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Tradition Scrapped

April 11, 2017 2 Comments

Getty Image Easter weekend is fast-approaching, which means the annual White House Easter Egg Roll is just around the corner. Or at least some semblance of the popular, kid-friendly affair will occur, as the Palm Beach Daily News reports that Donald Trump will instead spend the upcoming holiday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. To…

via The Most Ridiculous Things The NY Times Learned About Trump’s Poorly Planned Upcoming Easter Egg Roll — Real Stories – UPROXX

New Year’s Foods For Good Luck

December 30, 2016 1 Comment

Glückschwien

Glückschwien

The tradition of eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day is common in the south. Strict traditionalists eat collard greens and pork with the peas (in a dish known as Hoppin’ John)to symbolize wealth,  folding money and coins. The use of black eyed peas in a ceremonial meal to assure good fortune and fertility dates back to Sephardic Jews who have eaten them at Rosh Hashanah for centuries.  The Sephardic tribes believe that  eating symbolic foods like pomegranate, squash, and dates on the new year will usher in good fortune and abundance for the year.  The black eyed pea has been cultivated for over 5,000 years.  They arrived in America with African slaves and were grown in the new world as food for slaves and animals.  Eventually they made it onto the master’s table.

Some say that the symbolic meal eaten on New Year’s Day is the one eaten by emancipated slaves on January 1, 1863.  There are many variations on the proper way to serve and eat this fortune enhancing meal.  Some say that the peas eaten without pork and greens will backfire and ruin your year.  I hope this is not true because I am a nice vegetarian girl who will always skip the pig part.  There are other cultures where pigs are symbols good luck and abundance.  In Germany a traditional gift of a Glückschwein or marzipan pig is gifted and eaten on the new year to keep the money flowing. Some say this is because a pig roots forward.  Some folks think the eating chicken or lobster on New Year’s Day will bring ill fortune due to the fact that these animals scratch or feed going backwards.  Why take a chance?  If you really feel like lobster or chicken you can wait for January 2nd. Lobsters aren’r kosher anyhow.

There are a few specific beliefs which may take the superstition too far:

  •  You cook them with a new dime or penny, or add it to the pot before serving. The person who receives the coin in their portion will be extra lucky.
  • You need to eat exactly 365 peas on New Year’s day. If you eat any less, you’ll only be lucky for that many days. I guess on leap years, you need to eat an extra one. If you eat any more than 365 peas, it turns those extra days into bad luck.
  • Some say you should leave one pea on your plate, to share your luck with someone else (more of the humbleness that peas seems to represent).
  • Others believe if you don’t eat every pea on your plate, your luck will be bad.

I don’t eat the greens or count the beans, but I do like to make Texas caviar for the occasion.  My mother was from Texas and this was the dish she used to make.  I think she put bacon in it.  It is served cold, and does go well with cornbread, another good luck food.  Cornbread represents gold.  You can choose the tradition that suits your tastebuds and your beliefs.  Just skip the chicken and lobster for a day, gentle readers.  You never know..

Texas Caviar

Texas Caviar

 

What is #J’Ouvert?

September 5, 2016

On Labor Day in Brooklyn every year there is a street carnival to mimic the Carnival in Trinidad which held the week before Lent.  It is a chance for the West Indians living in New York to celebrate together with traditional costumes and musical competitions.  In Port of Spain the best steel drum bands bring it to Panorama in the Grand Savannah.  In Brooklyn the steel bands are small, but many of the really popular pan virtuosos move to New York to further their careers in music.  The performers who are paid to entertain at the Brooklyn Museum are the same ones who appear on the big stage in Trinidad.

I attended the Brooklyn Carnival in September of 1989 when Dinkins was running for mayor against Ed Koch.  At that time New York City was a big, fat, violent mess.  The racial tension was palpable.  The murder  of a teenager in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn turned New York into a symbol of racial hatred and violence.  The Koch/Dinkins race was perceived to be mostly about race.  All my friends who lived in Manhattan told me I would get killed if I went to the Carnival just for being white.  I already had my tickets to see the Mighty Sparrow  and Tambu in a small venue, and I was not at all to be dissuaded.

