The History of Birthdays

donut holes
This year’s non-traditional birthday cake, Birthday Donut Holes

The other day I was telling someone that the older I get, the longer my birthday festivities seem to last. I consider myself lucky that I have so many people in my life who want to celebrate the day with me – especially when that means that the festivities can carry on well into the month of August! All this got me thinking about the history of birthdays, when did people start celebrating? Has there always been birthday cake? I was a little surprised by what I learned.

While exact details are unknown, historians have agreed on a few things to approximate the history. The first of which being Egypt as the location of the earliest birthday celebrations, the first documented for a pharaoh around 3,000 B.C.E. Pharaohs were considered gods when they were crowned in ancient Egypt, so this party was considered far more important than the day of their birth. It was the day they were born as a god.

With this talk of gods, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the Christian Church originally considered birthday celebrations to be evil. They jumped on the birthday party bandwagon around the 4th century so they could start celebrating their favorite birth day, that of Jesus. This is still celebrated today, of course, and is known as Christmas.

Thanks to the Romans, the festivities were brought to the common man (note the emphasize on “man”). The most widely accepted opinion attributes Romans with bringing the practice of birthday parties to non-religious male figures. People would celebrate friends and families, and public holidays were created to honor more famous citizens. While cakes were included for 50th birthday parties, female birthdays weren’t celebrated until approximately the 12th century.

Birthday cake is actually the easiest tradition to trace back.  This likely dates back to the Greeks paying tribute to Artemis, goddess of the moon. To pay tribute to her, they made round (or moon-shaped) cakes lit with candles to recreate the radiance of the moon and her beauty. By late in the 18th century, this tradition had evolved and German children were given birthday cakes with a candle representing each year they had been alive – plus one to symbolize the hope for at least one more year. They were also told to make a wish and blow out the candles. The Industrial Revolution brought birthday cakes to the masses thanks to easier availability of ingredients and mass production.

And what’s a birthday without “The Birthday Song”? Well, that was originally written in 1893 by Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill, they called it “Good Morning to All.” The song caught on across America where students sung it before classes started. In 1924, Robert Coleman published a songbook with the extra lyrics we know today and the original lines have been largely forgotten.

The Huffington Post by Todd Van Luling was a primary source used in this blog post.

Birthday Dinner at Scusi

When it comes to celebrating, the first place that comes to my mind is Scusi in St. Paul. Not only is the food absolutely delicious, the entire dining experience has a festive air to it. It’s so comfortable and relaxed you lose track of time when you’re there, I like to imagine it’s what a leisurely dinner in Italy is like. Their tagline sums up the restaurant well: Delicious, authentic; never stuffy or pretentious—that’s Scusi.

We started with the three cheese plate. My favorite was the creamy and buttery Triple Crème:

Triple Creme, St Pete's Blue Cheese and Humboldt Fog with Ginger Chutney
Triple Creme, St Pete’s Blue Cheese and Humboldt Fog with Ginger Chutney

We shared another favorite of mine, the Arancini:

risotto balls
Arancini: Crispy risotto balls, roasted red pepper aioli (vegetarian)

The Husband tried the Fettuccine:

Fettuccine
Fettuccine: Shrimp, zucchini-mint pesto, almond, lemon

I wanted to save room for dessert, so I opted for the Beet Rattafia:

Beet Rattafia: Roasted beets, St Pete's Blue Cheese, mixed greens, crouton
Beet Rattafia: Roasted beets, St Pete’s Blue Cheese, mixed greens, crouton (vegetarian)

And happy birthday to me, what a dessert it was:

donut holes
Zeppole: Italian doughnut holes, marsala cherries, chocolate, whipped cream

Celebrating Little Moments: Beaver Lake

In honor of my birthday, this week’s posts will be all about celebration. First up, a lovely morning spent with The Best-Good Friend. We had a delicious breakfast in her private oasis – we almost forgot we were still in the city:
landcaped backyard

We were steps away from Beaver Lake:
beaver lake

While Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, there are actually 11,842:
beaver lake

I remember fishing with my dad and asking him what the pretty flowers in the water were called, I have loved water lilies ever since. Many birthdays have passed since I asked that question:
water lily

