Good Heavens! Cupcakes: a Saint's Day treat
Potius sero quam numquam [Better late than never].-- Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita
Yes, it's Earth Day and no, this post is not about that. Instead, I turn your attention to a day not long past and forgotten only so much as no one really noticed it in the first place: Sunday was St. Expeditus' Day.
Valentine and Patrick may get all the mainstream glory and commercial popularity but it's their brother in sainthood, Expeditus, who may be more relevant than many of us realize. As the patron saint of prompt solutions whose official day of observance is April 19, this obscure religious figure is invoked by those seeking protection from the scourge of procrastination. Given that this is a common state for most people (myself included), it's surprising that he is not better known. So, if you've ever wondered which holy being watched over the dawdlers, the slackers and the chronically tardy but haven't gotten around to looking it up, I offer this homage to St. Expeditus - a few days late, naturally.
Happy Saint Who?
Expeditus' role as patron saint of procrastinators stems from popular legend in which the pious soul was intercepted by Satan disguised as a crow, who tried coaxing him into delaying his conversion to Christianity for another day. Crushing the fowl most foul beneath his foot, Expeditus supposedly declared, "I become a Christian today!" It is a scene repeatedly commemorated in images of him as a Roman soldier holding a cross that reads 'hodie' (Lat., today) and stepping on a crow crying 'cras' (Lat., tomorrow).
Although a St. Expeditus does appear in the Roman Martyrology, the Catholic Church's official listing of saints, there are more than a few questions about the legitimacy of his existence, with two of the most oft-cited stories attributing his origins to mistaken identity due to an ancient typo and some rather obtuse nuns.
The first explanation centers around a medieval misspelling of the name 'Elpidius', an Armenian Christian who was martyred, along with five companions, in Melitene (now Malatya, Turkey) in AD 303. Some historians believe that a scribe mistakenly assigned the misnomer 'Expeditus' to that 4th century personage in an early catalogue of saints, resulting in today's attribution.
At least this version acknowledges the possibility that Expeditus was a real person. In another apocryphal tale of error, a group of Parisian nuns in the late 1700s received a box containing the relic bones of a saint and mistook the postal instruction 'spedito' (Ital., quick, speedy) for the holy being's name. Et voilà! A saint was born. In dispute, church scholars have pointed out that St. Expeditus was already being venerated in parts of Italy and Germany well before this 18th century event. So if nothing else, the nuns' story might serve as a cautionary tale about the potential drawbacks of monolingualism and cloistering.
Despite the confusion and outright skepticism surrounding St. Expeditus, he is nonetheless a figure of serious worship in many parts of the world. In the Philippines, the Society of St. Expeditus was established by one family after their prayers for help in selling some property were apparently heard; local churches now celebrate a triduum (three days of religious observances) and conduct a complete novena (nine days of prayer) in honor of his day (Darang).
A 2004 article in the Wall Street Journal Europe described the growing veneration of Expeditus as the patron saint of urgent causes in Brazil, where numerous churches bearing his name and radio programs broadcasting invocations and prayers attest to his popularity, particularly among the jobless and the financially-crunched in all walks of life:
"The dozens of petitions deposited daily in a wicker basket on the altar of the St. Expeditus Chapel offer a litany of economic distress [and it] isn't just poor people who are seeking out the saint. An unemployed executive left behind his three-page resume . . . "(Moffett, WSJE)
Roadside shrine for St. Expédit, Réunion Island
On the French island of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean, 'Saint Expédit' is viewed by some as the national saint. Roadside shrines of all sizes abound, most painted in bright red after the Catholic Church attempted to discourage worship of the historically-dubious figure by stigmatizing it with the scarlet hue associated with sin. Instead, the island's considerable Hindu population found the symbolic color of the goddess Karli appealing and added their influence to St. Expédit's veneration (Goutier).
Just as devotion on Réunion has mixed Catholic, Hindu and other folk-religion practices, the worship of 'St. Expedite' in New Orleans incorporates Voodoo practices. The saint is seen as a symbol between life and death and, fittingly, his statue is found in the historic Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, originally built as a mortuary chapel.
Interestingly, the origins of St. Expeditus' worship in both Réunion and New Orleans are uncannily similar to the nuns' story: mysterious deliveries of saintly relics (in the case of 'Nawlins, a statue) marked only with the word 'spedito' . . .
The Perfect Saint's Day
Despite these pockets of enthusiastic devotion to St. Expeditus, he doesn't come close to the familiarity enjoyed by other holy names in mainstream culture and that's quite a shame. As the patron saint of procrastinators, his intercession is probably needed by many people at some point throughout the year. In fact, consider this proposal: for each time a person fulfills a long-deferred task and for every moment an action is completed now rather later, it's an occasion for celebration.
Finally got around to spring cleaning - in August? Happy St. Expeditus' Day!At last wrote a 'Thank You' note to Aunt Marge for the Christmas gift of crocheted potholders? Happy St. Expeditus' Day!Cleaned out the litter box before the funk got funkier? Happy St. Expeditus' Day!
We all have a little procrastination inside of us, so if there's something that you've put off completing, do it now and celebrate later.
