Two holidays within days of each other that offer great foods to enjoy are  Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras.

Valentine’s Day started as we know it is when the Romans chose to call their Lupercalia Festival such as their springtime celebration in the 5th century.

Along the way, it turned into an event about love and romance. Not too clear as to why? It may have been due to the mention of love in the Bible. In John 4:7-12 and his view of God and love. Or maybe it was due to chocolate’s correlation to being an aphrodisiac and known to inflame desires.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world. Certainly, in the United States, Mexico, UK and Australia. Last year in the United States alone including the seven-day leading up to the day 5.8 million pounds of candy was sold with a 27.4 billion price tag. Of course, the day after Valentine’s Day you can find a 75% to 90% reduction of the price for the same candy.

Mardi Gras has a long, honorable and fascinating history dating back to 1699 in America, and to ancient times when spring festivals were held to ensure the fertility of animals and crops. These old festivals live on in Europe and go by many names, in France, it was called Mardi Gras. Around 1718, Frenchman Jean Baptiste le Moyne came to the New World and founded a town along a river and named it Nouvelle Orleans or New Orleans as it is known today.

The period proceeding is also called Carnival, starting on January 6th, to the Twelfth Night. Each week until Mardi Gras more activities are added until it reaches a frenzy on the last day. There are many customs for the day before Ash Wednesday known as Shrove Tuesday. I am only touching on Mardi Gras

In many ways, Carnival and Mardi Gras remind me of days of Mummer's Parades and events. There are lavished costumes, masks, music and a good time to be had by all. In New Orleans, there are approximately 70 parades scheduled. Some parades have up to 60 different marching bands plus each night several balls are attended by thousands. The number of days between Jan. 6 and Ash Wednesday changes each year depending on when Lent begins. This year, it is Feb. 16.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the events have been canceled this year. But I am sure there are some diehards out there who will party! Mardi Gras is not meant to be serious — the purpose is to have fun and act silly.

The largest celebration west of the Mississippi River is held in San Luis Obispo, California. Around 1864 French explorers introduced Mardi Gras to Quebec City in Canada.

With all the parties and merrymaking, food plays an important role in the festivities. Years back, Christians did not eat meat, cheese, eggs or butter during Lent. Or those fasting ate no food or only small amounts. Today many Christians still fast, mostly giving up goodies as well as no television or movies, etc.

Jambalaya at Mardi Gras is like having turkey at Thanksgiving, ham at Easter or chicken for Sunday Dinner. Mix up a batch of Jambalaya and have you own Mardi Gras Celebration. Great to make year around. Check out your local library or online for more recipes.

JAMBALAYA

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 tablespoon flour

½ pound cooked ham, coarsely diced

1 large green pepper, diced

1 pound cooked shrimp

1 pound cooked chicken, diced

2 1/2 cups crushed canned tomatoes

2 cups water

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 large onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, sliced

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

salt & pepper to taste

1 bay leaf*

1/4 teaspoon thyme

3/4 cup uncooked rice

hot sauce to taste

In preheated skillet melt butter, stir in flour, add green pepper and ham. Sauté, stirring for 5 minutes. Add cooked shrimp, chicken, tomatoes, water, onion, garlic, seasonings and optional hot sauce. Bring to a boiling point. Add rice, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until rice is tender and has absorbed most of moisture. You may prepare in skillet and then baked in casserole dish in preheated 325-degree oven 30 to 40 minutes or simmer in stock pot. Serves 6.

*Remove bay leaf before serving.

TIP: As we are in the middle of social distancing – no parties – just good eating.

STAY SAFE — WEAR THAT MASK — MAINTAIN SOCIAL DISTANCING.

Contact columnist Bette Banjack at banjack303.verizon.net. Search YouTube – with BetteBanjack as well as phoenixvillenews.com (search bar Banjack). She can also be found on Facebook.

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