Category Archives: Lent

Pancakes, Heart & Soul

The Pancake Bakery

It’s a mid-week in mid-February and here come a couple of multi-faceted, multi-ceremonial days. It’s Tuesday today to begin with, and an extraordinary one at that: It is Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Mobile and Key West, and in Venezia, it is Martedi Grasso, and both the French and the Italian translate to Fat Tuesday. This is a movable celebration based on the timing of Lent, which is based on the timing of Easter, which is based on the timing of the full moon that comes with or after the Vernal Equinox. Tonight, the festivity of Carnival concludes. But for most of us, those of us who are far from the cities that celebrate Mardi Gras, tonight is simply a time to eat pancakes or crepes for supper, for the day is also known as Pancake Tuesday, and Shrove Tuesday.

Shrove Tuesday concludes Shrovetide, which is the time we’ve been in for several weeks now: the time after Christmas ends and before Lent begins, and there are many traditional foodways for Shrove Tuesday, even beyond the delectable pancake. Polish bakeries will have pączki today, a rich filled doughnut, and Germans will be making doughnuts, too, for this night they call Fasnacht: this night (nacht) before the fast. And in Sweden and Finland, you’ll find semlor on the table: buns scented with cardamom and filled with almond paste and cream. Our friends at Johan’s Joe, the Swedish coffeehouse in West Palm Beach where Seth and I have been known to buy a semla or two, tell us that originally semlor were made only for Fat Tuesday, or Fettisdagen, but nowadays Swedes bake semlor for all the Tuesdays of Lent. Traditions are living things; they do evolve.

How celebratory for a Tuesday to have pancakes for supper! But no matter if you are eating pancakes tonight, or doughnuts, or semlor, the idea behind all these things is the same. To clear the larder of the things that, traditionally, were not to be consumed during the Lenten fast, and in years past, this was a fairly extensive list (much more so than it is today): no eggs, no meat, no lard, no milk, no cheese, no sugar… no nothin’. And it was not just on Fridays; it was for the full forty days of Lent. When our ancestors fasted for Lent, they really meant it. Lent was forty days of beans and pulses and vegetables and fish and absolutely nothing fun. The Italians certainly understood this. Their traditional symbol for Carnival was a jolly plump fellow called il Carnevale Pazzo: Crazy Carnival. He’s usually seen dancing and playing a mandolin while a necklace of sausages dangles around his neck. But Lent brings la Quaresima Saggia: Wise Lent. She is thin and gaunt and somber. Head cast down, pensive, she is dressed in rags and carries a rope of garlic and dried cod.

It is il Carnevale Pazzo who tucks us into bed tonight on Shrove Tuesday, and in the morning, la Quaresima Saggia is the one who wakes us up, and when she does, we awaken to Ash Wednesday, the first day of our 40-day Lenten journey. Lent these days, it must be said, is no big sacrifice. Some folks give up sweets for Lent, or give up booze, or give up gossiping. All the Church asks is that we be more prayerful and more penitent and give up meat on Fridays. As a kid, for me this meant a season of fish sticks for supper on Fridays, or lentil soup without the sausage. Which was all fine with me. I was the sort of kid who ate anything that was put on my plate, no questions asked. Lucky for me, though, I was born in an age where fish sticks on Fridays met the obligatory sacrifice for Lent, and no one took away my eggs and cheeses and desserts. That would be a real sacrifice.

And then sometimes, like this year, St. Valentine runs headlong into la Quaresima Saggia, and therein lies a dilemma for young lovers who find themselves seated at fancy restaurants for an amorous Valentine’s Day dinner, debating whether they should have the fish or the lentil soup… or the Boeuf Bourguignon cooked to perfection. We may find ourselves sitting there, wondering WWJD (What Would Julia (Child) Do?).

I am not “old” but I am older, and Seth and I have more sense than to dine out on Valentine’s Day. One of our favorite Valentine’s Day celebrations was take out Thai noodles, picnic-style on a blanket on the floor, while we watched A Room with a View on DVD. This year, our niece is coming to dinner and she doesn’t eat meat, anyway. She won’t even realize it’s a ceremonial night of sacrifice when I put a bowl of Pasta Fagioli in front of her. It is an experiment, mind you: She’s not terribly adventurous when it comes to food, and this will be her first encounter ever, I am told, with the mild yet delectable cannellini bean. My hope is she will love cannellini beans and my version of Pasta Fagioli––cavatappi with those creamy white beans, infused with garlic and drizzled with fresh olive oil, seasoned just right with freshly-ground salt and pepper. Where love takes root, we say, let it grow. Especially on Valentine’s Day (and especially one combined with Ash Wednesday).


You’ll find our newest Copperman’s Day print and all our Copperman’s Day prints now at our our online catalog when you CLICK HERE. Order 5 or more of any of our mini prints (Copperman’s Day prints, B Mine Valentines, and our famous Keep Lake Worth Quirky prints) and use the code COPPERMAN when you check out; we’ll take $5 off your order to help balance out our flat rate domestic shipping charge of $9.50. (And if you ordered Copperman’s Day prints last week, when we were first announced them, worry not! Your orders should ship out tomorrow.)

