December 24, 2015

Season’s Greetings!

Wishing all my blog friends a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Bright New Year!

For this holiday season, I’d like to share a special Christmas memories post I originally wrote in 2012 and updated in 2013. Although I haven’t blogged much this past year (due to circumstances), I will be blogging more in the coming year. I want to sincerely thank everyone who stops by my blog; I truly appreciate all the likes and comments over the years. All the best to everyone, always!



Christmas Memories: the Musical Nativity

Remembering my Mom at Christmas
(updated from a previous post)

There's a musical nativity figurine I take out every December since 2002. It's a pretty ceramic piece that plays Away in a Manger and has beautifully painted figures of the Holy Family in the classic scene: Mary kneeling, hands folded in prayer, gazing adoringly at the Baby Jesus in the manger with Joseph standing watch over them, a staff in one hand and a lantern in the other. The bottom of this figurine has the date, December 2001, and my mother's name, Carmela. And that's the important part.

This particular figurine was not my first choice when I shopped for a musical nativity for my mother that Christmas. I had glanced at it quickly in the store then passed it by, moving on to other stores. My mom loved nativity scenes and musical boxes, and I was looking for one that revolved while playing a tune (this one is stationary), and one that was larger (this one is a bit over 6 inches tall), so my mother could more clearly see the details given her failing eyesight. After shopping for hours and not finding what I wanted, I went back to the first store and chose this one because it was pretty and colorful, and it played one of my mother's favorite Christmas tunes, 
Away in a Manger. I wasn't totally satisfied with it...the melody sounded rather tinny and the music didn't play very long before needing rewinding...but with time running short, I bought it with the idea that it was fine for now and I'd get her a better one the next Christmas.

Although I was raised Catholic with eight years of parochial school (three different grammar schools due to my family moving and my eighth-grade year at a Catholic orphanage due to Mom's illness), I am not particularly religious (although I consider myself to be spiritual), and a nativity was not a gift that initially came to mind for me. I had already purchased several Christmas gifts for my mother that year and thought I was done shopping. On Christmas Eve, however, I felt drawn to finding a musical nativity for her. Perhaps I was inspired by hearing Christmas music played in the stores while shopping, and remembering how my mother loved nativity scenes and music.      

Before wrapping the gift, I wrote the date and my mother's name on the bottom with a magic marker because she was staying in a nursing home. When I arrived to visit, she looked at me with the faraway blank stare that had become her daily expression. She said my name, as she always did, and nothing more. Sometimes you could not engage her at all, as if she just wasn't there. When I handed her the gifts, she reacted slightly, just giving a little head nod in acknowledgement. But when she saw the nativity, she smiled! For her to really smile at something was a big deal; she did not smile often anymore.



Mom opening gifts
With her failing eyesight, I wasn't even sure the figurine was big enough for her to see the wonderful detail in the figures. But no matter, she seemed to see it well enough to smile right away when it was unwrapped, and an even bigger smile that lit up her face when she heard, Away in a Manger.

My mother loved music; she loved to sing. In her younger days before the illness that left her body alone but took her mind...and oh, did it take her mind to places where a dark unreality could turn a warm summer day into a harsh winter night...she sang whenever she could. When my siblings and I were children, my mother sang along to the radio every day. She had a lovely singing voice. Then gradually, the illness took my mother's body, as well as her mind.

"Away in a manger, No crib for his bed,
The little Lord Jesus, Lay down his sweet head."

Mom lay down her head for her eternal rest just a few months later. I didn't know it at the time but December 2001 would be my mother's last Christmas. Much sooner then I was expecting. Was it a Christmas miracle that she smiled for me that day? Certainly, a Christmas miracle is anything you want it to be. And so it is for me. Every Christmas since then, when I play the musical nativity, I smile and think of my mother on that Christmas Day. The music I once thought sounded rather tinny, doesn't sound tinny anymore. Now it just sounds like a wonderful Christmas memory.


Text and photos ©2015 JerseyLil’s 2 Cents

March 25, 2015

Irish Soda Bread and Mischief Fairies


Bet you thought Irish Soda Bread was just good food. It’s delicious but did you know that the “x” at the top of the bread can also ward off pesky mischief fairies? Legend has it that putting the “x” on top before baking “lets the mischief fairies out” so they won’t jinx your bread; that “x” brings good luck. The original reason was most likely that it helped the bread expand while baking and made it easier to slice the hard crust into four quarters after baking, but scaring away “mischief fairies” and ensuring good luck is certainly an added benefit! Something to think about while you’re enjoying a slice with butter or jam.

