Category Archives: holiday

hot cross buns: it only sounds like they’re ticked-off

We were never one of those families that hunted for eggs out under the shrubbery on Easter morning.  Our Easter Bunny always hid our baskets somewhere inside the house.  Behind the long drapes in the living room or under the big chair with the scratchy plaid cushions or in back of the dining room hutch. The Easter Bunny took time on his long trek across the country to fill our baskets with plastic green grass into which he nestled jellybeans and Peeps and chocolate eggs and Cadbury Cream Eggs and those eggs with the chocolate-covered malt ball center and thin, pastel-colored candy coating and miniature stuffed animals such as Lamby the Lamb, for example, who still, as far as I know, lives in a box in my parents’ basement.

Like many American kids, we went to church on Easter morning wearing shoes with little buckles, and proudly hugging those brand-new stuffed animals to the busoms of our pretty pink and yellow Easter dresses with their bows and flowers.  As we got older, the Easter Bunny continued to drop by, but Lamby the Lamb and his ilk morphed into teen-appropriate lace-accented sleepwear and pastel-colored lingerie. (The Easter Bunny apparently shopped with some zeal at Victoria’s Secret when I was a teenager.)

We also never had one of those big green-bean-casserole-and-ham-centric dinners after the Easter service.  Our Easter Sunday food traditions were much simpler: green, blue, and pink-tinted egg salad sandwiches,  the creamy ears and tails and paws of the big chocolate bunnies sent by my grandparents, and cold glasses of milk.

During the pre-lingerie, Lamby the Lamb era-Easters which took place in the late 1970s and early ’80s, we did have one other Eastertime tradition.  As the holiday approached, my mother would bake hot cross buns – slightly sweet, yeasty rolls studded with raisins and decorated with thick crosses of white icing. She’d arrange several of the buns in baskets for my sister and me to give to our teachers.  It’s been many years since she’s made hot cross buns, so my memories of them have faded – or maybe just narrowed in the way old memories do to include only certain parts of the experience.  I remember, for example, the pleasure of licking off the icing crosses and the soft sweetness of biting into the raisins.  I remember leaving chunks of the bread itself uneaten, after the raisins and the icing were gone, because the bread is only mildly spiced with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and/or cardamom, and it’s on the dry side – hot cross buns aren’t moist and dense.  They’re not cake-like.  They’re not very sweet and they go stale quickly. They have little in common with, for example, Cadbury Cream Eggs or chocolate bunnies.       

The origin of  bread marked with a cross pre-dates Christianity, although the “cross” on hot cross buns has come to symbolize the Crucifixion for modern Christians.  Ceremonial breads and cakes made with honey and spices were offered by the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egytians to their gods.   The Egyptians marked theirs with the horns of an ox and gave them to the goddess of the moon.  In honor of Eostre, the  Anglo-Saxon goddess of light and spring, whose name is the origin of “Easter”, buns were marked with a cross meant to symbolize the four quarters of the moon and consumed during the spring festival. 

Today, hot cross buns are typically eaten during breakfast on Good Friday.  An English tradition persists of hanging one of the buns in the house and leaving it all year for good luck.   

I’d never made hot cross buns before.  My mother let the tradition slide as we got older, but I saw a recipe for them in a magazine she sent me recently and it sparked my memory.  The recipe I used isn’t my mom’s old recipe because she can’t remember where it is, but every recipe I found looked very similar to every other recipe, and the one I wound up using produced buns that are very similar to the ones I licked icing off of when I was a kid. 

Hot Cross Buns
(Makes 16)
Modified slightly from the recipe here.
This is a very sticky dough, so don’t despair if 1/2 a cup of flour doesn’t make you feel better.  I wouldn’t add more than that.  These buns also go stale quickly, so don’t make too many unless you’re going to eat them right away.  They can be eaten plain or toasted with butter.  Currants seem to be the more traditional addition to hot cross buns, according to many of the recipes I’ve come across, and many people add candied fruit or orange zest. My mom always just used plain old raisins, so I went with raisins.  You might want to add additional raisins, however, because 3/4 cup was, honestly, kind of sparse for my taste. And be sure to use plenty of icing. Remember, those are the best parts. 

