Mar 232018
 

Today is World Meteorological Day (WMD – ominous acronym!!) celebrating the founding of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on this date in 1950.  It is the successor to the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), which was founded in 1873. WMO is the specialized agency of the United Nations for meteorology (both weather and climate), operational hydrology and related geophysical sciences. Its current Secretary-General is Petteri Taalas and the President of the World Meteorological Congress, its supreme body, is David Grimes. The Organization is headquartered in Geneva.

On 23rd March 2017, WMO released a completely revised and updated electronic version of the International Cloud Atlas — https://web.archive.org/web/20170525194647/https://www.wmocloudatlas.org/home.html — combining 19th century traditions with 21st century technology. The International Cloud Atlas was first published by WMO predecessor, IMO, in 1896. The new version contains hundreds of images submitted by meteorologists, photographers and cloud lovers from around the globe. It includes new classifications, including volutus, a roll cloud; clouds from human activities such as the contrail, a vapor trail sometimes produced by airplanes; and asperitas, a dramatic undulated cloud which captured the public imagination. It also features meteorological phenomena such as rainbows, halos, snow devils and hailstones.

Today would be a good day to have a teaching moment with someone who confuses weather and climate and says things like, “This winter has been really cold and snowy; how can climate change be real?” There are plenty of them, so you will have your work cut out for you. The theme for 2018 is “Weather Ready; Climate Smart.”

What recipe would make you “weather ready” today? It will very much depend where you are. It is always 32˚C during the day here in Phnom Penh (which reminds me that if you live in a benighted country that still uses Fahrenheit for weather reports, you might want to take some time to get used to Celsius). My old home in New York has been experiencing snow storm after snow storm this year, and it looks as if they are dreaming of a White Easter. Actually, whether it is snowing or baking hot, I always enjoy hearty soups (yes, I know, I am weird). To be ready for anything, especially if you are snowed in and making do with what you have, I always enjoy what I call “throw-everything-in-a-pot soup.” I have some on the stove right now. Some people in the US call it refrigerator soup (that is, pull everything out of the refrigerator you can find and simmer it up together). The difference for me is that I put in dried legumes, pasta, sauces, and vegetables from my garden, along with stuff knocking around in the refrigerator.

I usually start with a chicken stock base and add whatever meat or bones I have available. If I am using dried legumes they have to go in first because they need to cook for several hours (lentils, a little less). The trick is to time the addition of ingredients:

First: meats and dried legumes

Second: vegetables

Third: pasta

The pasta is last because I like it just al dente when served.  The absolute key to throw-everything-in-a-pot soup is taste, taste, taste. You need to adjust flavorings regularly according to the underlying taste of the stock. I may add soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, mushroom ketchup, and various herbs and spices depending on how the stock base is evolving. This is a real test of your culinary skills. If you are not careful you can wind up with something hideous. You can also end up with something magical. Have at it.

Feb 022016
 

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Today is Groundhog Day in the United States. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will persist for six more weeks. The custom derives from European celebrations of Candlemas which I describe in detail here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/candlemas/

At one time in southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges celebrated the holiday with fersommlinge, social events at which food was served, speeches were made, and one or more g’spiel (plays or skits) were performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect was the only language spoken at the event, and those who spoke English paid a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime, or quarter per word spoken, with the money put into a bowl.

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Groundhog Day was adopted in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in 1887, when Clymer H. Freas, the editor of the local paper Punxsutawney Spirit, began promoting the town’s groundhog as the official “Groundhog Day meteorologist.” Thus, to this day the largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, with Punxsutawney Phil. Groundhog Day, already a widely recognized and popular tradition in The United States, received widespread attention as a result of the 1993 film Groundhog Day (which my son and I watch religiously every year on 2nd February).

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The celebration began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries. It has its origins in European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator, as opposed to a groundhog. It also bears similarities to the festival of Imbolc (the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1 and also involves weather prognostication): http://www.bookofdaystales.com/imbolc-and-brigid/ .

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The first documented U.S. reference to Groundhog Day can be found in a diary entry, dated February 4, 1841, by storekeeper James Morris of Morgantown, Pennsylvania:

Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.

This reflects old European traditions, such as in this rhyme from England:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

From Scotland:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year.

And from Germany:

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until May.
For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine before May.

Several scenes in the movie Groundhog Day take place in a diner, the Tip Top Café. Here’s one scene in which blueberry waffles are featured.

I used to make these when I lived in New York State and had a waffle maker. They make a hearty breakfast for a cold early February morning.

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Blueberry Waffles

Waffles:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1⅔ cups milk
3 eggs, separated
¼ cup butter, melted
⅔ cup fresh blueberries

Sauce:

1½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries
½ cup orange juice
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp cornstarch

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk together the milk, egg yolks and butter and stir them into dry ingredient gently. Don’t beat too much. Fold in the blueberries.

Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form. Gently fold them into the batter.

Cook the batter in portions in a preheated waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

For the sauce, combine the blueberries, ¼ cup orange juice and honey in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Combine the cornstarch and remaining orange juice until smooth and then gradually stir it into the berry mixture. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.

Serve the waffles with warm syrup, fresh blueberries, and whipped cream.