Dec. 4. Monday — Conjunction of Pluto and the sun. George Washington's farewell to his officers, Fraunces Tavern, New York City, 1783.

Dec. 5, Tuesday — Prohibition ended, 1933. Montgomery bus boycott began, 1955.

Dec. 6, Wednesday — Saint Nicholas. Moon on the equator. Ira Gershwin, lyricist and dramatist, born, 1896.

Dec. 7, Thursday — Saint Ambrose. Pearl Harbor attacked, 1941. Microwave oven patented, 1945.

Dec. 8, Friday — James Thurber born, 1894. John Lennon, British musician and Beatles member, killed, 1980.

Dec. 9, Saturday — Clarence Birdseye, frozen-foods king, born, 1886. Blizzard causes 14-foot snow drifts, Vevay, Ind., 1917.

Dec. 10, Sunday — Second Sunday in Advent. Conjunction of Jupiter and the moon.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Where do hermit cookies get their name? — P.E., Lancaster, Pa.

Answer: This soft, spicy cookie was often the last thing the baker made from the leftover trimmings on his table. It was made with chopped fruits, raisins, nuts, and seasoned with cinnamon, cloves and other spices; sweetened with either molasses or brown sugar and usually cut into squares or bars. Some say the spices become more distinct with age, making the cookies taste better if they have been hidden away like hermits for several days. The name may come from this habit. But they also keep longer than most bar cookies and travel well, so perhaps they were the preferred sweet for solitary wanderers as well as recluses and hermits.

Very likely the old recipe for the hermit cookies goes back to the 12th or 13th century religious hermitages, where these basic ingredients would have been in common usage at bakers' tables. The terms for those confines — "hermite" from the Old French or "heremita," from the medieval Latin — may have been assigned to this treat by the residents.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Short of taking over-the-counter medications, are there any good remedies for the fevers that come with colds and flu? — L.B., Portland, Ore.

Answer: First, consider consulting your medical practitioner for advice. Self-diagnosis has its risks and children's fevers require special care; just because a remedy is herbal doesn't mean it's harmless. But also keep in mind that the fever IS a remedy of sorts, helping your body to burn away the infection or toxins that are causing you distress in the first place. As long as the fever isn't dangerously high (over 102 F) or prolonged, it may be best to let it work its way through your system. You can help speed the process along by drinking plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration. Tap or bottled water is fine, but some people prefer to sip herbal tea (chamomile, echinacea, ginger and lemon grass are all good ones for fever), a few spoonfuls of warmed lemon juice mixed with honey, fruit juices or a plain broth. Baths and showers also help the rehydration process and have the added benefit of rinsing away toxins from your skin. Some health practitioners suggest you boost your normal intake of vitamins A and C, as well. Instead of trying to maintain your usual pace, relax and get some extra sleep. If you wake up with chills, take a bit of fresh ginger root mixed in applesauce or make a ginger tea, steeping a tablespoon of grated ginger root in a cup of hot water. A heating pad or hot bath can also help.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Do you have any suggestions for last-minute, old-fashioned, do-it-yourself Christmas gifts? — G.O., Bethlehem, Pa.

Answer: Gifts from the kitchen are always a warm way to share holiday cheer. You could make caramels or a delightful fudge (chocolate or maple walnut are always popular) and package them in specially wrapped paper boxes or attractive tins. Perhaps there's a recipe for those old-fashioned horehound drops that your grandmother used to keep in her sideboard. If you brought in a pot of fresh mint before the end of the summer or have a good grocery source of fresh leaves, then mint drops should be high on your list.

For those who resist a sweet tooth, you might consider homemade roasted, spiced nuts or perhaps a small container of apple butter. Dips and spreads are often welcome during these busy, festive days. Make a garlicky hummus spread, some black bean dip or a fresh guacamole and present them in a small gift basket with some organic corn chips or a fresh French baguette and a holiday napkin.


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