1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast (about 2 1/2 teaspoons)
3/4 cup warm milk (between 100 and 110 degrees F)
3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
4 Tbsp butter, softened
2 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup raisins

For glaze:
1 egg
1 Tbsp milk

For icing:
2 teaspoon milk
about a half cup  of powdered sugar (or enough to make a thick icing – add more if needed)

Stir together 1/4 cup of warm milk and one teaspoon of sugar. Sprinkle yeast over the milk and let sit for 5-10 minutes until foamy.

In a large bowl, whisk together 3 cups of the flour (reserving additional flour), salt, spices, and 1/4 cup of sugar.

Make a well in the flour and add the yeast mixture, softened butter, eggs, and the remaining milk. With a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients until well-incorporated. The mixture should be shaggy and very sticky. Stir in the raisins.

Knead in additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, kneading to incorporate after each addition, until the dough is still tacky but no longer completely sticking to your fingers when you work with it. It will still be very sticky even after 1/2 cup, but do not add more than that.   Form a ball of dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit, covered, in a warm spot, for 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Press down on the dough to gently deflate it. Roll the dough into a log shape and cut it into two halves. Place one half back in the bowl while you work with the other half. Cut or twist the half into eight segments. To do this, roll one half of the dough into a log, cut or twist it in half, then roll those pieces into logs, cut or twist them in half, and then repeat process until you have eight pieces.

Take the eight pieces and form them into rounded mounds, placing them 1 1/2 inches apart from each other on a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Work the remaining dough into 8 equal pieces and place them on a baking sheet, also covering loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough sit in a warm place about 30-40 minutes or until the mounds have doubled in volume.

Whisk together one egg and a tablespoon of milk and brush egg wash over buns after they have risen.

Place pans in the middle rack of the oven and cook for 10-16 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool on the pan for a few minutes, then transfer the buns to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

For the icing, whisk together milk and powdered sugar. Add more powdered sugar, if necessary, until the consistency is thick. Spoon icing into a plastic sandwich bag. Cut off a small bit of the corner of the bag and pipe an icing cross on each bun.

Read about Easter foods here.


dags för dunderglögg! (…more or less)

Many weeks ago, I promised you a recipe for Gothenburg, Sweden’s favorite glögg. Please don’t blame my friend for the lag; she sent the recipe to me long ago and then Christmas happened and then I must have fallen asleep for four weeks. Anyhow, technically it’s not Christmas anymore, but it’s still winter in most parts of the United States (or so I’ve heard tell), so I’ll go ahead and post the recipe. That way it’ll be handy next fall when it’s time to start the arduous process of dumping all the ingredients in a bucket and then twiddling your thumbs for six weeks.

My parents' backyard in Ohio last winter

The recipe comes to us from Karin who lives in Sweden (and is, conveniently, Swedish) via her local paper, the Gothenburg Post, which publishes it every October so everyone can have a batch of dunderglögg ready by the first Sunday of Advent which is apparently when all of Sweden hauls out the Christmas lights. It’s one of those recipes that I haven’t made but plan to try next year for the holidays, assuming I can get my hands on one of the main ingredients, svagdricka, in Tucson.

Svagdricka is a very low-alcohol, mildly sweet malt beverage popular around the holidays in Sweden. I’ve seen it called a beer, a near beer, a “primitive beer”, a soft drink, and a beer/soft drink. What many internexperts (“internet experts” aka “people who write sh** on the internet. Like me. I’m an internexpert”) agree on is that it’s something of an acquired taste. I’m not hopeful about finding it around here, but I’ll think harder about it in a few months when I become start to become desperate. According to the glögg man at the Gothenburg Post, there’s simply no replacement for svagdricka. I’ve found, however, suggestions for substitutions in cooking that may or may not work well while making the glögg below. You could try a low-alcohol, malty, not-too-hoppy beer or look for Malta, which is a sweet, non-alcoholic, carbonated malt beverage that originated in Germany and is popular today in the Caribbean, areas of Africa, and parts of Europe. Malta may be as hard to find as svagdricka, but you might try your local Latin market.

