Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are Pine Boughs Christian?

I recently posted a query on my Facebook status regarding whether or not there is any holiday decor that doesn't give off a "Christmas" vibe. As a non-Christian, I've always felt a disconnect between the actual purpose of Christmas and the beautiful winter decorations that all the Christian people use to decorate their homes. Is there something that makes a pine wreath or garland inherently Christian? Answer: no.

As one friend helpfully pointed out, a lot of traditions that we now associate with Christmas actually grew out of Pagan rituals. Some quick googling led me to this informative site, eSsortment, which addresses this exact issue.

Let me summarize their excellent explanation detailing the origins of many "Christmas" rituals with origins in pre-Christian festivals.

Carolling began during the Romans' winter solstice celebebration with the Mummers, "costumed singers and dancers who traveled from house to house performing for their neighbors."

In northern Europe, the winter solstice celebration was called "Yule" (which literally meant "wheel", symbolizing the sun) and was celebrated to honor the birth of the pagan sun god on the shortest day of the year. The celebration included mistletoe, then considered a sacred plant, and kissing under it was a fertility ritual. Holly berries were considered "food of the gods."

Evergreens were common to virtually all European winter solstice celebrations, being brought into the home as a hopeful reminder that the growing season would return. Druids worshipped large trees in their religious ceremonies, often held in a circle around them.

While the date of Christ's actual birth is unknown, many historians place it in September, six months after the Jewish Passover. It is nearly universally agreed that it did not actually occur in December, as shepherds would be unlikely to have been tending their flocks outside at that time (as they did according to the bible on the night of Jesus' birth.)

When Pope Julius I declared in 350 AD that Christmas would be celebrated on December 25th, everyone gradually integrated their traditional seasonal celebrations with the Christian holiday. And this is why all of these winter rituals became intertwined with Christmas.

Next, stay tuned for some drool-worthy holiday decor that doesn't scream "Jesus" - for those of us who just want to celebrate the season...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sweep it Under the Counter

Thanks to my sister-in-law for sharing this one: A company called DrawerVac's come up with a very cool and unique new kitchen gadget. It's an under-counter dustpan that pulls out like a drawer or tray and allows you to sweep all kinds of debris off the counter into the tray - and that gets sucked straight into your central vac system.

Now granted, you have to have central vac for this to work, so it has a somewhat limited clientele, but good for them for developing this super-utilitarian feature that is bound to keep crumbs off your floor and save on overall clean-up time.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jayson Home & Garden Warehouse Sale!

Attention Chicago Shoppers: The Jayson Home & Garden Warehouse Sale is this weekend, and it opened about 45 minutes ago. I'd say I arrived about 3 minutes after it opened, and there were already approximately 500 people inside. Conservatively.

For those of you in Chicago, you probably know of Jayson as one of our city's coolest purveyors of home furnishings and accents. They have a wonderfully cultivated collection of new case goods, upholstered pieces, accessories, and lighting as well as an interesting assortment of "flea market find" type pieces that they get lord knows where. It all comes together into an ecclectic mix that manages to be sophisticated and exotic while still remaining accessible and warm.

Anyhow, the warehouse sale is this weekend at their warehouse on Webster just west of Elston by the Green Dolphin. In fact, you can park there or across the street at the kind of deserted looking warehouse (you'll probably see about 1000 other cars parked there - don't worry about finding it.) Even though the goods will likely be very picked over within the hour, I would still recommend going because I noticed that there were a number of items they have back stock in. For example, I bought a bed at the sale last year and was pleased to see that they delivered a newly wrapped one to me, not the floor model I had seen.

Tips (some echoed on Jayson's own site): Bring your measurements as well as a tape measure! Don't bring any large bags, carts, or strollers. Utilize your camera phone if you need to confirm with a significant other or roommate. Think about what you can spend in advance and be prepared to make a quick decision. And don't just buy a soap or candle because you feel like it's a waste to come all that way and not walk out with anything. Even though I was thrilled with what I got last year, I didn't find anything perfectly suited to my needs this year and I felt a real sense of pride when I walked away empty-handed rather than with an odd assortment of tabletop accessories.

Happy shopping!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Zucchini Muffins Make Your Home Smell Sweet!

Okay - well, I had to tie it into the home somehow, since that is the focus of my blog. But seriously, if you make these muffins, you can unplug the Glade for a day and enjoy the smell of major home-baked goodness.

This recipe evolved from a basic zucchini bread recipe my sister and I found online this summer. First, we realized we didn't have any oil after we had already shredded all the zucchini and begun making the recipe, so I suggested we substitute mayo. I recalled reading somewhere that some cake mixes work well with mayo and I thought, hey, why not give it a try? It worked wonderfully, adding a springiness to the texture and also, probably due to the egg protein in mayo, making the resulting bread extra-filling.

Every time I make this recipe, I seem to push the limit of the called-for amount of zucchini. If the recipe calls for 2 cups, I end up with 3 or 4. This last time, I shredded 4 small zucchinis, making about 4.5 cups. But again, the recipe never fails to amaze me. It worked beautifully with all that zucchini, and the more zucchini I use, the better I feel about eating these muffins.

The bread morphed into muffins during my first attempt to do this in my own home. I realized after making the mixture, which is enough to make two loaves of bread, that I only had one loaf pan in my house. But I did have a jumbo muffin tin. So I poured the mixture meant for the second loaf into a few of the jumbo muffins holes and bingo - the perfect take-along breakfast was born. Now I don't even bother with loaves - I make the jumbo muffins plus some extra mini-muffins. Aren't muffins just inherently more fun than bread?

Recipe: Hearty Spiced Zucchini Muffins

3 cups white whole wheat flour (or all purpose flour, or a blend of regular and whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Tblsp Ground Cinnamon
1 Tblsp Ground Ginger
3 Eggs
1 cup Hellmans Mayo
1 2/3 cups Sugar
1 Tblsp Vanilla Extract
2.5-4.5 cups Grated Zucchini (NOT drained like other recipes call for)
(1 cup chopped walnuts - OPTIONAL)

1. Butter and flour 2 8"x4" loaf pans or a combination of two muffin tins (I have one 6-hole jumbo muffin tin and 1 12-hole small muffin tin)

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

3. Combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and ginger together in a large bowl and whisk thoroughly. (This bowl needs to be big enough for the whole mixture later.)

4. Beat eggs, mayo, vanilla, and sugar together in a smaller bowl.

5. Add wet mixture into dry ingredients and fold together until well combined. It will be very sticky and dry. Add zucchini into this mixture and mix thoroughly. (The moisture of the zucchini will aid in mixing.) Add nuts if desired.

6. Pour into prepared pans.

7. Bake until tester or knife comes out clean.

Loaves: 60-70 minutes at least

Muffins: 45 minutes