Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mars Up Close

Apparently later this week (Dec. 24th) Mars will be very close to earth. We won't be able to see it THIS clearly, though. But pretty, right?

The guy at Bad Astronomy says,
And remember: Mars will not look as big as the Moon! But it is still a burning red beacon in the east shortly after sunset. If you go out around 9:00 p.m. or so you’ll see it rising in the east, with Orion and the Pleaides looming nearby too (on the right if you’re in the northern hemisphere, or if you’re standing on your head south of the Equator). It’s a pretty scene, so even if you don’t have access to a telescope, go outside and have a gander.

More News: Vlad is "Person of the Year"

Hmmmm. As we know, this isn't particularly news to me, but still, noteworthy.

It's True!

Guinness IS good for you! Drink up!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Baking Cookies

So, this weekend we made Holiday cookies. What fun! Like bunches of ginger cookies, and chocolate stars with crushed peppermints and chocolate drizzle, jam tots, sugar cookies that the girls decorated with icing and sprinkles, and new chocolate chip-pecan-dried cherry cookies. MMmmmmmmmm good.

What I just learned from the cookbook we were using is that the tradition of baking cookies for Christmas is another vestige of our pagan past that was conglomerated into our celebration of Christian holiday. Which makes it even MORE appealing to me! And so yummy!

Springerle (SPRING-uhr-lee) - These have been and still are traditional Christmas cookies in Bavaria and Austria for centuries. Springerle are white, anise-flavored cookies, made from a simple egg-flour-sugar dough. Usually rectangular or circular in shape, they have a picture or design stamped on the top. The images are imprinted with specially carved rolling pins or flat molds (Springerle presses, or boards). After the cookies are baked, the designs are sometimes enhanced with edible food colors--or with tempera or acrylic paints, if the cookies are to be used as decorations. Hartshorn is the traditional leavening (it is an ammonia compound).

These cookies are made with a leavening agent called ammonium carbonate, or baking ammonia. Ammonium carbonate is a byproduct of hartshorn, a substance extracted from deer antlers (harts horn). This leavener is the precursor of today's baking powder and baking soda .If you sample the dough of these cookies, you will be able to taste the ammonia, but it will completely evaporate out when the cookies are baked

The name Springerle comes from an old German dialect and means "little knight" or "jumping horse." Historians trace these cookies back to the Julfest, a midwinter celebration of pagan Germanic tribes. Julfest ceremonies included the sacrificing of animals to the gods, in hope that such offerings would bring a mild winter and an early spring. Poor people who could not afford to kill any of their animals gave token sacrifices in the form of animal-shaped breads and cookies. Vestiges of these pagan practices survive in the baking of shaped-and-stamped German Christmas cookies such as Lebkuchen, Spekulatius, Frankfurter Brenten, and Springerle.

Scenes from the Bible were some of the earliest images portrayed on the springerle molds. and were used to educate those who couldn't read or write. Eventually, other scenes were carved and the co okies soon reflected images of holidays, events, and scenes from every day life. The cookies were also used to celebrate births, weddings, and used as betrothal tokens. Exchanging springerle during the holidays was a common practice very much like we exchange cards today.

The oldest known springerle mold from Switzerland was carved from wood in the 14th century. This round shaped mold pictures the Easter lamb, and originates from the St. Katharine monastery in Will St. Gallen. It is now in the collection of the Swiss national museum in Zurich, Switzerland. From:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Messiness of Motherhood

In this Advent season, there's a fair amount of talk about the messiness of being a mom.

Wouldn't Mary have felt that messiness too? It's easy to get swept up into the franticness of this time, instead of being thoughtful, truly preparing ourselves. But at the same time, God knows we humans are messy people. And a lot of the ideals we have about motherhood just don't always fit the reality.

The Rev. Mama talks eloquently about the fact that part of the miracle of Jesus is that he was borne of a woman and became fully human. God knows all about us. And understands. What a blessing!

Africa - Future Power Source for Europe? and more

From a great environmental/architecture/design blog, Pruned:

Last week, The Guardian reported that Europe is looking to Africa to serve its energy needs by basically turning the continent into one giant solar power plant.

Europe is considering plans to spend more than £5bn on a string of giant solar power stations along the Mediterranean desert shores of northern Africa and the Middle East.

More than a hundred of the generators, each fitted with thousands of huge mirrors, would generate electricity to be transmitted by undersea cable to Europe and then distributed across the continent to European Union member nations, including Britain.

Billions of watts of power could be generated this way, enough to provide Europe with a sixth of its electricity needs and to allow it to make significant cuts in its carbon emissions. At the same time, the stations would be used as desalination plants to provide desert countries with desperately needed supplies of fresh water.