Once you get past the whole “finding svagdricka” problem and the conversion of the ingredients (which I have done for you – score!), the rest of the recipe looks like a snap. You just need a bucket and some patience.

(Translated from the Gothenburg Post)
Makes: several bottles

Note that you must begin this recipe at least three to six weeks in advance of when you want to drink it. Don’t feel you have to follow the measurements exactly – add what you think will taste best to you. “ …it’s fun to make, it smells nice, and I’ve never heard of it turning out badly, no matter what you put in there it always turns out good,” says our informant, Karin. “As a matter of fact I think I’m going to go heat up a cup of that stuff right now and see if it helps warm my feet up. It’s been snowing a lot lately and my apartment is kind of cold…”

5 liter svagdricka (1.5 gallons)
5 raw potatoes, sliced
50 gr baking yeast (about 2 ¾ Tablespoons)
1 bag of cloves (about 11 grams) (about 2 Tablespoons)
1 bag of cardamom seeds (20 grams) (scant 3 Tablespoons)
about 5 cm fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick
2 boxes of raisins (about 500 grams) (3 1/3 cups)
2.5 kilograms sugar (10 to 10.5 cups)

Mix everything in a 10 liter (probably about a 3-gallon) bucket. Cover with plastic wrap, make tiny holes in the plastic, and let sit in room temperature for at least three weeks, preferably six. Pour onto clean bottles using a siphon. Be careful not to get any of the sediment in the bottom of the bucket into the bottles.

hard sauce: not too hard and not really that saucy

It’s not Christmas anymore, but I’ve still got a tree up and I’m still eating Christmas cookies, so I think we can still talk about gingerbread. Or more specifically, we can talk about hard sauce. Since I can remember, my mother has made a mild, cake-like gingerbread with rich, sweet hard sauce for dessert on Christmas Day. I’ve since learned to appreciate gingerbread on its own, but when I was a kid, I considered it little more than a convenient vehicle for the hard sauce.
Hard sauce is not quite a sauce and not quite an icing. It’s a dense, silky mixture of butter and sugar that is flavored lastly with alcohol – traditionally brandy or sherry – or, if you must, non-alcoholic extracts. Vanilla, whiskey, and rum are also common flavorings, and I’ve seen a number of recipes for gingerbread with lemon or orange-flavored hard sauces. I like brandy myself. Also, I like brandy in my hard sauce.

In England (and in my small family circle here in the U.S.) (and we can talk about my family’s origins later, but yes, we do enjoy a good Yorkshire pudding now and again), hard sauce is particularly associated with Christmastime, and is served cold, dolloped over hot puddings, gingerbread, or fruitcakes so that it melts over the dense cake. Think English plum pudding – yet another holiday tradition that involves people setting their food on fire. (Only five posts in, and I’m beginning to see some disturbing patterns here, people.)

The recipe my mom has used for years makes a soft sauce that stiffens only slightly in the fridge, probably because it calls for the inclusion of an egg, but traditional hard sauces are stiff and dense enough to pile up in a bowl and set down in the middle of the holiday table and even to press into molds. I’ve seen other recipes that call for eggs, egg whites, heavy cream, or half-and-half, but the four essential ingredients are butter, sugar, and a flavoring agent.

The following recipe is from a copy of The Fanny Farmer Cookbook that my mom has had probably for longer than she’s had me. She may or may not actually feel more loyalty towards this cookbook than she does towards me, in fact. And although I gravitate towards spicier, darker gingerbreads these days and I eat them outside on mild winter evenings in the desert, I make Fanny Famer’s recipe almost every year and it always reminds me of Christmases back home when we’re all stuffed from the roast beast and the peas and the Yorkshire pudding (see?!), and we’re tucked away inside a warm house settled into the wintry, ice-glazed Ohio fields. There are few experiences better than shutting your door against the cold, slicing a warm slab of gingerbread, daubing onto it a thick spoonful of chilled, pale gold sauce, and eating it as the sauce melts slowly over the hot cake.

Gingerbread with Hard Sauce
Make sauce ahead and cool in fridge so it will melt on gingerbread.

