Category Archives: Spring

Spring’s Arrival

It is a time of balance today as all parts of the planet receive equal measure of day and night: it is the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, the autumnal equinox in the Southern, with a 5:37 AM arrival time here in Lake Worth, which is currently in Eastern Daylight Time. Tomorrow––since change is the only thing that stays the same––things shift yet again, and day will be just a bit longer than night here in the North, while night will be just a bit longer than day in the South. And on it goes, until the next moment of extreme in June, when the Midsummer solstice brings the Northern Hemisphere’s longest day, and the Southern Hemisphere’s longest night.

With the spring equinox comes Nowruz, the Persian new year, celebrated by people in Iran and many other places throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Balkans. Nowruz preparations revolve around a thorough cleaning of the home: a spring cleaning, you might say. Families calculate the equinox moment and then begin their celebrations, which involve an abundance of good food and go on for several days.

Other springtide holidays are fast approaching: Passover will begin in the Jewish calendar on the 27th at sunset, and in the Hindu calendar, Holi, the Festival of Colors, comes the next day. That same day in the Christian calendar brings Palm Sunday, setting off the events of Holy Week on the approach to Easter. But not before we celebrate Lady Day, or the Feast of the Annunciation, on the 25th… and that is a day for eating waffles, thanks to a bit of linguistic confusion in Sweden. Every one of these celebrations is tied, in one way or another, to the start of spring and this balance of day and night. This old earth, meanwhile, just does what it does: it spins around each day and spends a year circling around the sun on its tilted axis, giving us our seasons and all the love and celebration we place in them.

Image: March Equinox 2021, a projected Earth daylight distribution on the March Equinox (Northern Spring; Southern Autumn) as seen on SpaceEngine [Creative Commons, via Wikimedia Commons].


Halfway through Lent

It is Midlent on Sunday, Laetare Sunday. In the church, colors will switch, just for today, from somber purple to joyful rose: a reward, perhaps, for getting this far in the forty day journey that takes us from Ash Wednesday to Easter. In the UK, it is Mothering Sunday: Mother’s Day. In times past, this was the day to visit your mum and bring her a simnel cake; nowadays, the simnel cake seems more often transferred to Easter Sunday. It’s a beauty of a cake with a long history, hundreds of years, at least to the time of our favored Book of Days poet Robert Herrick, who was probably eating simnel cakes every spring in the 1600s.

It is a light fruit cake, decorated with eleven balls of marzipan: they represent the twelve apostles, minus Judas Iscariot. If you’re interested in making one, here’s a link to a Convivio Book of Days post about Midlent from the past; it includes a fascinating story about the cake’s origins and a link to a recipe from the BBC (which is also the source of the photo).

This time of Lent is known in Italy as la Quaresima, and I always look at the two words and think the Italian is so much more beautiful. It falls off the tongue like a dance, while the word “Lent” is so spare, so empty. Be that as it may, the Italians know it is a lean time. The symbol for la Quaresima is a gaunt old woman, all skin and bones, called la Quaresima Saggia… an old sage, known not for her beauty but for her wisdom. It is a wise person who understands that we must get through lean times, get through trials, to become better versions of ourselves. Back when food sources were less reliable than they are now, this period of late winter into early spring was always a lean time. A Lenten fast was pious to be sure, but it grew out of a matter of necessity.

While the restrictions of Lent in earlier times were stringent, the rules nowadays are much less so (and perhaps this comes as a result of the food of this earth being more plentiful). In times past, it was no meat for 40 days, no eggs for 40 days… pretty much not much of anything for 40 days. One of my favorite things to make each Lent, though, is perfectly acceptable no matter how strict the fast: pretzels. They are a perfect Lenten bread, made, at their most basic, with just three ingredients, all Lenten-friendly: flour, salt, and water. Our recipe adds leavening and shortening to the dough (all Lenten-friendly), plus ale to the water for boiling… and the Church never had a problem with ale, which, for most of our history, was safer to drink than water. As a bonus, there is symbolism, too (and I love symbolic foods), for the classic pretzel shape of this centuries-old bread evokes the prayer posture of early Christians, who prayed with their arms crossed over their chest. Go ahead, try it right now, then look down at your crossed arms: classic pretzel shape. In fact, the name “pretzel” is thought to be derived from the Latin bracellae: “little arms,” essentially. This penitential bread has a history that goes back much further than the simnel cakes mentioned above. People have been making pretzels since at least the 6th century, and some historians think pretzels may be three centuries older yet. Below, you’ll find our pretzel recipe. They’re fun and easy to make and a great project to tackle as a family, for who doesn’t love a warm, soft pretzel? We encourage you to give the recipe a try.