If you’re doing more serious shopping (and we do have lots to offer if you are), you may instead use discount code LOVEHANDMADE to save $10 on your $85 purchase, plus get free domestic shipping, too. That’s a total savings of $19.50. Spend less than $85 and our flat rate shipping fee of $9.50 applies. Newest arrivals: Letterpress printed Valentine cards in the Valentine section, and check our Specialty Foods section for some incredibly delicious chocolate we found from Iceland, including a particularly Icelandic blend of milk chocolate and licorice. If you love both these things, well… Icelanders long ago discovered that covering black licorice in milk chocolate, then dusting the result in licorice powder, is just amazing. (Trust me: we’re on our third bag so far.)  CLICK HERE to shop; you know we appreciate your support immensely.

Image: “The Pancake Bakery” by Peter Aertsen. Oil on Panel, 1560. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

Chiacciere for Carnevale

Carnevale, the pre-Lenten season of extravagance, began this past weekend in Venice.  There are some places in Italy where the Carnival season begins as soon as Epiphany has passed, but Venice to me always seems like the gold standard of Carnival celebrations. I love its High Baroque style: the elaborate costumes, the masks, the harlequin. It is another of the many celebrations we don’t pay much attention to here in the States, except perhaps in the cities that were settled by the French: New Orleans and Mobile come to mind, and Key West, too (and that is probably not so much a French influence but more a simple fact that the Conchs in our state’s southern-most city love a good party).

Carnevale––these days preceding Lent––is extreme in its extravagance purposefully, for the forty days of Lent that follow are extreme in the opposite direction: a season of fasting and penitence. Those forty somber days, a sort of cleansing and putting things in order, are instituted by the Church, but even without the religious aspect, some semblance of this would be necessary. Food, one must remember, was not as easy to come by in years past as it is now. Even I––and I am not that old––can remember winter, when I was a kid, being a time of canned and frozen fruits and vegetables. Imagine things a century or two ago: By this time, as winter drags on in its approach to spring, food stores would be running low and some fasting, whether penitential or not, would certainly be necessary.

But that is Lent and this is not. Before the fast comes, we are granted time to be extravagant and to celebrate and to make good use of all the things that will soon be forbidden. Carnival is a time of parades and street festivals while inside, it is a time for clearing out the larder. All the sausages, all the roasts, all the eggs, all the milk and cheese… it all had to go now.

Traditional festive foods for Carnevale vary throughout Italy, but many, especially the sweets, are fried. It is even thought that the ever popular Cannoli, the Italian dessert known around the world, originated as a Carnevale treat from Sicily. A simpler Carnevale recipe to try, and a favorite throughout Italy at this time of year, is for a delicately fried sweet called Chiacciere. They take their name from the Italian for chatter, or gossip, but we’re talking here not about gossip but about strips of lemon-scented dough, twisted and fried crisp and dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Here’s a typical recipe for Chiacciere. You’ve got some time to ponder making these treats. My sister will probably be making some before Lent begins; we’ll be enjoying them, and if you try them, too, let us know!

And so Carnevale has just begun and it will continue this year through the 13th of February, which is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, and it is Ash Wednesday that marks the beginning of Lent. Shrove Tuesday is a day to eat pancakes for supper. That is a particularly British custom, and here in this land settled first by English Puritans, this is what most Americans know about the season of Carnival. And while it is no comparison to Carnevale in Venice, still, pancakes for supper is not such a bad thing. In Italian, that day is Martedi Grosso; in French, it is Mardi Gras, and those are words we all know and associate especially with New Orleans and Mobile.

Nowadays the restrictions of Lent are pretty easy: the only hard and fast rule is no meat on Fridays. In times past, though, Lent was indeed a time of serious fasting: no meat, no eggs, no fun, no nothing. But again: these things are days and days away. For now, all we need to know is it’s time to enjoy a bit of extravagance.


At our online catalog right now use discount code LOVEHANDMADE to save $10 on your $85 purchase, plus get free domestic shipping, too. That’s a total savings of $19.50. Spend less than $85 and our flat rate shipping fee of $9.50 applies. If you’ve not taken a look lately at what Convivio Bookworks has to offer, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you’ll find here. Newest arrivals: Check our Specialty Foods section for some incredibly delicious chocolate we found from Iceland, including a particularly Icelandic blend of milk chocolate and licorice. If you love both these things, well… Icelanders long ago discovered that covering black licorice in milk chocolate, then dusting the result in licorice powder, is just amazing. (Trust me: we’ve gone through two bags so far.)  CLICK HERE to shop; you know we appreciate your support immensely.