1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup butter
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 egg, well-beaten
for flavor: vanilla, sherry, or brandy

Butter an 8″ or 9″ square pan (or 12 muffins cups). Preheat oven to 325 degrees for the square pans (250 for muffins).

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, ginger, and salt.

Combine 1/4 cup butter and 1/2 cup boiling water. When butter melts, add molasses. Stir into butter mixture into flour mixture and beat until batter is smooth. Spread in prepared pan.

Bake 35 minutes (15 minutes for muffins).

Cream butter. Beat in gradually the confectioner’s sugar, beaten egg, and a few grains of salt. Set mixture over hot water and beat until light and smooth (about 7 minutes). Flavor with vanilla, sherry, or brandy.

glögg-on-fire and other tales

While we’re on the subject of cardamom, we should probably think about how we can consume it in conjunction with the consumption of alcohol. To that end, I’ve been perusing the internet for the perfect glögg recipe. Glögg is a hot spiced beverage often made in Scandinavian countries during the winter months. Like many traditional foods and activities, it seems that every person with a presence on the internet has page devoted to glögg made from his or her own family recipe and strong feelings as to what constitutes “real” glögg. Some people swear by the addition of cloves. Some feel sure that the perfect glögg means you must strain out the raisins and almonds. Some people feel you should never have added the raisins and almonds to begin with. Some people even set their glögg on fire.

We’re going to ignore all those people with their opinions in favor of the opinion of a real-live Swede that I actually know who lives in Gothenburg, Sweden, and who used to work with me in Tucson and that’s how I know her. Her name is Karin. In response to my plea for a good authentic glögg recipe, Karin selflessly waded through the internet and translated for us a “pretty standard and easy to make” recipe for Classic Glögg as well as one for something called Hearty Special Glögg “which looks to me like some type of science experiment”. (The quotes are Karin’s official Swedish assessment of each recipe, so be sure to read them in a Swedish accent and heed them.)

Something else to keep in mind when you make your glögg: According to Karin, in Sweden, folks like to nibble on gingersnap cookies and blue cheese while consuming glögg. I know some of you Americans (and at least one Guatemalan) are cringing right now, but I’m pretty sure when they usher me into heaven, the first thing they’ll do is take my coat, and the second thing they’ll do is hand me a glass of hot spiced wine and a plate of blue cheese and gingersnaps.

I’ve posted these two recipes below exactly as Karin sent them to me except that I’ve converted the measurements to standard American ones to prevent hiliarious misunderstandings about how much vodka, say, to include. So the funny asides in the recipes are all Karin. And any mistakes of conversion are all me. The conversions are a little rough, but I assumed most of you don’t want to have to mess with adding 0.634 cups of sugar to your Hearty Special Glögg so I took the initiative and rounded down. Merry Christmas.

In addition to the two recipes discussed above, Karin made mention of another glögg which I’m intrigued by. I don’t yet have the recipe, but will post it when I get it. Everyone in Gothenburg, along with their brother and their dog (I’m extrapolating from something Karin said), makes this special glögg around the holidays that involves potatoes, raisins, something called svagdricka which is apparently similar to root beer, and “other things”. I’m assuming some kind of fish. All this stuff “sits around in a bucket and bubbles for six weeks” before turning into something drinkable. This is the one Karin makes and this is the one I’d love to try making, assuming I can get my hands on any svagdricka or something similar enough to do the trick.

Classic Glögg
0,75 l (3 1/4 cups) red wine
2 cinnamon sticks
8 cloves
12 cardamom seeds
5 tsp sugar
1,5 dl (1/3 cup) vodka

Heat the wine and spices on low heat, stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the vodka. Heat until almost boiling. Strain the liquid. Serve with the almonds and raisins.