We saw a solitary Cedar Waxwing and his yellow tail and belly glowed against the overcast sky:
cedar waxwing

We were sorry to have missed the thistles in bloom:
purple thistles

We found the cattails, which are a favorite of mine. It made me smile to learn they are “cosmopolitan,” which actually means you can find them across all or most of the world, but I like to think of these simple plants as being sophisticated:
cattails

It was a lovely morning, full of moments to celebrate:
grass

Killer Broccoli

When @cleverkate recommended this recipe, I was a little skeptical. It looked delicious, but isn’t most roasted broccoli great? Well, she was absolutely right – this recipe is killer.

broccoli

The Amateur Gourmet says that this is the most popular post on his blog and how can we be surprised? The recipe comes from culinary goddess extraordinaire, The Barefoot Contessa – Ina Garten. Oh Ina, you can make me dinner any time…. But I digress. This recipe is far more than your average roasted broccoli (which don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love) but the addition of lemon zest, fresh basil and parmesan is what puts this over the top.

To make this delicious broccoli, you can either follow Ina’s orderly instructions or the Amateur Gourmet’s first hand account which includes pictures. Personally, I liked his instructions which also referenced very sage advice from Jacques Pépin on to wash or not to wash the broccoli.

Looking Back: Crow Wing State Park

We haven’t had an outdoor adventure in far too long, sadly work schedules and other commitments have been taking their toll on our scamping adventures. Getaway plans are on the horizon, but in the meantime I have been looking back at outings we had in the spring until we once again find ourselves in the woods slapping mosquitoes.

This week I was looking back to our stay at Crow Wing State Park in the beginning of May. It was a beautiful weekend and our first trip out in our shiny, new Scamp. I hope you enjoy my walk down memory lane.

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Within the borders of Crow Wing State Park are the remnants of Old Crow Wing, one of the most populous towns in Minnesota during the 1850s and 60s.
house

The town was at the confluence of the Crow Wing and Mississippi Rivers which provided easy travel routes and good hunting.
crow wing river

In early years, the region was inhabited by Dakota and there were conflicts with the Ojibwe who eventually gained control over the area.
dusk

By the late 18th century, European fur traders were in the area and a trading post was opened in 1823. The town slowly grew around it.
trees

The economy boomed and three churches were established, the remains of a small cemetery are visible near the site of the Catholic church.
historic cemetery

At its peak, there were between 600-700 residents in the town, approximately half were Ojibwe.
yellow rumped warbler

Clement Beaulieu ran the American Fur Company’s trading post. His home is the oldest standing structure in Minnesota north of St. Anthony Falls and was considered a mansion when it was built in 1849.
beaulieu mansion

But the success of the town came to a quick end.
robin

In 1868, the Ojibwe were relocated to the White Earth Indian Reservation. And in 1871, railroad magnate James J. Hill decided to route his Northern Pacific Railroad over the Mississippi in Brainerd, 10 miles north of Old Crowing.
boardwalk

Most of the town’s residents had moved on by 1880.
sun through trees

Today, Crow Wing State Park is on the National Register of Historic Places.

mississippi river
“Before him flowed the majestic Mississippi River, opening a delightful vista of sparkling waters, and romantic wooded shores far below, while above on a graceful bend of the river, picturesque little cottages peered out from shady nooks. A birch canoe was drawn up on the shore where he stood and another was swiftly gliding past the bank of the pretty island opposite.” – A description of the town of Crow Wing, published in Harper’s Magazine in 1858

 

Back in Business: Busters!

It’s been over a year since a favorite neighborhood restaurant closed due to fire and I’m happy to report that Busters on 28th is back in business! We couldn’t wait to see the changes and to get a taste of the new menu, it was like no time had passed at all.

We started with their hand cut tortillas, the guacamole was really fantastic:
chips and guacamole

I was happy to see they had added a veggie burger to their menu:

veggie burger
My Veggie Burger: Butternut squash, wild rice and currants with sage aioli and gouda cheese (vegetarian

Our server said that the Steak Sandwich was her favorite thing on the menu, I didn’t hear any complaints from The Husband:

steak sandwich
The Husband’s Steak Sandwich: Sautéed with caramelized onions and bacon topped with a blue cheese sauce and potato chips

We’re so glad to have this neighborhood favorite back, it was worth the wait!

