Category Archives: Book of Days Calendar

Good Companions, and Your April Book of Days

Easter brought in April this year. In my family, Easter is one of those holidays that requires days of preparation followed by a good six or seven hours at the table. It begins with the felatta, a traditional platter of cured meats and cheeses and thick fresh orange slices, baskets of two different kinds of homemade taralli (Grandma Cutrone’s and Grandma DeLuca’s), pizza rustica––a savory pie of meats and cheeses and eggs, and dishes of fresh local mozzarella and ricotta. There are the hard boiled eggs, brightly colored, and we have egg fights with them to see whose eggs remain uncracked when they are pitted against each other, tip to tip and butt to butt… and so there are lots of eggs to eat, too. This alone goes on for a good hour and change. And this is just the first course.

So forgive me, I didn’t get to the April edition of your monthly Convivio Book of Days calendar until today, Easter Monday. Which, yes, is a national holiday in many fine countries (like Italy, France, Germany, Canada, and Iceland), mostly in Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. I didn’t include Easter Monday on the calendar, but you will find a few interesting days, mostly toward the end of the month, as well as a real favorite day for many of you: Våffeldagen, or Waffle Day––a more populist name for the Feast of the Annunciation (known yet again as Lady Day). It’s typically on the 25th of March, but in years when the feast falls on Palm Sunday (as it did this year), Palm Sunday takes precedence and Lady Day is moved to the Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter. Which this year happens to be April 9th… so plan now on eating waffles that day.

Your best bet? Print out the April Convivio Book of Days (it’s a PDF, after all, designed to be printed on standard US Letter paper), pin it to your bulletin board, and use it as a companion to the blog (and as a good reminder to enjoy waffles on April 9). This month’s cover star is rather angelic, and that’s a good companion to have, as well. Enjoy.


Humpty Dumpties, Welsh Cakes, & Your March Book of Days

Here is March, brought in by St. David’s Day each year, sacred to Wales. Here, too, is the March edition of your Convivio Book of Days Calendar, our monthly gift to you, a nice companion to the blog. It’s a printable PDF on standard US letter size paper. Cover star this month: one of the Humpty Dumpties we make each Easter at home. The recipe comes from a booklet that came with Gold Medal flour back in the 60s. Mom thought back then they would be a nice addition to our Easter celebration, and we’ve been making them ever since. The dough is sweet, yeasty, and lemony; I draw the faces each year. My mom and sister and I will no doubt be making them this year one day during Holy Week, at the end of the month, in the days before Easter. You can make them, too; just follow the recipe in the photograph (click on the photo to make it larger).

Today, though, is St. David’s Day, a fine day to bake Welsh Cakes. More on that later. Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus is the St. David’s Day greeting in Welsh, but in English, a simple “Happy St. David’s Day” will do. In Wales, it is a day of national pride and national celebration, similar to St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. It is a day of leeks and daffodils. Both are similar in name in Welsh, and of course it is springtime, so the daffodils by now perhaps are blooming beautifully. As for the leeks, this goes back to ancient battle in Wales in which St. David himself is said to have advised the Welsh troops to wear leeks in their caps in order to distinguish themselves from the Saxon troops they were fighting. The leek has since become a symbol of Welsh national pride.

This animosity between the Celtic Welsh and the Saxon-descended English went on for some time. I’m not sure if bakers in England are still making gingerbread taffies for St. David’s Day, but it was a long standing tradition to make these cookies in mockery of the day. The taffies depicted a Welshman riding a goat. There is an old story, as well, of a man on horseback in the north of Wales who comes to a river that he wishes to cross. There was a man working the field nearby, so he asked, in English, if it was safe to cross the river and the laborer replied, in English, that it was indeed. The horse, however, knew better, and refused to pass into the river. So the man upon the horse asked the laborer once again if it was safe to cross the river, this time in Welsh. “Oh, I beg your pardon, sir,” said the man on the ground. “I thought you were an Englishman.”

And so the English made their gingerbread taffies, and hung effigies of Welshmen for St. David’s Day, while in Wales, the folks celebrated in kinder ways, still to this day, with parades and the wearing of national costumes and of course leeks and daffodils. And perhaps the baking of those Welsh Cakes I mentioned earlier. Here’s a recipe for Welsh Cakes from the folks at King Arthur Flour; the one suggestion I might make is that Welsh Cakes often have a scalloped edge, so if you are making them and if you happen to have a scalloped biscuit cutter on hand, you might want to use that one instead of a plain circle. You might serve them with butter or, for a more savory treat, with cheese and leeks.