Glogg on fire!:
Hearty Special Glögg
0.75 l (3 1/4 cups) vodka
1.5 dl (5 oz) cognac/brandy
3.3 dl (1 1/3 cups) beer [3.3. That’s what it said!]
2 figs
3 prunes
1.5 dl (5 oz) raisins
1.5 dl (5 oz) almonds
1 dried bitter orange peel [I’m not sure what to substitute if you can’t find this, but I guess dried regular orange peel would work fine]
8 cm (1 whole) cinnamon stick
4 cardamom seeds
1 clove
1.5 dl (1/2 cup + 1/8 cup) sugar

Put the figs, prunes, raisins, bitter orange peel, cinnamon, cardamom, clove and almonds in a pot with the beer and boil until the beer is almost absorbed/evaporated. The pot needs to have a tight fitting lid.
Add the vodka and 1 – 1,5 dl sugar and let it heat through [the recipe says to ABSOLUTELY NOT let it boil. I’m guessing this is because you don’t want to lose the alcohol. It’s a very assertive recipe.].
Pour a couple of spoons of sugar in a pan over medium-high heat and let it caramelize [here the recipe says to NOT let it burn. Seems reasonable].
Pour the caramelized sugar and the cognac/brandy into the other mixture. Light a match, lift the lid and “burn” the glögg for a few seconds

. Put the fire out by putting the lid back on.
The mixture should steep overnight. Strain the liquid, warm it, and serve with the raisins and almonds.

Postscript One of the things that always intrigues me about these traditional sorts of foods that people make is how they came to be. Did someone accidentally leave a bucket of potatoes out and spill some spices in while baking cardamom bread? And then the cat knocked over a bottle of svagdricka? And little (typical Swedish boy’s name) dropped his raisin snack into the mix because that’s what children the world over do – drop things into other things to see if it upsets Mama? And everyone was too disgusted by the whole episode to clean it up for six weeks? And there was an argument. And someone stormed out of the house and fell into the fjord. And then the funeral – oh, the cold winds that blew at that funeral! Oh, (Swedish word indicating lamentation)! What sorrow! And then everyone returned home to warm up. And someone spied the bucket of old potatoes, alcohol, and raisins and decided to take a sip from it because, hell, what was there to lose now that so-and-so had fallen into the fjord. Who knows?! Human beings are amazingly courageous! And resilient! And insane!

bake the bread, fly the kites, pickle the salad

In Guatemala, the dead apparently prefer a nice pickled salad.

The other day, I posted a thing where I listed a number of food items that people in Mexico prepare for their dead on Dia de los Muertos – Day of the Dead. Here’s a compelling excerpt:

…people leave favorite foods on altars or at the graves of their ancestors that include nuts and fruits, chocolate and tequila, moles and tamales, atole (a sweet, thick corn drink), sugar skulls decorated with jewel-colored icing, and pan de muerto – a sweet, egg-based bread that can be flavored with anise seed, cinnamon, and orange…

My boyfriend, Raphael, grew up in the largest city in Guatemala and therefore can’t speak for how people celebrate in the more rural areas (with the notable exception of how in one particular town, they fly kites “as big as our house” on the Day of the Dead), but his family brought none of the above-listed items to their family tomb on Dia de los Muertos and in fact rarely visited the tomb on that particular day at all.
For the most part, his family shared food and prayer at home rather than at the cemetery. Raphael’s Aunt Aurora, however, who lives in Antigua, went to a big Mass on Day of the Dead and then to the cemetery bearing wreaths and carnations she purchased at the market and armfuls of flowers from her backyard – bird of paradise, brilliant red heliconia, orange roses – and on occasion, her nieces and nephews went with her. Raphael remembers the cemetery at those times being so crowded with people picnicking at their family tombs, paying their respects to the dead, offering prayers, and decorating the graves that you had to be watchful for those who would steal flowers and food from your family’s tomb.

According to Raphael’s experience, in Guatemala two dishes in particular are prepared especially for Dia de Los Muertos. Cabacera, or chilacayote, is pumpkin cooked with cinnamon and clove and a dark brick of molasses until a syrup forms, and fiambre is a uniquely Guatemalan dish that is essentially a pickled salad made over the course of two to five days. Fiambre combines vegetables and all kinds of sausages and salted meats with capers and olives and cheese – queso duro, a crumbly white cheese, or queso kraft (which is exactly what you suspect it is), arranged atop the salad in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. At the cemetery, plates of fiambre and chilacayote are placed on the tomb while everyone picnics nearby.

