Hey Kids! Let’s Play Necromancer! – An Easter Activity

Let me begin by explaining how this whole thing went down. A couple years ago I saw this photograph:

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They look delicious. Don’t deny it.

I was determined to locate a recipe for these so I could fast forward to the eating part. However, once I did I got much more than I bargained for. Apparently, they are called “Resurrection Rolls” and these Eastertide treat instructions are written out as an activity to do with your children. Since I originally discovered the rolls, I have learned that this is a very common and popular activity to do with children during the Easter holiday among American Christian families, in churches, at Christian private schools and at home.

First, you take some crescent rolls – these will serve as the burial shroud. Be sure to explain that to your kidlets.

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Then, Goddess help me, we are instructed to get a little racist by taking a marshmallow to represent Jesus because he’s “all white and pure” – you know, like a marshmallow.

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Next dip your Jesus in “embalming oils” aka some melted butter.

Follow it up by rolling the Jesus-mallow in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar – “This is like the spices used to prepare his body for burial.”

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Finally, wrap Jesus in his burial shroud and place him in the “tomb,” (a 350 degree oven).

Bake for twelve minutes – clearly, he has risen. Congratulations, you are now a necromancer!

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Resources

Original recipe and instructions can be found at Eat At Allies

 

 

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Cold Food Festival and Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day)

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How did an act of cannibalism transform into a national day for honoring  the dead?

As the legend goes, during China’s Spring and Autumn Period following a civil war, Prince Chong Er was forced into exile for 19-years. With him was his loyal minister, Jie. When the pair had run out of food and were starving, Jie cut the flesh from his own leg and made a leg soup from it to feed the Prince, taking loyalty to a whole new level.

When the hard times were over and the Prince became King, he rewarded all those who had remained loyal to him and totally overlooked the guy who CUT THE FLESH OFF HIS OWN LEG TO FEED HIM. Jie packed up his bags and disappeared into the wilderness, taking  his mom with him.

Someone finally confronted the King about his major oversight and feeling ashamed, he went off in search of Jie, but never found him. In result, some idiot suggested setting the entire wilderness on fire to smoke him and his moms out so, that’s just what the king does. Surprise! Still no Jie.

When the fire was extinguished poor, loyal Jie is found dead in the forest , underneath a willow tree, with his mother on his back. Inside the tree is a letter, written in blood from Jie, “Giving meat and heart to my lord, hoping my lord will always be upright. An invisible ghost under a willow tree is better than a loyal minister beside my lord.” Ouch…

In honor of Jie’s death, the King decreed that no fires could be lit on this day and created the Hanshi Festival or “Cold Food Festival,” since food could not be cooked.

Throughout China’s history the Cold Food Festival has been absorbed into the Tomb Sweeping Festival, which occurs on April 4 or 5th each year.

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Quingming or Tomb Sweeping Day in China is a day for honoring the dead. The day is reserved for visiting the graves of loved ones. At this time the graves are cleaned and tended to, favorite foods of the deceased are offered and the practice of burning paper goods, “joss paper,” in the form of money and luxury items is practiced. Joss paper has taken many forms in recent years, everything from McDonalds food to IPhones to the more traditional money, ensuring that the deceased is well provided for in the afterlife. It is reassuring to know there is no McDonalds in the afterlife, tho, amirite?

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Since the tradition of eating cold food remains a large part of the festival, qing tuan, sweet green rice balls, have been a traditional festival food for some 2,000 years. A  “green rice” dish is also common, containing a mixture of rice powder and green mugworts, stuffed with a sweet bean paste. Both dishes are common offerings to the dead. 

Modern elements now include the recent crop of websites where busy families and professionals who cannot travel to the gravesite can choose from different “tomb sweeping packages.”  Professional mourners will go to your loved ones grave, clean and provide traditional offerings. Sobbing or weeping is extra. 

 

Image sources:

Paleoglot

Qing Tuan

Resources:

Cultual China

“Mourners for rent on Taobao for Qingming Festival”

 

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Irish Wake Cake

It’s St. Patrick’s day here and I know most of you are going to drink yourselves into a coma-like state. In result, your unfortunate friends and relations will be obliged to hold a wake. You should at least be courteous by making them this Irish Wake Cake.

