linda’s Italian Table and Passion and Cooking (seen below).