When I asked Raphael about making fiambre, I was assured that this is simply not within the realm of possibility. Fiambre takes years to perfect. Currently, Raphael has one sister (out of five) who makes fiambre. And it took this sister decades to work it out. And I don’t have a Guatemalan mamacita to teach me all the ins and outs. And you can’t make it if it’s not Dia de Los Muertos, which it just practically never is.

Despite the seeming direness of the fiambre situation, we actually have a recipe for fiambre at home. I will include the recipe below with the caveats that I have not yet actually used it to achieve fiambre and that, if Raphael is to be believed, you apparently attempt fiambre at your own risk.

I’ve copied the recipe exactly as written. I particularly like the section on “Decoration” which I think you should try reading as a Beat poem.

Fiambre(From Kitchen Fiesta, 1981 Revised Edition, published by the Women’s Auxiliary of the Union Church, Guatemala, C.A.)

Note: this dish must be started a day in advance

luncheon tongue (plain or corned) – cut in squares.
Chicken boiled with necessary seasoning – deboned and separated in small pieces
Pork loin – cooked and cut in small pieces
Beef (corned or plain) – cooked and cut in small pieces
Ham – cut in small pieces
Sardines or mackeral (whichever preferred)
Sausages – highly flavored Italian Type – two or three different kinds as particularly preferred
frankfurters may be included, cut in slices

These vegetables (below) cut in small pieces, should be cooked the previous day in salt water, covered with sauce (after cooked) and allowed to marinate. (See below for sauce.) Keep in refrigerator to be thouroughly chilled. Retain to one side some of the vegetables (before marinating) for decoration.
string beans

This is made by grinding on a grinding stone (which is an intrinsic part of all Guatemalan Kitchens); could probably be done in electric blender.
Parsley (2-3 little bunches)
Green onions (2-3 little bunches)
1/4 cup mustard seed
3 chiles morrones (slightly piquant)
2 oz. capers
1 tsp. ginger powder (or if available 2 pieces ginger root, fresh) Mustard (English powdered) or French

After grinding above to a paste, add vinegar and oil to make salad sauce. Salt to taste.

Following day, meat and vegetables which have been well chilled are mixed together and additional oil or vinegar added as desired. Also add to this mixture 2 oz. capers.

Put aside a few of the sardines.

Keep certain pieces of chicken, sausage, tongue, ham. Pickles, capers, olives, radishes. Pieces of fresh cheese. Can of chili pimento. Vegetables – carrots and beets (cut in decorative figures). Small pieces of cauliflower. Cocktail onions (may also be placed in salad). Slices of hardboiled eggs, parsley and anchovy.

After salad mixture has been placed on a platter over lettuce leaves, all of the above mixture of decorations is arranged decoratively over the platter. Sprinkle with powdered cheese.”

feast of the dead

Stiltwalkers and silk flowers. Ghostly bagpipers. Dead brides and belly dancers. Dogs dressed like skeletons. Babies dressed like skeletons. Skeletons riding bicycles and wearing hats and posing for photos. And far more papier mache and fire than you could normally combine in polite society. These are some elements of Tucson’s strange and wonderful All Souls Procession. The event takes place after dark in November in downtown Tucson. A slowmoving river of people illuminates the streets, swelling block by block as spectators step off the sidewalks to follow the procession. More than 20,000 people came out this year. The whole thing culminates in a glittering theatrical finale comprised of aerialists lifted with a giant crane to spin over the crowd, music and mighty drumbeats, and plenty of things on fire.

My significant other, Raphael, can’t step out the back door without making new friends or randomly running into and then engaging with Tucson celebrity. And so, only days before the commencement of this year’s All Souls Procession, he met (she’s a friend of a friend, I think is how it goes) the woman who founded it back in the 1990s. The gist of her answer (and my apologies to her if I haven’t got this exactly right) is that she developed, after the death of her father, a fascination with the myriad ways in which death is celebrated throughout the world. Although the All Souls Procession today takes many elements from the Mexican Day of the Dead (which occurs on November 1 and 2), it was never meant to adhere strictly to Day of the Dead traditions, but rather was based more on an amalgamation of the various ways in which people all over the world approach death.