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A few words about this cake, IT IS AWESOME. Similar to a pound cake, it’s rich and if you store it in the fridge and indulge the day after, it is almost like cheesecake in flavor and a bit in texture, too.

What you will need: 

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened or at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar (I use Baker’s sugar but regular granulated is just fine)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 ounces of cream cheese, softened or at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour (Don’t freak out if you don’t have cake flour. Just use what you’ve got and sift it first)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup powdered/confectioners’ sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

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Don’t forget the cream cheese like I did.

A note about buttermilk – seriously who needs all that buttermilk? Pour the remaining buttermilk into a couple different containers and freeze for later use. Buttermilk is straight up magic when included in cakes, some breads and of course, pancakes.

What to do with this stuff:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 inch loaf pan

Cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla until fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time. Do not neglect the fluffy. Add the cream cheese until well combined.

Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the mixture.

Add buttermilk gradually and blend until smooth and creamy. Which, it totally will be.

Pour the batter into a prepared pan. Admire it.

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Bake until knife comes out clean, about 1 hour.

Remove to a rack and let the cake rest in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove that beauty to a cake stand, plate, whatever you’ve got.

In a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar with lemon juice, and spread on the warm cake.

Eat. Enjoy. Repeat.

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Bis Feasts

The Asmat people in Indonesia do not believe in death. Well, not in the way most cultures do. There is no death from accidents, disease, natural causes or old age. Here, all death is caused by vengeful magic brought about by an enemy and it must be avenged.

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Once a certain number of deaths have occurred in the community several months of feast days occur to honor the dead, restore balance and avenge their deaths. Food consists of sago palm dishes, fish and chicken. In some instances a butterfly larva may be incorporated, as it is considered to be a food item of great ritual significance.

During the feasts a number of important rituals will occur, the most well known being the creation of Bis poles. Mangrove trees are cut down and carried to the village where they are received by crowds of people who welcome them as though they were presenting the corpse of an enemy. The carver creates elaborate 15 feet high poles, much like totems, adorned with various important symbols and likenesses of the deceased. Fertility symbols, wumaron – canoe-like boats believed to ferry away the souls of the dead, and images of ancestors are incorporated.

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Once the poles are completed they are presented and displayed at a Bis feast. Following the presentation feast for the dead, vengeance would be sought though the act of headhunting, which is no longer practiced. The heads would be brought back to the community and displayed on Bis poles and another feast would occur celebrating the completion of a promise to the dead being carried out and balance restored in the world.

At the final feast the poles are carried out of the village and planted in the groves. Here it is believed their magical powers will absorb into the earth which, in turn, nourishes their food and their people.

Images

Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Asmat Shop 

Resources

Lowell D. Holmes Museum of Anthropology 

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rockefeller, Michael The Asmat of New Guinea , 1967.

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Coffee

S. Elizabeth is a fancier of fine old things, nostalgic whimsies and magics both macabre and melancholy. She is a shadow seamstress, star stitcher, word witch and weaver of the weird. She currently lives among the mosses and swamps, enjoys her coffee a great deal, and is a friend to all felines. You can follow S. Elizabeth on Twitter @mlleghoul

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My coffee is the same as it is every morning.  A packet of stevia, a dollop of almond milk.  A dark roast from a noted coffee company, the beans ground just minutes ago, steeped in the french press that we keep breaking, because we are too rough when we try to clean it.

I’m not drinking it, and it is growing cool.  I can’t help but to think how my mother got out of bed to make a pot of coffee on Monday morning, probably Folgers in a bulk-size cannister, and never got to drink her first cup of the day.  She would have taken it with a scoop of Coffee Mate.  

I had just spoken with her on Sunday night.  She informed me that she was officially in remission and that she wanted to come to Christmas dinner at my grandparents.  My mother has not been to a holiday dinner in years – mostly because as a nurse who worked 14 hour shifts, she was frequently exhausted – and so I was surprised, but promised to prepare the prime rib that she requested and to let the grandparents know to expect her.

