Today is the feast of Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy)

Santa Lucia (St. Lucy)
Santa Lucia (St. Lucy)

Saint Lucy is the patron saint of the blind and eye disorders and her feast day used to coincide with the Winter Solstice which is the day often celebrated as a festival of light in many places. Many stories and legends have become associated with her but research has failed to substantiate many of them. It is known she lived in Sicily early in the fourth century and was persecuted and executed for her faith. One story that is likely true is that she was denounced as a Christian by a suitor after she turned him down because of her faith. She faced torture and death for her beliefs. Because it is believed she was blinded during Roman torture, she is the patron saint of the blind.

Her feast day is celebrated in Scandinavian countries as a festival of light during the long winter night. A young girl in a white dress and red sash carries palms and wears a wreath of candles on head. Special rolls or cookies are made for the day and often handed out to the elderly. It is also celebrated in parts of Italy particularly in Sicily and in many places of the world today. There are many churches dedicated to her and the island of Santa Lucia in the Caribbean is named for her.

Science Friday Christmas Edition: Preserving Fruits and Nuts Through Fruitcake

Photo by Stu Spivack(Wikimedia Commons via Flickr)
Photo by Stu Spivack(Wikimedia Commons via Flickr)

We are the beneficiaries of wonderful technology that allows us to have produce, nuts, meats, and dairy year round. A trip to your basic grocery store shows the bounty we enjoy thanks to important developments in food technology both in its preparation and storage. In different times, you literally lived by the season. Food storage was limited to cellars, storing in jars, and even buried in the ground. In places with harsh winters, the necessity of food storage was essential to survive. Nuts and fruits would spoil during the winter so people had to come up with creative ways to keep them around longer. Aside from pickling, drying, or canning,baking cakes was also a popular way of doing this. Fruitcakes or variations of what we call it, had been around for a long time. The ancient Egyptians had a version and the Romans had festival cakes that led to panforte. The version most are familiar with is English style.

English style fruitcake is a dense cake often soaked in a liquid, usually alcohol, to keep it moist. Contrary to popular belief, a fruitcake does not last forever but properly taken care of will certainly last during the winter season. Spices were expensive back then so the rich could afford the more luxurious spices while most had to use what they could afford or find locally. Since most homes back then did not have ovens (the rich did of course), most everything was fried, boiled, or steamed. Anything that had dried fruit was called a plum pudding, which traditionally is served at Christmas. Then it evolved from this to the more current version of fruitcake known today. It became associated with the holiday (though it is often consumed at other times of the year as well) as it became a symbol for good luck and other things. It also had a practical use being a source for fruits and nuts during a time when they were not generally available.

Fruitcakes can vary in sizes, shapes, and ingredients. Today most fruitcakes are not that expensive but widely vary in quality. Often the best source are reputable bakers that make them with fresh ingredients and spices. Many of the industrial ones sold in discount stores are cheaply made. Alton Brown noted a telling fact in his examination of fruitcake: that it is the sum of its parts. Does not matter if you use the best and most expensive alcohol if one of your ingredients is dull or too sweet. Most of the industrial fruitcakes tend to be too sweet and earn the moniker of being called doorstops. But there are many bakers that create very fine fruitcakes. The blog Mondo Fruitcake takes a look at them and some of the best come from abbeys or monasteries where a religious order bakes them as income. A long time ago Chuck Williams (of Williams-Sonoma)discovered a fruitcake made by the Assumption Abbey in Ava, Missouri. He liked it so much that he put into the Christmas catalog (others now carry it as well) and increasing their popularity so much they do not advertise anymore. That is how much they sell at Christmas time but they make them year round (they take a break in January from all the baking!). And it points out that well made fruitcakes are still part of the Christmas tradition.

So when you see a fruitcake, remember it comes from a time needing to preserve fruits and nuts during the winter months. And how much has changed for the better with refrigeration and modern storage techniques.

