Monday, February 15, 2010

Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day

Photo from orsorama's photostream, used by permission

Welcome to the day before Fat Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras!!

For some of us, all Tuesdays are Fat, but the holiday known as
Fat Tuesday (the English translation of the French 'Mardi Gras') is a special day of over-indulgence and celebration which has spread in popularity regardless of religion. Fat Tuesday is the last day of eating rich foods before the ritual Christian Lenten fasting season which begins the next day, Ash Wednesday.

The traditional purpose of Lent was to prepare the Believer for the celebration of the Resurrection by means of self-denial, penitence and prayer for 40 days before Easter. The traditional 40 days excludes Sundays which were/are mini-feast days, and early Catholics followed the church rules closely.

Fasting rules were originally very strict. Today, the fasting during Lent varies. Some people fast all day and eat only a simple evening meal without meat or alcohol. Certain Orthodox Churches restrict all animal foods like meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy. And some folks just eliminate ('give up') certain things for Lent, like chocolate or a favorite pastime.

The pre-Lenten celebrations have grown in popularity worldwide, largely due to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, but the carnival atmosphere is pagan in origin. (I'll cover Mardi Gras in another post.)

Some believe the pre-Lenten celebrations may have originally had practical purposes too, as food stored for the winter was subject to spoilage after a time. To consume what was in danger of spoiling, they held big feasts prior to moving into the lean days before new crops could be grown and harvested.

Fat Tuesday is also called Shrove Tuesday, and Pancake Day. (The word shrove is the past tense of the English verb shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one's sins by way of confession and doing penance.) The custom of pancakes came about as a means of using up the rich foods like eggs, milk and sugar before Lent; many cultures around the world have their own rendition of sweet delights for Fat Tuesday.

Photo from adactio's photostream, used by permission

I think I'll make my pancakes as Chicken and Mushroom Crepes.

For a filling, slice some chicken breasts and sauté them in a bit of olive oil until lightly browned (but cooked thoroughly, please). Remove from the skillet and add some sliced mushrooms, cooking until they are well wilted and golden in color. Throw a couple tablespoons of flour in the pan to make a roux. You can thin the roux with chicken broth, white wine, or even cream to make a delectable sauce. Season with your favorite herbs (I like basil, thyme or tarragon) and a generous grind of black pepper.

Add the chicken back to the pan, heat thoroughly, and ladle some into a crepe. Fold it over or roll it, and dress with more of the sauce. Serve with a fresh green salad and steamed broccoli with a splash of lemon. Voila! Pancakes!!

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