This year my daughter is in 9th grade, and at her school it is, according to custom, the 9th grade girls who, garbed in long gowns and flower crowns, will tame the fierce dragon at the school’s Michaelmas festival this week. In honor of this event, I made for the first time a bread maiden to accompany our dragon bread. Perhaps it will become a new household tradition.
If you would like to make your own, here is the recipe I use (on last September’s post). I used 1-1/2 times the recipe for the two figures, which are about 14″ high. Happy Michaelmas, everyone!
Today is the feast of Michaelmas, on which we acknowledge and resolve to transform our Inner Dragons, an ongoing and elusive undertaking that is refreshed by this annual reminder. And it helps to dress ourselves and our table in red, and for breakfast to dine upon freshly baked dragon bread with honey and cider and apples from the Saturday farmers market.
Here is the recipe I use for Dragon Bread. It’s a modification of “Arkansas Hot Rolls,” one I clipped from The Washington Post at the time of Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, a recipe to which we now refer as “Bill’s Buns.” (Now, there’s a fellow who has wrestled impressively with his inner dragons.) Next year I resolve to photograph and post the steps for shaping the dough. The one pictured below is about 18” wide, making enough to share with neighbors.
3/4 cup butter
1 cup scalded milk
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup cold water
2 T dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
3-1/2 cups unbleached white flour
3 cups whole-wheat flour
More flour as needed
Combine butter and scalded milk and stir until butter is melted. Combine beaten eggs, brown sugar and salt and beat in the cold water.
Soften yeast in the lukewarm water. Combine the three mixtures and then add HALF the flour. Stir well and let this sponge rise about 45 minutes. Then stir down and add the rest of the flour and knead well about ten minutes, adding small handfuls of flour if necessary if the dough is very sticky. (This varies depending upon kind of flour and humidity.) Place in a LARGE bowl, cover with a towel, and allow to rise for about 2 hours.
Then shape it into a dragon (see directions for this in September 2013)—or into anything you like!—and place it on a buttered baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, with plenty of room around it for a final rising. Bake in a preheated 350º oven for about 50 minutes total. BUT you must do this in stages, covering the crisping brown edges with aluminum foil starting at about 20 minutes, to prevent them from burning. Serve with butter and honey.
I hope you have paid your debts, hung your lucky couplets on the door, swept your house clean of ill-fortune, and decked it and yourself in red, because today is the first day of Chinese New Year celebrations, and you have fifteen days of festivities ahead of you. Our own culinary interpretation of this holiday: tonight I will make crispy tofu and stir-fried broccoli and ginger but will order spicy eggplant and vegetarian dumplings from Mr. Chen’s Organic Chinese Restaurant around the corner. We’ve already prepared our New Year fortunes—more on that later.
2012 is the Year of the Dragon, and if you were born in a Dragon year, you are (according to Mr. Chen’s placemats) eccentric, and your life complex. You have a very passionate nature and abundant health. Marry a Monkey or Rat late in life, and avoid the Dog!
Today is also the birthday of painter Édouard Manet (1832-1883), who was himself born in the Year of the Dragon. I hope that, in addition to his other qualities, he had a sense of humor.
This year two festivals of autumn fall upon the same day: Michaelmas, the feast of the dragon-conquering St. Michael the Archangel, and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. And appropriately so, since both, although from different spiritual traditions, call for reflection upon and atonement for our deeds and misdeeds of the past year and a courageous awakening to our innermost thoughts. The days now grow shorter, and as we head into winter we plan consciously to nurture the light within.
So in our family we honor the season ecumenically, if perhaps sacrilegiously, and don red garments, blow our tofu horn, say special verses and blessings to help us reflect, and share apples dipped in honey and challah baked in the shape of a dragon. A light-filled MichaelmHashanah to you.
This is a perfectly legitimate image for my post, if you consider dough to be an alternative art form, which I do.
Today is the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, whose annual dragon-conquering celebration is one of a number of fall festivals of reflection, review of our darker sides, and re-commitment to inner transformation—Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali, Martinmas—coinciding appropriately with the shrinking daylight. Take heart, dress in festive red, light the candles, recite poetry, sing songs, bake dragon bread to share with family and friends, and resolve to befriend, digest, and tame that inner dragon.