MasterChef Junior: King Salmon Decides Winners(Episode 6)

MasterChef-Junior-LogoThe MasterChef Junior Semifinal had Adaiah,Abby,Logan and Samuel fillet a king salmon but then also cook the portions into one stellar dish. None of the kids had ever done this before so Gordon demonstrated the proper way. Say what you want about Gordon, but he is a master of his trade. The kids try to match but only Adaiah and Samuel do the best job while Abby and Logan struggled. Adaiah had the most portions so she got the win. Her prize was to select the number of ingredients her fellow cheftestants would use. Which brings us to to the product placement chapter of this episode titled “Selling the Fridge.” After a glowing description of the fridge, Adaiah looks into the fridges since they are not tagged. I wondered why and then realized it was all part of the advertising. Without her opening them, we would not see the insides!

She gives Abby 100 ingredients,the fussbudget Samuel 25 (“pedestrian” ingredients),herself 50,and leaves only 5 for the bow-tied wonder Logan. Logan produces a good moist salmon by poaching in olive oil though stumbles with the raw broccoli rabe. Samuel overcame burning his salmon and produced a good dish as well. Sadly Abby had an overooked salmon though the puree is good. Adaiah had a lot of ingredients that mostly went well and her salmon was decent. What sealed her doom was burnt garlic. I know from personal experience how this can totally ruin an otherwise good dish. The smell hits your nostrils but it also dominates the dish. Whatever goodness you have on the dish will be overshadowed by the burned garlie.

Which is sad because it sends Adaiah home along with Abby. I really liked Adaiah and think she is more talented than Samuel. No surprise with Abby going on, she was unfocused. Logan is a surprise. I think early on many wondered if he would make it this far. Not me, this kid has talent and is serious challenge to Samuel. So it is the fussbudget versus the bow tied wonder. Bow ties are oft ridiculed but it really comes down to the person who wears it and Logan wears it well. It ought to be a good match between these two and I hope Logan pulls out the win if nothing else to prove that someone wearing a bow tie is not the comic nor fool many think they are.


Christmas music:Let It Snow! (Dean Martin)

We are having a major storm here in Northern California so it seems fitting that today’s selection is Let It Snow! (known fully as Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!) Like many favorite Christmas tunes, this one was written where snow is rare namely Hollywood, California. Apparently there was a heat wave and Sammy Cahn (lyrics) and Jule Styne (composer) thought this was the perfect song for it in 1945. The song is classified as Christmas song but never mentions the holiday. Numerous recording artists have recorded the song over the years that have included Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne,Rod Stewart,Jewel and Lady Antebellum to name a few. Fans of the Die Hard series will recall the tune as it closed out both movies. While many versions abound, I like Dean Martin rendition. Enjoy.

Christmas Music: Love on Layaway(Gloria Estefan)

Gloria Estefan has had many hits in her career and often her Christmas music is overshadowed. Which is sad because she has a very good Christmas album chock full of classic and modern tunes. This is one of those modern tunes called Love on Layaway, a nice song for the holidays. A good song with some classic riffs with a modern Latin twist that I really like. I hope you do too.

Tacky Titanic: TV Personality Says Iceberg Did Belfast A Favor

Titanic Belfast (side view) Image:Prioryman (Wikipedia)
Titanic Belfast (side view)
Image:Prioryman (Wikipedia)

Over in the U.K. television personality Jeremy Paxman decided to take a swing at Belfast in a recent article. He wrote, in part, that the iceberg did Belfast a favor and they ought to rename Titanic Quarter as Iceberg Quarter. An uproar resulted from these comments but his thrust was that millions spent to revitalize Belfast were wasted before the city decided to become a tourist destination. Locals have a different view of the matter calling his comments offensive, wrong and misleading. He apparently was recently there and had a meal in Titanic Quarter and noted that the Christmas market “offered the odours of 40 varieties of food you could not think of eating.”

Okay we get the point, you are not a fan of Belfast, Northern Ireland, these days. Perhaps you have a point about the tax money spent when, if they had played their cards right earlier, they could have used lots of private capital to achieve better results. Belfast and Titanic were not that close until fairly recently. For a lot of years it was remembered as the place it was built, the workers who had by hand put the ship together, and the sadness over the loss. Sure there were people that kept it alive but Belfast moved on and had bigger problems to deal with. Then with the growing interest in Titanic and thanks to a very popular movie, the lights clicked about the opportunities Titanic offered them by becoming a major attraction for Titanic enthused travelers. And it worked from what the numbers reveal.