The Procession has apparently taken on something of a life of its own, morphing into something that differs from but also takes elements from both its original form and the Latin American El Dia de Los Muertos as well as incorporating other, more paganistic aspects. This makes sense, as my understanding is that the folks in Mexico don’t go around slipping prayers into a giant urn that is then hoisted up into the night sky by a huge crane and set spectacularly on fire. And there is a marked absence of bagpipes at their celebrations.

What they have in Mexico and in other Latin American countries is a celebration that has emerged over the course of about three thousand years as a combination of ancient Aztec rituals performed to honor Mictectacihuatl, the Aztec goddess of death, and the Catholic All Saints and All Souls Days (November 1 and 2, respectively). During Dia de Los Muertos, it is believed that the dead are able to hear and communicate with the living. They are welcomed by their loved ones among the living with gifts of flowers, candy, alcohol, and food. Altars are prepared in homes and businesses for the dead and visits are made to the cemeteries where family members were laid to rest. In Latin American countries where the Day of the Dead is one of the most important holidays of the year, humor and color and flowers and food are key elements in this communion of the living and the dead, but as far as I have been able to ascertain, belly dancers are generally not.

Food plays an important role in traditional Latin American Dia de Los Muertos activities. In Mexico, for example, people leave favorite foods on altars or at the graves of their ancestors that include nuts and fruits, chocolate and tequila, moles and tamales, atole (a sweet, thick corn drink), sugar skulls decorated with jewel-colored icing, and pan de muerto – a sweet, egg-based bread that can be flavored with anise seed, cinnamon, and orange and shaped into skulls, bones, angels, or animals. The dead take sustenance from the flavors and scents of the food left for them and once they’ve had their fill, actual consumption of the food falls to the living.

I did not make sugar skulls in honor of Tucson’s All Souls Procession this past Sunday, although I considered it briefly and will try it one of these years. Instead, I made my face up like a skull (With glitter! Just like a real skull!) and made a sign honoring my grandpa who passed away last November.

I also attempted some pan de muerto. I’ve stumbled across some reference to the possibility that the preparation of this bread has its origins in anthropomorphic figures shaped from sweet amaranth dough and used in mortuary rituals by the Aztecs way back in the day. The recipe I tried lacked in the amaranth department (as did every other recipe I saw) but did feature anise, orange zest, and a bright, sweet orange glaze that gave the finished loaf a golden glow. Others I’ve read call for a brush of egg whites or melted butter and a sprinkle of sugar. People also decorate the finished loaves with colored sugar or white icing. Given that I made my pan de muerto for Tucson’s All Souls Procession, an event that takes a little something from Day of the Dead traditions and a little something from everywhere else and mixes it all into something sparkling and surreal, the act of making pan de muerto and consuming it while preparing for the Procession could be considered an homage to the re-shuffling and mixing of the elements of old traditions into wonderful new ones.

Pan de Muerto with Orange Glaze

(altered slightly from the recipe found here:
• 1/4 cup unsalted butter
• 1/4 cup milk
• 1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F)
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons anise seed
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 teaspoon orange zest
• 1/4 teaspoon orange extract
• ¼ cup fresh orange juice
For glaze:
• 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
• 1 teaspoon orange zest
• ¼ cup sugar

1. Heat the milk and the butter together in a saucepan, until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and add the warm water. The mixture should be around 110 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup of flour, yeast, salt, anise seed, and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Stir in the warm milk mixture. Add beaten eggs, orange zest, and ¼ cup fresh orange juice and stir until well combined. Stir in 1/2 cup of flour and continue adding the rest of the flour until a soft, sticky dough forms.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about ten minutes.
4. Lightly grease a large bowl with butter and place the dough into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp, clean towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours until doubled in size. Punch the dough down and remove two to four golfball-sized lumps (depending on how you want to decorate the loaf.) Shape the remaining large lump of dough into a large round loaf and place dough onto a baking sheet. Form the smaller lumps of dough into bone shapes or other shapes and attach them to the loaf. Loosely cover the loaf with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
5. While dough is rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
6. Bake bread for about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and place loaf on a rack to cool slightly before glazing. (Bread should still be warm when glazed.)
7. To make glaze, combine 1/4 cup sugar, orange juice, and orange zest in a small pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 2 minutes. Brush over top of bread while still warm.