Image: “Carnival in Venice” by Aleksandra Exter. Oil on canvas, circa 1930s, via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s Laetare Sunday, and Mother’s Day in the UK, Father’s Day in Italy

It’s Midlent: The Fourth Sunday of Lent, and halfway through our Lenten journey we get a Sunday whose color is rose, the color of joy, rather than penitent purple. A little break, a small reprieve, in celebration of being midway through. The day is called Laetare Sunday, a name derived from the first few words of the Mass for this day, in Latin: It is Isaiah 66:10: Laetare Jerusalem (“Rejoice, O Jerusalem”). It’s the day when folks in the United Kingdom honor their mothers: Mothering Sunday, they call it. And this year, Laetare Sunday happens to fall on St. Joseph’s Day. San Giuseppe, sacred to Italy, where today is Father’s Day, in honor of the saint who was foster father to Jesus.

I apologize for not writing more this past week, when we honored St. Patrick, of course, and one day before that, St. Urho, whom the Finns know as the saint who drove the grasshoppers out of Finland. Either St. Urho has not gotten as much publicity as Patrick, or he is completely fictional: we’ll leave that up to you. Of St. Joseph, though, we can be certain, and we can be certain, too, that it is a day to find a good Italian bakery and some zeppole to enjoy with your after-dinner espresso tonight. We Italians consume zeppole in great quantities on this day, and there is nothing quite like being in an Italian bakery on this feast day and witnessing the rolling racks filled with zeppole: delicately light pastries filled with custard and garnished with cherries, or their lesser known cousins, sfinci, the same delicate pastry filled not with custard but with sweet ricotta, like cannoli. These things make us swoon this one day each spring. We are a dramatic, operatic people and the Festa di San Giuseppe is one of our annual highlights (and surprise: it revolves around food).

And by Monday it will be spring by the almanac: Balance comes to this old earth Monday, March 20, at 5:24 PM Eastern. Day and night roughly equal from North Pole to South, for just a short time, and then our Northern Hemisphere days grow longer than our nights as we make our way toward the Midsummer Solstice of June. The constant rearrange, so subtle we barely perceive it until we sit back and ponder it in the blocks of time we call seasons. These things will never cease to amaze me.

It was last summer that we were going to have our annual Wayzgoose at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts –– an online video event featuring the fabulous letterpress printer Jennifer Farrell of Starshaped Press in Chicago with music by singer/songwriter and recording artist Patty Larkin and me as host –– but Patty Larkin suffered a terrible accident before we could film the Wayzgoose last summer. It was obvious to me that we had to wait for Patty to recover. “No Patty Larkin, no Wayzgoose.” She had a long road ahead of her, but she did it. Patty’s been touring again, and earlier this winter, she recorded her Wayzgoose concert for us. In the meantime, I recorded my interview with Jen Farrell, and still these past few weeks I’ve been filming and editing, and the last edits will be coming at a more furious pace these next few days, all so we can have the Wayzgoose ready for its March 25 World Premiere. Won’t you join us? You can watch from anywhere in the world, and if you join us at 7 Eastern on Saturday, you’ll be part of a worldwide wave of viewers celebrating good print and good music. Click here to learn more and to watch on Saturday at 7. (The premiere takes place at the Jaffe Center’s website.)

I have a suggestion for your Saturday viewing party: Fix yourself and for those watching with you a steaming plate of waffles. I’ll explain why at the Wayzgoose. The Wayzgoose traditionally falls on Bartlemas, St. Bartholomew’s Day –– a very quirky day in the Round of the Year if ever there was one. And when it came to rescheduling this Wayzgoose, I chose the 25th of March for similar reasons. Trust me: make the waffles, serve them with maple syrup or with ice cream, then sit down with us at 7 on Saturday evening to watch. You’ll love the work of Jennifer Farrell and Patty Larkin’s concert will have you beaming… and you will appreciate the waffle connexion.

So many good wishes for you this day and this coming week!

COME SEE US! Find us on Saturday April 1 at JOHAN’S JOE in Downtown West Palm Beach from 7 AM to 3 PM for a little Springtime Market that Johan’s Joe and Convivio Bookworks are hosting together. We had a Christmas Market last December and it was so much fun and we met so many wonderful people, we’ve decided to collaborate again for Easter. We’ll have all our handcrafted goods for spring and Easter there from Germany, Sweden, and Ukraine.

SAVE ONLINE! At our online catalog, save $10 off your purchase of $85 or more, plus get free domestic shipping, too, when you use discount code BUNNY at checkout. It’s our Zippin’ Into Springtime Sale, good on everything in the shop, now through Easter (and probably a bit beyond, too). CLICK HERE to shop! And don’t forget to use discount code BUNNY at checkout if your order is $85 or more.


Zeppole e Sfinci

Images: Zeppole and sfinci, above. The zeppole are more popular; the sfinci at this bakery are identified by green candied cherries. Top: “Stasera Zeppole” translates to “Tonight Zeppole.” The photograph of a baker’s storefront window was taken by Giovanni Dall’Orto in Syracuse, Sicily.