What he said was tacky trying to create a hypothetical that if Titanic had never existed or never sunk, Belfast would be just a backwater in the United Kingdom. Most people are smart enough to avoid the foot-in-mouth disease. He may have said it just to generate the controversy he wanted. After all it set off a firestorm in Belfast as locals raced to microphones to criticize his comments and point out what a dolt he was for saying them. Some television personalities like to do this sort of thing to attract viewers, At any rate we here at Titanic News Channel award him our oft imitated and never duplicated Fractured Finger Award. We usually award this to dummies who use Titanic cliches but we make an exception in this case. Award not suitable for framing.

1. Jeremy Paxman: Titanic Iceberg Did Belfast A Huge Favour(3 Dec 2014,Belfast Telegraph)
2. Titanic Victim’s Relative Hits Out At ‘Insensitive, Insulting’ Jeremy Paxman(4 Dec 2014,Belfast Telegraph)

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

On this date in 1941, Japan launched a carrier based strike on U.S. military forces based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Their strategy was to use this attack to convince the country and its leaders that war with Japan would be futile. The achieved tactical surprise as no warning of an attack had yet been received. While decryption of their codes had revealed their intent, the warning did not reach Pearl Harbor until after the attack had begun. The Japanese legation in Washington did not deliver their governments official response to a recent diplomatic exchange until after the attack due to problems in transcribing the message. The attack began at 07:55 local time (12:55 p.m. eastern standard time). It was early afternoon when President Roosevelt was notified by Secretary of War Henry Stimson of the attack. There was some doubt amongst some staff as to the validity of the report but President Roosevelt believed it. And subsequent reports would show it was true. Radio was soon reporting on it as well and the entire nation soon learned of the shocking event that had taken place in the faraway location.

The purpose of the attack was to seriously cripple the U.S. naval and air operations (both the navy and army air corps). The surprise was effective and sank or crippled numerous American ships. However the jewel of the fleet were the aircraft carriers and they were not there. And the Japanese had no idea where they were. After conducting the first two strikes, a third strike was considered to more completely wipe out the storage, maintenance and dry dock facilities. Captain Minoru Genda,who helped in the planning,argued for invasion to maximize American losses. Admiral Nagumo decided to retire because of deteriorating weather, the unknown location of the American carriers, the long turnaround time required for a third strike that would allow American forces to gather and counterattack, and the fact the Nagumo’s strike force was at the extreme limit of logistical support. They were low on fuel and another strike would require them to travel at reduced speeds to conserve fuel. So he headed home. Much later Admiral Yamamoto, who supported the decision at the time, would in retrospect say it was a mistake since it allowed the U.S. to come back quickly.

The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941 Image: Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration,ARC Identifier#195617)
The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941
Image: Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration,ARC Identifier#195617)

Most of those who died at Pearl were sailors aboard the ships that were damaged or sunk. Of the 2,008 sailors killed, 1,177 were killed when the forward magazine on the USS Arizona exploded. Eighteen ships were sunk, beached, or run aground. 188 aircraft (mostly Army Air Corps) destroyed, 159 damaged. Most of the planes were destroyed on the ground. Only eight pilots got airborne and did attack Japanese aircraft but only one was shot down. Some pilots were killed or shot down later by friendly fire. Five inbound planes from USS Enterprise were shot down. The Navy lost 24 of its PBY planes. Additional casualties came from when Japanese attacked barracks. 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 others were wounded. Since the U.S. was not at war, they are all classified as non-c0mbatants. The Japanese lost 55 airmen, nine submariners and one captured. They lost 29 planes in battle and 74 were damaged by antiaircraft fire.

