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Food, Culture & Holidays

International Women's Day

March 8


I had never heard of International Women's Day until I lived in Italy.  Which is strange because the origins of it began in the United States.  In 1908, in New York City, 15,000 women picketed for voting rights and better pay and hours.  To commemorate this strike, the Socialist Party of America observed the first National Women's Day a year later.


Then in 1910, at the second International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen, Denmark, Clara Peltkin from Germany proposed an annual International Women's Day to be held worldwide on the same day.  This conference of 100 women representing 17 different countries unanimously approved.  In 1911, on March 19th, the very first International Women's Day was held in Denmark, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.  Over one million women and men rallied for women's rights.  


On March 25th, however, tragedy both tempered and spurred the fight for women's rights when a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan.  To prevent their employees from taking breaks or stealing, the factory owners had locked the doors.  As a result, 146 garment workers (123 women and 23 men; some as young as 14) lost their lives.  This particular tragedy and the working conditions that led to it became a rallying cry for future International Women's Days.


In 1975, the United Nations celebrated International Women's Day for the first time; and in 1996, it adopted an annual theme for the celebration.  In 2016, the theme is Pledging for Parity.  For more on International Women's Day, its history, worldwide events, and all that is done for the empowerment of women, please visit


How women around the world honor International Women's Day varies.  Some events are quite serious while others are simply a way for women to connect with each other, laugh, and decompress.  My first celebration in Italy was of the latter variety.


In Italy, it is common to give women chocolates and a small bouquet or sprig of yellow mimosa flowers.  Even when I filled up my gas tank (or rather had it filled up--no self-serve gas stations when I lived there), the attendant gave me a glass pin shaped like mimosas.  Then later that evening, I did what 100 other women in my area did: I went to a restaurant that was reserved for women only.  The women there ranged in age from pre-teen girls to great grandmothers. Women played instruments and sang.  Women danced together.  Mimosa sprigs tied in pink ribbon were at our places and when our food was brought, all of the plates were decorated with erotically-shaped pasta.  And then, the lights went down and we were treated to some of the most awkward and non-rhythmic dancing of what the Italians called "strippermen".  


I'm not exactly sure this kind of celebration is what the founders of International Women's Day had in mind; but it was good.  All of it is good--the seriousness of women's empowerment and the enjoyment of it.  


And so, to commemorate women everywhere, and to honor the first time I celebrated International Women's Day, I offer you this mimosa.


Rather than a flower, it's a drink.  Normally made from equal parts champagne and orange juice, this mimosa takes its cues from the spremuta (freshly squeezed blood orange juice) I used to drink when my body couldn't handle another espresso.  I also mix it with a bit of tangerine and top it with Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine).  I hope you enjoy it.  For the recipe, just click on the image.


To you, and women everywhere, I raise my glass!













Fat Tuesday


Whether you call it Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Martedi Grasso, Carnival, Carnevale, Pancake Day, or Pączki Day, the Tuesday before the forty days of Lent begins is filled with delicious decadence in both food and behavior!  We may dress in elaborate costumes, dance in parades, and gorge ourselves on all things fatty, sugary, and rich.  


Fat Tuesday has always been a part of my life.  Because part of my family is Polish, I called Fat Tuesday "Pączki Day".  Pączki (pronounced ponch-key) are similar to doughnuts only in the sense that they're deep-fried rounds of dough that are usually filled with jam or custard.  Unlike doughnuts, pączki are so rich in eggs and butter that the dough is a deep yellow and can be a bit airy.  When I was younger, pączki had to be specially-ordered from bakeries in Hamtramck just north of Detroit.  If you didn't put in your order or didn't have anyone make them for you, your Fat Tuesday could be very lean indeed.


Nowadays, you can find pączki throughout all of Michigan in supermarkets.  They're not really pączki.  They're jelly doughnuts.  This year, my husband challenged me to make my own.


So, I did!


But I gave my pączki an Italian twist.  I lived in the Friuli region of Italy from 1999 to 2002.  Being only an hour from Venice by train, my husband and I were able to attend Carnevale three years in a row.  One year, we even went in costumes!



Getting used to our masks on the train ride into Venice.  They were made of papier-maché but were a bit awkward.  I bought plain white masks from Ca'Macana (the same store that supplied the white masks to the movie, "Eyes Wide Shut"--look at me, name dropping!) and decorated them.  

Our debut in front of St. Mark's Basilica.  We dressed as "Mare e Bosco" or "the Sea and the Woods".  It was an interesting experience wearing the masks.  It was equal parts nerve-wracking (trying to navigate the alleyways and bridges without tripping or falling into the canals) and anonymously powerful (strangers stopping us to take our photo).  

When we dressed up for Carnevale in Venice, we were so busy striking poses, we didn't actually eat anything.  If we had, we could have tried a Venetian Carnevale food called sanguinaccio.  It's chocolate pudding but, you know, with pig's blood.  I made a chocolate espresso custard as one of the pączki fillings.   Don't worry--It's blood-free!  


The other Italian influence for my pączki is frittelle. Called by many different names throughout Italy, frittelli are pieces of dough that are deep-fried and dusted with cinnamon and sugar.  I left some of the pączki unfilled; I simply tossed them with sugar and cinnamon while still warm.

Carnevalata ('little Carnival") in my small mountain town.  There were angel wings, frittelli, custard cake, soda, and wine!  I wonder who owns that hand holding the glass next to the cake?

The last Italian influence for my pączki is more personal.  My grandma makes a delicious coconut cream pie.  It's so good that my usually lovely cousin (we'll call her "L") and I pseudo-threaten each other if one of us gets a bigger piece.  Anyway, my grandma got the recipe from her mom.  My Italian great-grandmother died four days after my first birthday and even though all I have is a picture and a few stories of her, it's nice to know that she lives on through my food.  I updated her coconut custard recipe and used it as a pączki filling. 

I made mini pączki.  The top is filled with chocolate espresso custard, the right has toasted coconut custard, and the left is cinnamon and sugar.

Give the recipe for pączki a try.  They're light, delicious, and you can eat even more! And even if you don't celebrate Fat Tuesday, you can still eat pączki and have a Fat Thursday or a Fat Saturday or a Fat... 

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