Feasts for all Saints
And what would a saint's day celebration be without food? Corned beef and cabbage on St. Pat's and chocolates for St. Valentine's come first to mind but many others have foodstuff associated with their memorials, too. Saint Blaise's Day and its attendant ritual 'Blessing of the Throat' (to prevent throat ailments) is marked in Spain by tortas de San Blas, small breads which have been blessed then given to children to guard against choking for the rest of the year (Thompson, 488). In Sicily and among Italian-Americans, La Festa di San Giuseppe (Feast of St. Joseph) is not complete without the deep-fried dough puffs called zeppole, or St. Joseph's Day Cake.
How about St. Expeditus' Day? If you have a recipe that you've been meaning to make, go ahead and finally cook it. Whether it's a savory or a sweet, the actual completion of your plans to prepare the dish fulfills the purpose of St. Expeditus' patronage, making any such dish the perfect food for the day.
Let those others have their one feast of the year: for those who prefer to wait, every day can be St. Expeditus' Day!
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org) - Saints & Angels/St. Expeditus
Philippine Daily Inquirer. April 13, 2008.
Goutier, Hegel. "Teixera da Mota, Réunion's First Mother . . . "
The Courier. June/July 2008
Moffett, Matt. "An Obscure Saint Holds Mass Appeal for Brazilians . . . "
Wall Street Journal Europe. April 15, 2004. pA1.
SPQN Saints Index (www.saints.spqn.com) - Saint Expeditus
Suite101.com - "St. Expeditus, Patron Saint of Procrastinators . . . "
Thompson, Sue Ellen. Holiday Symbols. 2nd ed., 2000
Wikipedia.org - Expeditus
Update 4/30/09: I am submitting this post to the Tasty Tools: Muffin Pans event hosted by Joelen of Joelen's Culinary Adventures. Are you surprised to hear that I'm finally doing this on the last day of eligibility?
Good Heavens! Cupcakes
These are a variation of Mr. Noodle's favorite mint-chocolate fudge birthday cake. I intended to make these treats for St. Patrick's Day but never got around to it, which made them the perfect choice to celebrate St. Expeditus' Day. In fact, I baked them on April 19th, the actual day of observance!
The original recipe from the now-defunct Barlow Foods in Rochester, MN called for a cake mix, chocolate fudge ice cream topping and Cool Whip but I've taken it back to the basics and made it from scratch. This dessert is best when served chilled.
Yield: 2 dozen cupcakes
Ingredients and instructions:
For the cupcakes:
(Recipe adapted from Pillsbury's The Complete Book of Baking)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup 1% milk
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
5 egg whites
2 Tbsps crème de menthe
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line muffin pan with cupcake paper cups, spraying with non-stick spray;
2. In large bowl, blend flour, sugar, baking powser, salt, milk and butter at low speed until moistened. Beat 2 minutes on medium speed;
3. Add vanilla, egg whites, and crème de menthe, and continue beating for another 2 minutes;
4. Spoon into cupcake-lined tin until 2/3 full;
5. Bake for 25-27 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean;
6. Cool completely and set aside.
For the chocolate filling:
My plan was to use a chocolate pudding recipe from Jenni of Online Pastry Chef but I wanted to make half the amount. Naturally, I procrastinated in asking her how best to halve the recipe so I ended up using another one from Mr. Noodle's former co-worker, Tiffany. With this, I was able to use the 5 egg yolks left from making the cupcakes above.
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsps flour
5 egg yolks
1 cup 1% milk
1 cup half 'n' half
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa
1. Combine sugar and flour in small bowl. In a separate bowl, beat yolks, milk, and vanilla extract;
2. Pour liquid ingredients into a sauce pan and add dry ingredients, mixing well;
3. Cook over medium heat, constantly stirring with a whisk, until mixture thickens;
4. Remove from heat and add butter and cocoa powder, mixing so that cocoa is well-blended and leaves no lumps;
5. Transfer to another bowl; place a sheet of plastic wrap directly over the pudding to prevent a curdled top layer from forming as it cools. Set aside to cool.
For the whipped cream topping:
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 packet Dr. Oetker 'Whip It' whipped cream stabilizer
1 Tbsp crème de menthe
2 Tbsps powdered sugar (optional)
Combine whipping cream, stabilizer and crème de menthe in a mixing bowl and whip until stiff. Set aside until ready to use.
Dark chocolate, shaved or grated
Sprigs of fresh mint
To assemble cupcakes:
1. Using a melon baller or a tablespoon measure, scoop out the center of each cupcake;
2. Fill each with chocolate pudding until level with the top of the cupcake and arrange on a dish or cookie sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until pudding sets, at least 15-20 minutes;
3. Just before serving, remove cupcakes from the refrigerator and peel off paper liners. Top with a dollop of whipped cream (or use a pastry bag to pipe it on) and sprinkle with chocolate shavings. Serve immediately!
Update 4/23/09: If you plan to keep them more than a day or two in the refrigerator, it's best if they are stored in an air-tight container. I replaced them in the muffin pan and covered with plastic wrap - adequate for serving soon after being baked but insufficient to keep them from getting a bit dry due to the 'fridge's cold air.
Happy St. Expeditus' Day!