Fascinating stuff, right?? Especially just now as the Bali conference is going on! I think the post-colonial ramifications of this have not been fully understood, but it seems like a good idea green-wise.

Another recent post from Pruned discussed the issue of the housing shortage in Manila that has driven some people to take up residence in cemeteries. Kind of like an "extended-stay" "Day of the Dead." But moreso. (?)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Science Meets Art

Just saw these on one of the Science Blogs I read: Science Creative Quarterly. Beautiful, eh? It's funny because I've just been thinking a lot about Fibonacci numbers. And ideas like this have led me to the conclusion that I NEED to get over my math phobia. I am signing up for an "Ideas in Mathematics" course that I hope to take next semester. There might be hope for me yet!

Xmas Quiz - What Color Tree Are You?

You Should Have a Blue Christmas Tree

For you, the holidays represent a time of calm, understanding, and peace.

You avoid family fights, and you don't get too stressed out - even when things are crazy!

You like to make Christmas about making everyone's life a little bit better.

You don't get caught up in greed or commercialism. You're too sincere for that.

Your blue tree would look great with: Lots of silver tinsel

You should spend Christmas Eve watching: It's a Wonderful Life

What you should bake for Santa: Chocolate chip cookies

Monday, December 10, 2007

Food Fives meme

Food Fives

I found this fun food-related meme at City Mama. If you are reading this, consider yourself tagged (and link back so I can find you!)

What were you cooking/baking 10 years ago?
I had just moved back to Philly after a year in parts Southward. I was married, but no kids yet, and still mainly vegetarian, though we did start eating fish right about then. I can’t really remember what I was cooking, but mainly pasta, beans and rice, broccoli enchiladas (husband’s family’s recipe). And as for baking, I made lots of pies and cobblers.

What were you cooking/baking one year ago?
Basically, same as what I was cooking 10 years ago, but with more kid-approachable stuff. Also, I decided to start making very nice sit-down meals for Sunday evenings. So I started searching on Epicurious every so often to get ideas. I started cooking more seasonally, and incorporating the colored fruits and vegetables in each meal (as much as possible) – so, a green and a yellow vegetable on Sundays, for example. Or at least have a starch that wasn’t truly bad for us. And then last Christmas, Josiah got me a Bundt ™ pan and I started baking cakes. Now I’m known as a cake-baker. And that’s a good feeling!

Five snacks you enjoy (in no particular order):

  • My ginger snaps
  • Super-crisp apples
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Carrots
  • Chile & lime tortilla chips

Five recipes you know by heart:

  • broccoli enchiladas
  • apple crisp (aka cobbler)
  • many Mexican-style beans & rice dishes
  • baked tofu w/rice & vegetables
  • most breakfast foods

Five culinary luxuries you would indulge in if you were a millionaire:

  • lobster; truly fresh, good seafood (mussels, shrimp, octopus, etc.) whenever I wanted
  • a wine cellar stocked with delicious red wine and champagne at all times
  • year-round access to the gardens at Villandry
  • having a chef of Turkish cuisine on-call at my home 24/7
  • all the ingredients necessary for any dessert concoction that I love on hand at all times, esp. fresh cream-based ones.

Five foods you love to cook/bake:

  • Pies
  • Cakes
  • Sunday Dinner
  • Potato salad
  • Mexican or Turkish feasts

Five foods you cannot/will not eat:

  • Beef (mad cow disease)
  • Tiny, cold, grey & white fish that I had once in Southern Spain
  • Don’t love beets or onions, but sometimes like foods they are in.
  • Liver, kidneys, most organ meats (esp. brains, see above)
  • Black licorice

Five favorite culinary toys:

  • Cuisinart
  • Good bottle opener
  • Rolling canvas for pie crust
  • Hand-held mixer
  • Egg-slicer (I love the concept, and as a kid I played it as a harp)

Five dishes on your "last meal" menu:

  • Lobster and roasted chicken, with a bottle of red wine, lots of good cooked vegetables and fresh fruit, followed by a tray of sweets. See TV movie, "Moll Flanders", for and idea of what I’m talking about.
  • My mom’s roast beef and Yorkshire pudding w/gravy, roasted potatoes and peas, w/ a bottle of really good red wine.
  • Soufflé with a cold champagne

Five happy food memories:

  • Every Turkish meal I ate in Turkey
  • The birthday dinner we had for my dad’s 60th in the South of France, and eating moules in Brittany
  • Making apple pie w/ my mam-gu
  • Our anniversary dinner at Cube in Montréal
  • And – eating reindeer and other traditional Finnish delicacies in Helsinki.

