Everything You Need to Know About Groundhog Day

Alex Wong / Getty Images

By Albrecht Powell

Every year on February 2, exactly halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox, Americans eagerly await the emergence of Punxsutawney Phil, the Western Pennsylvania groundhog who predicts the conclusion of winter by seeing his own shadow. Whether or not you believe in the folklore, Groundhog Day is a cherished tradition with a long history and international renown, primarily due to the 1993 hit movie, “Groundhog Day.”

Although the holiday, as it is today, is a uniquely American tradition, the history stretches hundreds of years back before the first Europeans ever crossed the Atlantic.

Religious Beginnings

The roots of Groundhog Day go all the way back to a different celebration, the Christian feast day of Candlemas. On February 2, Christians traditionally bring candles to their local church to be blessed, which in turn bring light and warmth to the home for the remainder of winter.

At some point, a Candlemas folk song appeared in England that added the element of weather forecast to the holiday:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

Due to the song, the connection between Candlemas and the beginning of spring spread across all of Europe, but still without any connection to an animal.

Introduction of the Groundhog

Germany created its own interpretation of Candlemas and incorporated small hibernating animals into the lore, such as hedgehogs. If a hedgehog emerged on February 2 and saw its own shadow, there would be six more weeks of cold weather. If it didn’t see its own shadow, then spring would come early.

As early German immigrants arrived in America and settled in what is now Pennsylvania, Candlemas is just one of the many customs they brought with them. Because hedgehogs are native to Europe and don’t exist in the wild in North America, the German settlers searched for another burrowing animal in the area to consult and found the groundhog.

First Groundhog Day

The first official Groundhog Day was celebrated on February 2, 1886, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, with a proclamation in The Punxsutawney Spirit by the newspaper’s editor, Clymer Freas: “Today is Groundhog Day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow.” Exactly one year later, townspeople made the first trip to Gobbler’s Knob, the hill where the famous groundhog emerges from, and thus began the modern tradition of Groundhog Day. The local paper proclaimed that Punxsutawney Phil, as he was affectionately named, was the one and only official weather prognosticating groundhog.

Phil’s fame began to spread and newspapers from around the world began to report his predictions. Growing legions of fans started making the trek to Punxsutawney every February 2, and with the release of the movie “Groundhog Day,” the crowds began to number in the tens of thousands. Phil’s yearly Groundhog Day predictions are even entered into the Congressional Record.

Groundhog Day Inspectors with Groundhog
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Punxsutawney Groundhog Day Celebration

Many major news networks show the festivities for viewers to watch live online or on TV from the comfort of your own home, which takes place at 7:25 a.m. Eastern time.

If you want to catch a glimpse of Phil’s prediction in person, arrive in Punxsutawney a few hours early or, ideally, at least the day before. Thousands of tourists descend on the small town each February, so lodging and parking are severely limited. Several shuttles provide transportation throughout the morning from the town center to Gobbler’s Knob.

If you decide to spend a few days in Punxsutawney, you’ll see that the celebrations are stretched out across the week. A city-wide festival in the days leading up to February 2 includes ice carving sculpture competitions, food tours, wine tasting, kids’ scavenger hunts, live music concerts, and more.

Punxsutawney Phil

The groundhog’s full name is actually “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather-Prophet Extraordinary.” It was so proclaimed by the “Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” in 1887, the same year they declared Punxsutawney to be the weather capital of the world.

For most of the year, Phil lives in a climate-controlled home at the Punxsutawney Library. He is taken to Gobbler’s Knob and placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on stage before being pulled out at 7:25 a.m. on Groundhog Day, February 2, to make his prediction.

Phil is reputed by townspeople to be more than 100 years old, surviving far beyond a marmot’s normal life span.

Source: Groundhog Day: Origins, Facts, and Punxsutawney Phil (thoughtco.com)

Happy National Chocolate Cake Day 2021

By Alexis Ty  for IBT™

  Photo: Mastro’s Restaurants 

KEY POINTS

  • There are several ways to up one’s chocolate cake game
  • The right measurement of ingredients is key in making the perfect chocolate cake
  • Even the temperature of the ingredients plays a part in baking the perfect cake

Chocolate cake is a classic favorite, and many chefs and amateur cooks have made their own versions of this delicious treat over the years. National Chocolate Cake Day is celebrated every Jan. 27 to commemorate the baked good loved across the country and around the world.

To celebrate the occasion this Wednesday, here are 12 secrets to making a cake the best and chocolatiest it can be for National Chocolate Cake Day:

1. Use the best chocolate available

Since chocolate is the main flavor one will be tasting, make sure that the quality of the chocolate to be used in the cake is of high quality. A good rule of thumb is to use chocolate that one wouldn’t mind snacking on from a bowl. This ensures that the batter, frosting or filling of the cake will be top-notch.

2. Use high-quality unsweetened cocoa

The deep, rich flavor that comes with chocolate cake is from cocoa, and the darker the hue of the cocoa, the more satisfying the flavor will be, according to Mashed.com. Using unsweetened cocoa will allow one to gauge how much additional sugar is needed to get the best result.

3. Measure flour and sugar carefully

The right measurement is key in making the perfect chocolate cake. Using too much sugar will make the crust too dark, while putting in less sugar will prevent the cake from getting that rich hue always present in good chocolate cake, Domino Sugar said. As for flour, adding too much will cause the top of the cake to crack.