The Day of the Domestic Diva

Sometimes a day goes so well that a girl feels like a domestic diva. Once a year the stars align in my life to create the perfect atmosphere of enthusiasm, productivity and can-do attitude. This is something that can’t be planned for or anticipated, it comes unexpectedly and must be obeyed because you never know when it will happen again. This freak occurrence happened over the weekend and I cannot begin to tell you the satisfying list of accomplishments that piled up. However, in the midst of shrub trimming, laundry, cleaning, creating piles of bags for donation and finally organizing the linen closet, there were a few highlights worth sharing.

My first tomato harvest of the season:

tomatoes
This was all of them and they were eaten immediately after this photo was taken.

Homemade bug deterrent lotion bars. I’ll let you know if they actually work before sharing the recipe, the same goes for the natural deodorant I also made. Pretty, aren’t they?

bug spray bars
Should I be skeptical since the recipe was for “bug deterrent” and not “bug repellent”?

And the pom-pom on my domestic diva cap goes to the banana muffins that I whipped up:
banana muffins

Inspired by the Regret of Sharing Banana Bread, I modified Lucy Moll’s Banana Walnut Muffin recipe that appears in Energy Eating: The Vegetarian Way. There are tons of great recipes in this book, this one was so good that I burned the roof of my mouth trying to eat them straight from the oven, so baker beware!

Lucy Moll’s Recipe for Banana Walnut Muffins:

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1-1/2 cups unbleached white flour
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 tbs reduced-fat margarine (I used butter)
2 tbs unsweetened applesauce
1 cup mashed bananas (I used four very ripe bananas)
2/3 cup buttermilk, sour milk or reduced-fat soymilk (I used 2 tbs of white vinegar and milk to equal 2/3 c)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped Reese’s Peanut Butter cups (this was all me, I’m not sure Lucy would approve)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, prepare muffin tin with baking cups or oil. Mix dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients. Combine all and ingredients and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Lucy says this makes 12 muffins but I got 17.

Here’s hoping the stars align again soon, I’ve got more projects that need doing!

Let’s Get Curried Away!

I have always had a bit of a crush on Jamie Oliver. Not only does he have a great accent, but he works globally to educate people on food and healthy diets. What’s not to like about that? Well, if you need another reason, he gave us this week’s recipe:curry

Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Chickpea and Spinach Curry is fast and full of flavor, it’s also a pantry favorite of mine. It can be made with fresh, frozen or canned produce and takes less than 30 minutes to make.

I served mine with Jasmine rice made in 7 minutes thanks to the pressure cooker. A quick meal that makes great leftovers, you won’t find a recipe much simpler than this one.

Copper Hens and Farmer’s Flavors

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll go to a restaurant just for the prospect of dessert, so my attention was peaked when I heard about The Copper Hen CAKERY & Kitchen in Minneapolis. It sounded right up my alley and after seeing the cupcake pictured on their website, I couldn’t get there fast enough.

With the Best-Good Friend at my side, we set out on our cupcake crusade. Okay, I think I was on the cupcake crusade, she was genuinely interested in the “kitchen” part of their menu. Specializing in farm-to-table food, cakes and bread, there was a lot to choose from. So why decide on one thing when you can share a few? We started with the Arugula Salad with House Vinaigrette:

salad
arugula mix, crispy shallots, sheep’s milk ricotta, sherry vinaigrette, hemp seeds (vegetarian)

And then enjoyed the Classic Rustic Pizza:

pizza
fresh tomato sauce, pecorino, house-pulled fresh mozzarella, basil and a splash of olive oil (vegetarian)

But even the best of friends shouldn’t be expected to share a cupcake. She opted for Red Velvet and I tried the Farmer’s Flavor of the Season (Ginger and Rose Water):

cupcakes
To-Dye-For Red Velvet and Farmer’s Flavor of the Season