I love leeks and I love Wales, though I’ve never been there. But I have seen pictures and it looks so utterly beautiful there, and I have heard the language in word and song, and I love the poetry of Dylan Thomas, and the books of Gregynog Press, or Gwasg Gregynog as it’s called there, and while I don’t have a bit of Welsh anything in me, I have long been enthralled by the place. And so Happy St. David’s Day: Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

Seth and I will soon be adding some new arrivals for Easter to our catalog pages: new pysanky eggs from Poland and Ukraine and new paper Easter eggs from Germany to fill with goodies. Everything handmade by traditional artisans. Check back soon at!


Don’t Blush: Here’s your February Book of Days

Type the Italian word minne into Google Translator and ask it to translate to English and you may get what I got: minne––the same word, repeated. Google did not see fit to translate such a word. But we’re all adults here, so I will translate for you: Minne is the Italian equivalent of, well… any number of English slang words for breasts: boobs, tatas, you can take your pick from a very long list. This all brings us to one of the oddest days in the seasonal round: St. Agatha’s Day, when Sicilian bakeries prepare a once-a-year sweet delicacy known as minne de virgine––Virgin’s Breasts––pastries that were invented by the nuns of Catania for us to savor with our espresso.

Saint Agatha, or Sant’Agata in Italian, lived in Catania in Sicily in the third century; she is sacred to those places, especially to Catania. The pastries are made from sponge cake with a mound of sweet ricotta cream on top, covered in marzipan and dotted, in the proper place, with a cherry. You may blush as you eat them, but the pastries come from the story of Agatha’s martyrdom for her faith: The Roman governor of Catania became enthralled with Agata’s beauty. Agata, however, one of the secret upstart Christians in town, had taken a vow of chastity to protect her virginity. The Roman governor would have none of it, though, and continued his advances. Agata continued to reject him to protect her faith… and for this she was sentenced to death by the governor. He had her killed in a gruesome manner that it pains me to describe for you. Yet I fear I must… for it’s the only reason these delicious minne de virgine make any sense: he had Agata’s breasts severed before roasting her above a bed of live coals. I told you it was gruesome.

Sant’Agata is now patroness of Catania. She is invoked for protection from breast disease as well as from volcanic eruptions. It was the nuns of Catania who began baking the confections that we enjoy each Fifth of February, something they’ve been doing for centuries. It’s part of what makes Catholicism so incredibly fascinating, especially in Italy. Marzipan pastries in the shape of breasts made by Catanese nuns? This is probably a big part of what makes Protestants so nervous around us Catholics, even to this day. We are a somewhat dramatic people.

The celebration in Catania has been going on for a few days now, but it all culminates tonight with processions through the city of large carriages and spectacular candelore––enormous towers with lit candles depicting scenes from St. Agatha’s life. The candelore are paraded and danced through the streets of Catania to shouts of “Evviva Sant’Agata!” by men in full costume, the towers hoisted upon their shoulders. (Again, not for the faint of heart.)

I love when there are literary connexions to the foods we eat, and my Italian professoressa, Myriam Swennen Ruthenberg, should she be reading this, might be thinking now of a famous scene in Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel Il Gatopardo (The Leopard, in its English translation) in which Don Fabrizio looks over a vast table of Sicilian desserts that include these minne de vergine, the breasts of St. Agatha. He asks for some and receives them and he beholds them on his plate. He thinks of the famous paintings of St. Agatha presenting her own severed breasts on a plate. He asks, “Why ever didn’t the Holy Office forbid these puddings when it had the chance?”

And so today I hope you can find at an Italian bakery some minne de virgine. You don’t need to blush when you order them; just point, perhaps whisper the word “minne,” pay and go. And if you can’t find them, I have at least one something special for you today. It’s our monthly gift to you, somewhat belated this time around: The Convivio Book of Days Calendar, this time for February. It’s a fine companion to the blog, a PDF that you can print on standard US Letter size paper. You’ll find also a bevy of new items in our Book of Days Catalog for Valentine’s Day that we can ship to you pronto. We ship via US Priority Mail so most orders arrive in two or three days, and we offer free shipping if your order totals $50 or more (it’s a flat domestic shipping rate of $8.50 if your order is less, which is also not so bad).


The title photograph of minne de vergine in Catania is by Stefano Mortellaro, 2005 [Creative Commons] via Wikimedia Commons. The photograph of the statue of Sant’Agata comes to us thanks to Luisa Mangano-Johnson, a new friend of mine. She, too, is from Catania. We met last Saturday at the “Italy in Transit” symposium at Florida Atlantic University, where I got to speak about my family, the film “Moonstruck,” and the connexions between the two and my creative work (including the Convivio Book of Days). Grazie mille, Luisa!