Most Americans were enjoying a pleasant Sunday. Secretary of State Cordell Hull met with the Japanese ambassador around 14:30 (2:30 p.m.) just when the first reports were coming in about the attack. Popular Sunday afternoon radio shows were interrupted with the stunning news about the attack on Pearl Harbor. From coast to coast, Americans were riveted to their radios listening to the latest updates. Lines of volunteers began forming outside military recruitment centers. The isolationist sentiment was ushered to the rear while most of the nation united against the Japanese. On 8 November before a joint session of Congress, President Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And, while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

And a hour later Congress officially declared war on Japan. Far from causing the U.S. to cower, it brought Americans together like never before. Hitler’s decision to join with Japan on 11 Dec was somewhat of a surprise-to his German High Command! They had not planned with war with the U.S. so soon and now they faced a two front war with an highly industrialized power against them. Mussolini foolishly committed Italy to the war with the U.S. as well. For Japan they had control of the Pacific until June 1942. That is when the U.S. Navy engaged the Japanese at the Battle of Midway. At the end of the battle, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk to our one (the Yorktown). It was a shocking loss to the Japanese (and one they kept secret for as long as possible). The Doolittle Raid had convinced them to take on the American Navy directly. They did and lost spectacularly. And it shifted the balance of power in the Pacific. Admiral Yamamoto had been correct in his assessment of how the war with America would go:“I shall run wild considerably for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third years.”

Yamamoto would not survive the war. President Roosevelt ordered that he be taken care of for his part in planning the Pearl Harbor attack. Thanks to the work of U.S. Naval Intelligence that had broken Japanese codes (code named Magic), his travel plans to the South Pacific in April, 1943 were learned. Orders were given and select pilots were used to target a very important high officer but were not told who it was. On 18 April 1943, a squadron of Lockheed P-38’s were assigned to intercept and bring down his transport being escorted by Japanese zeroes. There were two Japanese transports. After a dogfight with the Zeroes and transports, the transport with Yamamoto’s plane crashed into the jungle north of  Buin, Papua New Guinea. Japanese search parties found his body, thrown from the aircraft and under a tree. He had two .50 caliber bullet wounds, one in his left shoulder and the other that had exited through his right eye. The true manner of his death was hidden from the Japanese public and not revealed until long after the war had ended. He was cremated, given a state funeral, and given posthumous titles and awards. Today the place where his plane crashed is a tourist attraction.

For more information:
Home of Heroes
Pearl Harbor Remembered
The History Place
Pearl Harbor Attack(Naval Heritage & History Command)
Battleship USS Arizona History

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, the real Santa Claus

St_ NicholasSt. Nick is often used as another name for Santa Claus but in truth Nicholas is the original. Born in the third century a.d., Nicholas became well known for his charity to children and others. He was imprisoned by the Romans and beaten. He never renounced his faith. Later when released when Constantine became emperor, he continued his life serving God and his faith. He lived to be a very old man dying on 6 December 343. Stories of his charity to children and others spread and long after his death people still revered him with churches built in his name. Stories of miracles attributed to him emerged as well.

The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches all have his feast day on their calendars (those using the Julian calendar celebrate it on 19 December). The Roman Catholic Church did not strip him of being a saint. Until 1968, every saint had a feast day that had to be celebrated in every diocese. What they did was make certain feast days optional and allow each diocese to decide whether to celebrate it or not. St. Nicholas is an optional feast day so it is up to the diocese to decide.

Stories of a mythical gift giver (often from pagan beliefs like forest elves that leave presents for nice kids) became popular in many European countries and were imported to the U.S. Various aspects from German, Dutch, and English were blended to create the character–the commercial character–of Santa Claus. There is no connection between St. Nicholas and the modern day character that lives in the North Pole, has flying reindeer, and elves to make toys. Santa Claus is a purely secular and even by some standards a pagan creation with no connection to St.Nicholas or Christianity. Remember that when someone says Santa Claus ought to be banned because is based on a religious figure.

For further information about St.Nicholas, go to Saint Nicholas Center.

By the way, there is a resurgence in celebrating the feast day. Usually children get treats (in stockings or boots) and often kicks off the Christmas season.

So what do you think– Santa Claus or St. Nicholas?

Christmas Funny:Muppets Do Carol of the Bells

The Muppets take on a classic Christmas tune in their version of Carol of the Bells. Beaker and Swedish chef do the singing while Animal provides accompaniment. Beaker got out of Muppet Labs for this performance but like in the lab, something always goes awry.