The next day, when my sister called to tell me that our mother was dead, the first thing I said was “you’re kidding”.   Who would joke about that?  Why would I say such a thing?  But that is what I said.

Two days later I still think someone is kidding with me.  

I am trying to drink my coffee now but it is cold and awful.  That is how everything tastes to me: cold.  

The police were still in her home when I arrived, and several neighbors were milling around. A toothless Greek man took my hand and sat me down on my mother’s chintz sofa.  I have no idea who he was.  An officer asked me several questions and I answered without thinking or truly registering who was asking and why.  I could see my mother’s bedroom door cracked open, the corner of her bed visible.  Her foot was pale.

I walked through the door and sat next to her. Her face was upturned, her expression rapt, as if she had seen something that drew all of her attention in those last few moments.  Whether it was something miraculous, or a dangling spider, or even the faces that appear when you stare too hard into the whorls and swirls of humid Florida plaster ceilings – I guess I will never know.  Her hands were slightly curled inward, as if she had been gripping something tightly and then suddenly let go.  With both of my hands I held one of hers, and it was so very very cold.

My brother in law was the one who pointed out to me that in my mother’s tiny kitchen, a full pot of coffee had been brewed and sat untouched.  Grown cold.

I dump my coffee into the sink.

 

 

 

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Mormon Funeral Potatoes

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Potatoes combined with the dairy section of your supermarket. That is the heaven known as Mormon Funeral Potatoes.

A faith-based culture surrounding food has evolved from Mormon kitchens. Living in Las Vegas, (which, if you didn’t know has an enormous Mormon population), for a few years and not knowing anyone there I was invited to many Mormon family meals. The dishes were always the same fare, some of which I make often. However, none are more renowned, beloved or iconic than Mormon Funeral Potatoes.

Caring for one’s home and family is a role that is paramount for the Mormon wife. Homemaking classes are held at their wards where women are taught various skills such as crafting or cooking, while getting a chance to socialize and have fun. Recipes are passed on at church gatherings, family dinners, Mormon cook books and relief society newsletters.

Like any funeral food the dish freezes well, travels easily and is comforting. No one knows exactly when the dish’s name had “funeral” permanently affixed to it, (although, I’m working on researching that), but, perhaps this is why in recent decades it is expected fare at Mormon funerals – arguably required, as one woman learned when she tried to cater a Mormon funeral sans the cheese laden potato dish. 

I recently received a message from friend, Sarah Wambold, a funeral director and embalmer who is also a member of The Order of the Good Death.  Sarah was going to be partaking in a fried food contest among friends and wanted to know if I knew of any funeral foods that were fried. I didn’t  – however, after seeing this photo of a neon sign outside a Utah restaurant

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funeral potatoes were the first thing that came to mind. I decided to modernize the recipe a bit, throw bacon in, (because BACON), and hoped for the best as I didn’t have time to test the recipe out for myself. In the end, Sarah WON the fried food showdown with these! FUNERAL FOOD FOR THE WIN.

Here is the recipe along with bonus ingredients of weird food history and commentary. Thanks so much to Sarah for inspiring these.

Fried Mormon Funeral Potatoes (Embalmed with bacon)

So, depending on how many people you are going to have to serve, you might want to double the recipe. Bacon is included, but you can leave that out for those who are veg or do a batch with and one without.

Ingredients:

4 – 6 slices of bacon (or more if you want) – cooked and made into bits, pieces, whatevs.

4 ounces cream cheese

1 (or 2 again, add more if that’s something you like) minced jalepenos

a few stalks of chopped green onions

1/4 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups shredded/hash brown potatoes – so, can can get potatoes and do it yourself or you can go to the freezer section at the store and get a bag of them ready to go, which is fine since it’s THE MORMON WAY. If you do that, defrost them before hand and if needs be soak up any moisture left by patting them with a paper towel.