To celebrate my part-Irish heritage this month, I made Irish soda bread and came upon the fascinating tidbit about mischief fairies while researching a little history to go with my recipe. Here are a few more crumbs of trivia:
  • Traditional Irish soda bread was baked in kitchens in cast iron pots called "bastibles" over open hearths rather than ovens. Offering freshly baked bread to your guests was considered a sign of respect. The Irish like to serve it with "lashings of butter." (now I know why I love butter so much, it's the Irish in me!)
  • The original recipe called for sour milk (the acid in sour milk mixed with baking soda would cause the bread to rise without yeast). Buttermilk has replaced sour milk in modern recipes.
  • Although versions of soda breads can be found in many cultures (it did not originate in Ireland), it became popular in Ireland during the potato famine of the 1800s because it could be easily made with few ingredients and was filling. Today, soda bread is often most associated with Ireland.
  • Another legend has it that Irish farmers' wives would wrap loaves of soda bread sometimes filled with fruit and/or whiskey and take them to those working in the fields, along with sweetened tea (or methinks something a tad bit stronger than just tea!).

One day I may explore why "mischief fairies" are bothering bread (hungry? bored?) but for now, here's a simple recipe I used when I made Irish soda bread. And don't forget the "x" on top or "mischief fairies" may visit!


Fairy Rings and Toadstools, Richard Doyle 1875 (image in public domain from wikiart)
After all that dancing those hungry fairies may be looking for your soda bread! 

Irish Soda Bread


Easy to make, no yeast. This is the traditional recipe using just four ingredients.

Ingredients:


  • 4 cups flour (any all-purpose flour or gluten-free alternative)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 ½ cups buttermilk (suggest 1% buttermilk for lighter texture since it’s a dense bread)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda.
  3. Slowly stir in the buttermilk, mixing until dough is firm enough to be gathered into a ball (dough will be a little sticky). If dough crumbles, add up to ½ cup more of the buttermilk, one tablespoon at a time, until dough holds together. 
  4. Place dough on a lightly-floured board. Dust hands with a little flour and lightly knead to shape into a somewhat round but flattened loaf (similar to the shape in my photo of the baked bread). Don’t overprocess, just shape, a light touch works best. 
  5. Transfer loaf to the baking sheet. Using a small, sharp knife, make a deep X in the top of the dough (about ½ inch deep). If desired, brush top of loaf with melted butter or margarine.
  6. Bake at 425 degrees for about 35 to 45 minutes, or until top of loaf is a golden brown. (I found that 40 minutes worked well for me, but ovens vary so you’ll know when it’s done by the golden brown color.)
You’ll have a loaf that is crusty on the outside, and soft and chewy on the inside. A dense, rustic bread, perfect as a companion to stews or with jam or honey spread on it. Soda bread is best eaten in two days. Day-old slices can be warmed for a few seconds in the microwave.


Variations:

  • For a slightly sweet flavor, add a cup of raisins to the dough. This non-traditional version is called "Spotted Dog."
  • Make biscuits by breaking off equal portions of the dough and placing in a muffin tin (don't fill to the top, leave room to rise). Toss some raisins in the dough and you have "Spotted Pups."

Enjoy, and if any mischief fairies should stop by, just offer them some freshly baked bread and they'll be happy! 


©JerseyLils2Cents 2015

January 28, 2015

New Year and a Short Story Contest


The start of a new year always feels hopeful. It’s the beginning of a new cycle and a good time to look forward and set new goals. One of my goals for 2015 is to be more actively involved with my writing and complete other planned creative projects. With that in mind, I was delighted when one of my blog friends posted about a short story contest. I’ve been writing to some extent since childhood but it’s been many years, well, more like a couple decades, since I’ve actually written a short story. I’m excited about the challenge of writing a story for the contest and this is exactly the prompting I need to start seriously writing again.

The contest is for fiction short story writing, any genre, and writers from all over the world can participate. There is no reading fee. The prize is $100 and publication in the Southern Pacific Review. Deadline is March 30, 2015.

If you're interested in submitting a short fiction story, you can find information and a link at Julia Hone's post on her blog, My Writing LifeJulia is an exceptional writer and the poetry editor of the Southern Pacific Review.

Southern Pacific Review Short Story Contest

Good luck to those entering the contest!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’d like to close this post with a special video for the new year: The Mountain by TSO Photography, filmed over seven days from a mountain in Spain. The time-lapse images are stunning and it’s accompanied by beautiful music. Makes you pause and appreciate the planet we live on. 
 The Mountain by TSO Photography, Music by Ludovico Einaudi “Nuvole Biache”


©2015 JerseyLils2Cents