4. Dust parchment-lined pan with cocoa instead of flour

Dusting the pan with flour before adding the batter will help in getting a clean release after baking, but cocoa powder does a good job of it as well. A bonus when using cocoa powder for chocolate cake is that it provides more depth of flavor, per the Los Angeles Times.

5. Mayonnaise is instrumental in making a moist cake

Mayonnaise can add to the moisture of a cake, although this practice is less popular with modern bakers. Follow this homemade mayonnaise recipe to see if it works for you.

6. Add a dash of sea salt

One should never forget salt when baking a cake. Even though the recipe for chocolate cake only requires a small amount of it, don’t underestimate the richness salt can bring to the table. It acts as a flavor enhancer and makes the cocoa more prominent while balancing out the sweetness of the cake.

7. Milk is necessary

Milk gives the cake its creamy texture so a lot of recipes call for bakers to include it or some other type of dairy in their cake-baking process.

8. Use shiny pans

When baking chocolate cake, opt for shiny pans instead of dark ones. Dark-colored pans absorb more of the oven’s heat, which could cause premature over-browning.

9. Use room temperature ingredients

Even the temperature of the ingredients plays a part in baking the perfect cake. Using eggs, butter and dairy ingredients that are at room temperature will create an emulsion that traps air, which eventually expands with the oven’s heat, resulting in a chocolate cake that’s fluffy.

10. Start and end with the dry ingredients

When adding in the wet and dry ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar mixture for cake, be sure to alternate between the dry and the wet, beginning with the dry and ending with the dry as well.

11. Vanilla extract can be skipped

If you wish to experience the rich flavor of chocolate in all its glory, opt not to add vanilla extract to the mixture.

12. Don’t over mix the batter

Chocolate cake batter should never be overmixed as this could lead to tough cake textures.

Source: National Chocolate Cake Day 2021: 12 Baking Secrets To Making The Chocolatiest Cake (ibtimes.com)

United States Presidential Inauguration 2021

Wednesday, January 20

Lincoln came to the presidency at a treacherous time, too. His inauguration can give us hope.

Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

“I bring to the work an honest heart,” Abraham Lincoln said in Harrisburg, Pa., on the day before his all-night train ride into Washington in February 1861.

Few doubted that it was true — Lincoln’s honesty was already his best-known quality as he completed a grueling 1,900-mile journey from Springfield, Ill., to his first inauguration. But would that be enough to withstand the intrigues of a capital known for making quick work of honest types?

Washington had been unusually angry in the weeks preceding Inauguration Day. Seven states had already left the Union; a mob had tried to attack the Capitol on the day Congress met to tabulate the electoral college vote. Fights broke out in the galleries during speeches, where spectators jeered, “Abe Lincoln will never come here!”

There was far more to the visceral opposition to Lincoln than just his views on slavery. He had won with less than 40 percent of the vote, and entrenched interests feared the loss of easy access to Washington’s gilded corridors. Although they were not as gilded as they might have been — one reason it was taking so long to renovate the Capitol was that the guards hired to protect it from looting were stripping its treasures for themselves, down to the paint.

It seemed as though everyone was on the take. Certainly, the proslavery interests had owned Washington for as long as anyone could remember, capturing an overwhelming preponderance of the nation’s House speakers, committee chairs, sergeants-at-arms and Supreme Court justices. Lobbyists flourished in this climate, buying and selling access from local watering holes.

As Lincoln drew closer, his enemies doubled down. While the presidency of James Buchanan was winding down, the treasury secretary tried to distract attention by calling Lincoln “an enemy of the human race.” Since his inauguration, Buchanan and his cronies had tried to elevate property rights above human rights, but Lincoln irritated them by reminding Americans of the Declaration of Independence and its promises.

For that reason, Lincoln had insisted on visiting Philadelphia’s Independence Hall on his way to Washington. There, he delivered an impassioned speech about the document before taking a series of secret trains in the middle of the night, simply to make it past another steeplechase of would-be assassins.

Earlier on the trip, an explosive device was removed from Lincoln’s train only minutes before he boarded the car in Cincinnati; as he departed Philadelphia for D.C., suspicious strangers lurked on the platform. According to a report filed by Allan Pinkerton, hired to protect Lincoln, as many as 1,000 people were involved in the alleged plot to take his life. (Pinkerton’s code name for his lanky charge: Nuts.)

The inaugural parade was delayed by the outgoing president, who was signing pardons and bills that would protect friends in a powerful industry (guano extraction). Buchanan then arrived in his carriage to pick up the president-elect. Given a choice between a closed top and an open one, Lincoln chose the latter, so all could see him. The inaugural came off without a hitch, including Lincoln’s plea that Americans remain “friends, not enemies.” The final sentence included a plea often repeated since — that we listen to our better angels.

Such openness offered a powerful new reason to believe in politics in 1861. Even Americans who disagreed with Lincoln’s policies found his old-fashioned work ethic refreshing. Not only did he maintain the integrity of the United States, but also he did so while issuing annual messages, practicing fiscal transparency, investing in infrastructure and education, welcoming immigrants, and planning for the long-term future.

Of course, 2021 is not 1861. But we remain the same country that Lincoln inherited, because we have consistently returned to the same enlarged vision of ourselves that he did so much to uphold. If Americans were perfect, we would not need angels to populate our speeches. But by listening to those voices, we have shown a genius for self-correction, which is nearly as important as getting it right in the first place.

Opinion by Ted Widmer

Source: Opinion | Lincoln came to the presidency at a treacherous time, too. His inauguration can give us hope. – The Washington Post