1 cup grated cheddar

1 Tbsp flour

1 Tbsp cornstarch

2 tsp salt 

2 eggs

1 cup cornflake crumbs (you can make these by putting the cornflakes in a food processor or blender. You can also dazzle other guests with fun food facts like cornflakes were created as an anti-masturbation food. Also, Kellogg was f’ing crazy.

Oil for deep frying, of course

1 TBSP Italian Parsley, chopped (which has a fascinating, deathy history itself)

Ranch dressing for dipping these things into, if so desired.

What to do:

1) Add bacon, onion, cream cheese, jalepenos and sour cream together in a food processor or you can use a stand mixer with a flat beater if you have that, or you know, go primitive with your hands and a spoon. Mix those things until well blended, a minute or so should do it.

2) Stir in the hash brown potatoes, cheddar, flour, cornstarch, parsley, salt, eggs, and 3 Tbsp. of the corn flake crumbs into the cream cheese/bacon mixture.

3) Put some parchment/wax paper, foil, whatever you have, on a baking sheet. Scoop out enough of the mixture to form into a ball – meatball size – roll it into a ball. Roll the ball in the cornflake crumbs to coat (the balls should firm up once they are coated). When you are done, put the ball on the baking sheet and repeat until they are all done. Put them in the fridge for awhile to chill – this will help them keep their form once you start frying them – 30 min should be plenty.

4) Fry a few at a time until golden brownish. Drain on paper towels. Enjoy.

Sarah’s notes:  They were deep fried in peanut oil, if that matters and people were suggesting dipping them in things like sriracha and hot sauce, which does sound delish.

Images

Mormon Funeral Potatoes illustration by artist Johanna Bailey – be sure to visit her page to see more in the series and support her by getting the book the art is featured in:  They Draw and Cook

Neon sign photo by Marci Warren- Elmer

Resources

Kate Holbrook on KCRW’s Good Food 

Ann Cannon: Funeral foods should feature spuds, please 

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Raw Vegetables and Death Rituals

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In Western cultures one is sure to find a crudite among the funeral food offerings however, in other cultures raw vegetables have more fascinating uses in death rituals and observances.

In Brazil, when a member of the Kaingang tribe dies they believe that the deceased is transformed into an evil “ghost soul” who will haunt the village and bring misfortune immediately following death. The “ghost soul” searches among the villagers for members of his or her own family, especially if they left a spouse behind. The spouse of the deceased is temporarily cast out of the tribe in hopes that the ghost will realize there is nothing left for him in his past life and depart to the spirit world. As part of a purification ritual the spouse must eat only raw vegetables and honey during this period. 

It is only when the corpse of the deceased has been cremated, buried and the site covered with a certain type of fern that grows locally, believed to possess magic powers and is greatly feared by the ghosts, that the spouse may return home.

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In Mexico, during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), one of the many culinary traditions observed during this time is the consumption of raw root vegetables such as carrots and jicama. These particular vegetables which grow underneath the ground, are eaten not only in remembrance of the dead who are also buried under the earth, but their bodies have also nourished the soil in which the vegetables grow. By consuming the vegetables we are symbolically making our ancestors a part of us again.

Certainly the most whimsical use of raw vegetables comes to us from Japan, during Obon – an observance which is in many ways similar to that of Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos or All Soul’s Day. During the Obon festival days it is believed that the souls of the departed return  to visit their living relatives. Animal figures, typically cows and horses fashioned from vegetables are created. It is believed that the spirits of the dead ride the animals between the worlds of the living and the dead. 

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 On the first day of Obon the animals are typically placed outside the front door or gate of the home along with burning incense. The smoke from the burning incense is intended to help the spirits to find their way home. The following day the animals are taken indoors, placed on an altar and offered ceremonial food. When the final day of Obon comes the animals are taken to the river and left on a bank for their ride home to the spirit world.

 

Resources 

Harold Schechter, The Whole Death Catalog: A Lively Guide to the Bitter End, 2009

Photo of vegetable cat from Family Living Magazine

Photo of Mexican street vendors from Sarah Elizabeth Troop

Photo of Obon figures from jcwin228

 

 

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