Two things happened to me that week that were spectacular. There was a show running on Broadway called Black and Blue playing at the sumptuously classy Minscoff Theater.  It was sold out, but I decided to go down to the box office right before a matinee and try my luck for a standing room only spot.  The box office had nothing to sell me.  A lady from group of extremely well dressed black people approached me and asked if I wanted a free ticket because their friend had cancelled.  I offered to pay but she refused. I then proceeded to watch the show in a very good seat, way down front, right smack in the center of my new best friends.  I was underdressed to be with them, but they did not seem to mind. I thanked them profusely, but we all had this feeling we were doing something kind of symbolic (because we were).  I accepted the rare generosity and they bestowed it on me as some kind of show of racial solidarity.  It was very cool.

I then felt completely confident to ignore my wimpy Manhattan friends who thought it was dangerous to go to a show at the Brooklyn Museum.  I saw great musicians, had a wonderful time with my fellow concert goers, and then the most magical thing happened.  The Mighty Sparrow, the undisputed king of Trinidad Carnival off all time, stepped down from the stage into the crowd in his Congo Man costume.  He had just performed the song, and since the crowd was so tiny compared to Port of Spain, where he would have been mauled by fans, he personally mingled with the audience.  I was hugged by the Mighty Sparrow in his Congo Man costume.  Very few people can say that.  I treasure the experience forever.

This year shootings erupted at the J’Ouvert parade and celebration.  This warm up event is a costumed street parade leading up to the more formal Fat Tuesday costume balls and floats.  It happens before dawn on Carnival Monday in Port of Spain.  The costumes are anything but fancy, because celebrates the dark, sinful side of life before Lent takes over the calendar. It is time to blow it all out before 6 weeks of some kind of penance.  The mas players who want to do it all start on Monday, then sleep very little between that opening party and Tuesday at midnight when it ends abruptly.  The political significance is huge because it was the time slaves and European masters exchanged places in a symbolic way. This is where the very sarcastic and political practice of calypso was started. Brooklyn is now one of the places on earth that still has this culture.

Greeting the Season

November 25, 2012 1 Comment

The feasting of Thanksgiving behind us, we are hurdling down the holiday barrel of laughs toward either a cheery/jolly time or a close encounter with debt and depression. Which do you have at holiday time? Since much of the shared consciousness of holidays takes place on screens now, rather than in person, we can more easily show a public facade of festive fantasy while freaking out in deep desperate disorientation. I personally am neutral. I don’t drive much any time of year, but for the next 5 weeks I will be in my car even less. I do not like all the high anxiety and consumer madness in the streets. There is more distraction than I would like on the road, so I stay home.

My parents used to send out letters in Christmas cards to establish a contact with people they knew around the world and basically mislead them about how happy they were. This copying and addressing by hand, then stamping and sending the revised versions of their lives was an important way they stayed tribal with all the accepted norms they wanted to keep. They lived in a time when the exterior show was of the utmost importance. Not sending Christmas cards would have made them uncivilized. I still have a couple of cards printed with my name on them that I sent to people when I was in elementary school. They are kind of non sectarian, with a picture of a fawn and Happy Holidays. I have never felt the need to send cards or give gifts as a social imperative. The big build up, the relatives crashing at the house, the decorate and mandatory clean up was not my style.

I like to cook special treats that remind me of winter to give to friends and neighbors at this time. I make some spaghetti squash latkes for Chanukah, and all kinds of ginger concoctions. This year I am featuring nuts and everything that I can buy at the Caravan Market. This specialty foods shop right down the street from my home has all manner of goodies and spices from the middle east and north Africa. I can bike there and bring back exotic extreme foods and spices in minutes. They have pistachio baklava, halvah, and Swiss chocolate for sweets. My own version of holiday cheer is a little extra money and effort spent on food and drink. Shopping local for me is fun and easy. I prefer supporting my neighbors in business to trying to find my car in the parking lot at the mall.

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