Your turn!

Global Warming & Al's Speech

I saw this great photo on one of my favorite Art Blogs (no, not Bob's this time but) Das Artes Paslticas. It reminds me of how things WERE back in the day. It was hard to take photos like this, but the borders all across Eastern Europe looked like this.

Perhaps everyone will catch on to what Al Gore is saying about global warming, and we can change the outcome of the crisis. Just like we did during the Cold War. Here's hoping.

Global Warming & Al's Speech

I saw this great photo on one of my favorite Art Blogs (no, not Bob's this time) but Das Artes Paslticas. It reminds me of how things WERE back in the day. It was hard to take photos like this, but the borders all across Eastern Europe looked like this.

Perhaps everyone will catch on to what Al Gore is saying about global warming, and we can change the outcome of the crisis. Just like we did during the Cold War. Here's hoping.

Friday, December 7, 2007

ADVENTure with Doctor Who! Commercial Religion Part III

It's funny to me that the BBC is using an Advent Calendar to lure fans/build hype for Dr. Who. Complete with different treats for each day in December. This little poster is one. Check it out for more fun.

Hey - this isn't really in the spirit of Advent (quiet preparation for the coming of Jesus), but it IS getting the concept of Advent out there to the masses, I guess. Am I making lemonade out of lemons?

Commercial Religion, Part II

Apparently, the Vatican is upset that an Italian cell phone is selling download-able Saints & church leaders for their phones. I don't know, I'm torn. As the cell phone reps say:
"I had the idea from my mother who always puts a prayer card in her bag before travelling," Labate said.

"I don't think it is scandalous or blasphemous at all. We have had saint and prayer cards for more than 600 years and we will always continue to have them.

"What we are doing is moving with the times," she added.

That's a good point. A small visual cue to remind people to pray can't be a bad thing, right? In my mind, it keeps religious art in our daily lives.

If the phone company were charging much more than the 3Euros per week that it is, I might have a problem (that does total over 150Euros per year!). But to me, this is the best kind of (religious) art: accessible, inexpensive, ever-present. I wonder how subscription rates are going.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Happy Finnish Independence Day!

I guess Finland is closed for business today, but still, I hope you guys are having a blast over there. It's cold and snow is on the ground here in Philadelphia, so in theory we have that in common. The time I've spent in Finland has been awesome and Josiah and I are itching to go back. We have all kinds of wacky hare-brained schemes about how we'll get a house on a lake there. Or how we'll get a sauna installed in our house in Philly. But it's nice to dream, right?

So, this Independence Day celebrates Finland's fight for independence from the Russian Empire - a battle that was happening when the rest of Europe was fighting WWI. Two great movies, if you haven't seen them that describe Finland during WWII are: Ambush! and The Cuckoo. They are Fantastic! Check 'em out! Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Dali as Scientist

Found this fascinating discussion of Salvador Dali's treatment of Science. It's a good treatment of Science in Dali's work, a concept I've never really thought about before. I think Dali was a genius.

Here is another article about the Dali retrospective with a more psychedelic angle.

Not Good News

Beliefnet has been sold to Rupert Murdoch's Fox conglomerate. I foresee the ecumenical and interdenominational tolerance that has been Beliefnet's hallmark going out the window. Bummer.

Will this mean censorship of inter-religious discussion? Or just Fox News' version?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Hot Style News!

Thank you Josiah for this link! Marimekko's coming to H&M! Woo Hoo!

Our Lady in the Garden

Maybe this is where I first gained an appreciation for religious art. In my home town there were lots of outdoor statues of the Virgin Mary. They pretty much looked exactly like this one from Flatbush Gardener's blog. But What I love here is the flower garland. It shows such devotion on the part of the owner. And the plexi-glass protecting her too.

I grew up in a "low-church" Episcopal church in New England. There was very little decoration. Just two stained glass windows, all the rest were plain glass. That suited my parents just fine, who are both "made very uncomfortable by the 'high church' services that I attend" (their words).

I don't know enough about liturgy yet to be able to speak meaningfully on the subject. All I can say is that I like what I perceive to be the more emotional-ness of the church I attend now. There is more movement, music, color, sounds, and yes, even smells (smells and bells). But what I really enjoy is being surrounded each Sunday by such amazing religious art. I understand on a deeper level the love, suffering and awesomeness of God.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Evel Knievel, RIP

During the summers growing up, all the kids in our neighborhood would zoom around on bikes for hours. We tried to jump over things on our bikes, and had skid competitions a la Evel.

To this day, anything that has a red, white & blue, especially if it's sparkley, I think of Evel.

He's an icon from another era, and he will be missed.