A reminder, too, about our Springtime Stock-Up Sale: at the Convivio Bookworks catalog, $10 off everything in the shop when you spend $65, plus free domestic shipping when you used the discount code BUNNY at checkout. New arrivals and other springtime offerings include handmade paper egg containers from Germany (perfect for your jelly beans and malted eggs come Easter!), handmade wooden bunnies from Germany to help welcome spring, as well as handpainted pysanky eggs from Poland and Ukraine, and handmade chenille chicks from Germany for your Easter basket. “Handmade” is the theme for almost everything we offer. Use the BUNNY discount code also toward all of our Shaker teas and culinary herbs, toward our selection of Ramadan and Eid cards from Hello Holy Days!, toward our beautiful triple layer face masks from Chiapas… everything we sell.

We’re halfway through Lent… enjoy the rosy day. Now go ahead, make some pretzels!

2 cups warm water
6 teaspoons yeast (two 1/4 ounce packages––we recommend rapid-rise yeast)
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
6 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons course salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (or shortening), cut in pieces, plus more butter for the pan (or vegetable oil cooking spray)
1 bottle ale or beer
1/2 cup baking soda
Course salt for topping, plus poppy seeds & caraway seeds (optional)

Take note, this recipe is best begun the night before you intend to make the pretzels. First, add yeast and 1/2 cup brown sugar to a bowl, then add the warm water. Let yeast mixture get foamy (about 10 minutes).

Next, mix the dough. Mix the flour and course salt in a bowl, then add the butter; mix until crumbly. Add yeast mixture and combine until the water is absorbed. Next, knead the dough on a board (or use a mixer with a dough hook attachment for this step, which makes things a lot easier). Once the dough is smooth and elastic, let it rise in a bowl (it will grow considerably, so use a large one). Wrap the bowl in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

When you’re ready to shape the pretzels, roll the dough out into a rectangle; it should be about 14 inches in one dimension and 12 inches in the other, which is important if you want pretzels that are uniform in size (and if you don’t care about uniformity, make them any size you wish, which is what we did on Sunday). Cut the dough into twelve 14″ strips. Roll each into a rope double in size (so, at least 28″ long), then form into whatever shape you like. For a classic pretzel shape, form each long rope into a U, twisting the two ends in the middle twice, then fold the twisted portion down and press the ends of the ropes into the circular part of the pretzel to seal. Set each pretzel on the baking board or on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450º F. In a large pot, heat 8 cups water, ale (feel free to have a sip or two, so long as most of the ale ends up in the pot), baking soda, and remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar to a slow boil. Simmer pretzels, one at a time, for about 30 seconds, holding each below the surface with a slotted spoon, if necessary. This step is what gives the pretzels that delicious combination of crusty exterior and soft, chewiness inside. Transfer each simmered pretzel to a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle pretzels with salt, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, or some combination of toppings. Bake in the upper half of the oven for 5 minutes, then rotate baking sheet and bake 4 to 6 minutes longer, until the pretzels are dark brown. When done, cool on a wire rack… but these are best served warm, so let them cool for just a few minutes. You’ll get 12 large pretzels from this recipe. If that’s too many, the finished pretzels freeze really well. To enjoy them later, thaw and reheat in a 300º F oven until crisp.


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Springtime Stock-Up Sale

Well, we are approaching the halfway point of Lent: this weekend, I’ll be writing to you about Laetare Sunday, or Midlent, the day when pink replaces purple (just for one day), and the old traditional day for Simnel Cakes (before they became an Easter tradition). It’s the perfect time, we figured, for a Springtime Stock-Up Sale!

Here’s the deal: Use discount code BUNNY for $10 off your purchase of $65 at our shop, no matter what you’re buying, plus free domestic shipping. That’s a total savings of $18.50. Click here to shop! New arrivals for springtime include a bunch of new handmade wooden bunnies from Germany (including our Autobahn Bunny, shown above, which features rolling wheels and four different color cars) and a brand new springtime incense smoker from Germany that’s a toadstool cottage (the incense smoke rises from the chimney, while a bunny family gathers in the yard). Truth be told, the sale has been going on all this week, and there’s only one of those incense smokers left right now. We also have traditional handmade paper egg containers from Germany, ready to be filled with Easter grass and malted eggs and jelly beans, and adorable handmade chenille chicks––so soft!––for your Easter basket. And handpainted pysanky eggs in wood from Poland and the Ukraine. But everything on our website counts when it comes to this sale.

We also just today got a new shipment of triple layer embroidered face masks from Chiapas, replenishing our depleted stock. They’re part of the Springtime Stock-Up Sale, too!

Locals: If you’re willing to come pick up from our front porch in Lake Worth Beach, feel free to use discount code PICKUP when you order––it will deduct the $8.50 shipping charge for orders of any size. But we always give you free domestic shipping automatically when you spend $50. I’m happy to make a bicycle delivery, too, in the 33460 zip code.

Take a look around, won’t you? Click here to shop, and don’t forget discount code BUNNY when you check out for $10 off your purchase of $65, plus free domestic shipping. Happy Spring!

John & Seth
Convivio Bookworks