The March equinox (this year Saturday, March 20, at 5:37 a.m. EDT) marks the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator, the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator, from south to north.
In simpler terms, it marks the official start of the spring season in the Northern Hemisphere, a time that can’t come soon enough for most of us suffering through a dreary Covid year.
Now that it’s here, we have some lovely things to look forward to — longer days, warmer weather, and for cooks, baking with bright and beautiful lemons.
Ever since the early 1980s when I first discovered carrot cake, I’ve been intrigued by the many iterations the little sweetie assumes.
I thought about it again recently and dug out my carrot cake “file” filled with recipes shared by friends, neighbors, and chefs—no two were alike! I found that the only ingredients in common in all of my carrot cake recipes were these: flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, eggs, nuts, raisins and, of course, carrots.
Most cakes use oil for shortening, some use butter, and one recipe in my file uses coconut oil. Reduced-fat recipes substitute yogurt, applesauce, low-fat buttermilk and egg whites for the shortening, but almost every recipe tops the cake with cream cheese frosting, full-fat or reduced.
In Ireland, February 1 is the feast day of Saint Brigid, a woman whom many believe should be granted equal billing with Saint Patrick as Ireland’s female patron saint and that her feast day should be declared a national holiday.
Saint Brigid’s Day also coincides with the start of the festival of “Imbolg,” one of the four major “fire” festivals celebrated by the ancient Celts. Saint Brigid is known to be the patron saint of cattle farmers, dairy maids, beekeepers, midwives, babies, blacksmiths, sailors, boatmen, fugitives, poets, poultry farmers, scholars and travelers. She’s also known as the founder of the first Irish monastery in Kildare in the fifth century.
One of the best-known traditions associated with her is the tradition of weaving St Brigid’s Crosses from reeds. According to the legend, she was called to the bedside of a dying pagan chieftain, and while she watched over him she bent down, picked up some rushes from the floor, and wove a cross to explain the Christian story. The chieftain was promptly converted to Christianity.
Did you know that January is celebrated as “National Hot Tea Month”? I didn’t!
As a member of a tea-loving Facebook group, I discover all sorts of information that only passionate tea-lovers know and share. And as the author of Teatime in Ireland, I do know that tea plays an important role in Ireland and that sharing a cup with friends is a legitimate social event, making tea-drinking a great way to connect.
In the introduction to my cookbook, I suggest that that in Ireland all roads lead to tea; “From breakfast and lunch breaks to weddings and wakes, a cupan tae is always a welcome guest.
Irish tea is far more than just a hot drink to go with a scone and jam: it’s an important custom that serves as a symbol of hospitality, friendship, and pleasure.
Some say the Irish people have a relationship with tea that “transcends the ordinary” — hyperbole, perhaps, but given that the average person in Ireland drinks four to six cups of tea, perhaps not!” Here’s a delicious recipe to enjoy with your tea, one of more than 70 available in my cookbook. To order a signed copy, visit irishcook.com.
For obvious reasons, Christmas 2020 will be scaled back a bit, so for many the “big Christmas cake” won’t happen this year.
Not to worry: for those like me who still love holiday baking, these mini fruitcakes will fill the bill. Same great flavor, same great taste, just sized down to fit the “new normal.”
You’ll find other Christmas recipes in my cookbook “Teatime in Ireland.” To order signed copies, visit irishcook.com.
MINI BUNDT FRUITCAKES
Makes about 35
This “mini” fruitcake is baked in a 12-well mini Bundt pan. You can use a cupcake pan if you don’t have one of these specialty pans.
Cranberries take center stage now in both sweet and savory dishes.
One of my favorites is this quick bread, sweet enough for dessert but not-too-sweet for breakfast or afternoon tea. The versatile little berry is widely available in markets now, so buy a few bags to use now and a few to freeze for later.
You’ll find recipes for similar fruit breads in my latest cookbook Teatime in Ireland. Order signed copies at irishcook.com.
Fresh figs are thought to have been used as early as 2000 B.C.
One of the first fruits to be dried and stored, figs appear regularly in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, and they’re revered in many world religions as a symbol of peace, fertility and prosperity.
Most figs grown in the U.S. come from California and are available from mid-May to November. One of the most popular variety is the Brown Turkey, pear-shaped with purple to brown skin.
Similar to the Black Mission but lighter in color, it’s distinguished by the green shades around its neck. It has a light pink interior with robust flavor and is perfect for this delicious dish.
Serve it for dessert topped with whipped cream or for breakfast with honey yogurt and crunchy granola.
If it’s October, it’s time to add apples to the menu. This recipe for an apple tea loaf is reminiscent of a traditional Irish apple cake.
The brandy adds a little kick and the nuts a bit of crunch.
I like to bake it in a stoneware tea loaf pan (12 x 4 x 2 1/2-inches) that creates smaller slices than a traditional full-sized loaf.
The tea loaf pan (I bought mine at kingarthurflour.com) holds the same amount as a 9 x 5-inch pan, so you can also use it to bake other quick breads or yeast breads.
Baking times will vary if you bake it in the smaller pan.
You’ll find other recipes like this in my cookbook Teatime in Ireland; signed copies available at irishcook.com