As Christmas concludes, Bishop O’Connell leads the Polar Plunge for Catholic Ed.

Traditionally at our house, we start dismantling most of our Christmas decorations right after Mass on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This year that’s this Sunday, Jan. 9.

The tree is plucked of its ornaments and lights, its branches carefully scrunched up, and everything is packed away for approximately 11 months. The big basket full of cards (each year’s are added to the collection), is stuffed into a big plastic bag and set on a closet shelf.  Mom’s Christmas pillows, in a big container, are headed for the same destination.

By late afternoon, only the manger on the mantle remains and it will hold pride of place there until February 2 — Candlemas — which once was the official end of Christmas.

This year though, we’re taking the tree down a day early because, on the Feast of the Baptism itself, we are otherwise engaged!

What has our attention, you may ask. What compels us to gather a cohort of friends and head off along the narrow strip of ocean road that connects the pleasant (now relatively quiet) towns that dot the shoreline of Monmouth County? Why, the fifth Annual Polar Plunge for Catholic Education led this year by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. who has pledged to wade into the freezing Atlantic water himself.

Organized by the Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 2 of Monmouth County, the Polar Plunge raises funds to support local Catholic schools by providing tuition assistance to families. Since it began in 2007, the event has grown in popularity. This year, Catholic schools throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties will participate as will schools from the Metuchen and Paterson dioceses and the Newark Archdiocese.

The day will begin with Bishop O’Connell celebrating Mass at 10:30 a.m. in Mary, Mother of God Church, Middletown. Then participants will move down the coast a bit to Sea Bright where this year’s event will be hosted by Ichabod’s Bar & Grill, 1 East Church Street. Registration will begin at 10:30 a.m. and participants will begin lining up on the beach at 12:30 p.m.  The plunge is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. and spectators are definitely encouraged to attend so, bundle up all you non-plungers and join everyone at the shore!

After the plunge, we’ll be staying for lunch at Ichabod’s  which is known for its warm, comfort food at this time of year. Owner Creed Palmer, says the fare for plungers will consist mainly of hot dogs and hamburgers. We hear the chili is noteworthy, so Pete and the friends have expressed an interest in settling down in the dining room to try some.

Ichabod’s is also known for its soups and Palmer offered to share his recipe for a butternut squash soup that could warm the cockles of the heart on a cold, cold day.

Ichabod’s Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients — Two large butternut squash, cut in half and cleaned of seeds; tablespoon butter; quarter cup onion, chopped; four ounces of softened cream cheese; three cups of chicken stock; 1/4 cup brown sugar; two teaspoons ground black pepper and a dash of cinnamon.

Directions–Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and roast the squash for 30-35 minutes, remove and let cool in refrigerator. When cool, cut into chunks. Sautee the onion in the butter until translucent. In a large bowl, combine the chicken stock, cream cheese, butternut squash, sugar, pepper and cinnamon and blend together with a hand mixer. Then transfer in batches to a blender and blend until creamy and smooth. Simmer on the stove for thirty minutes. The soup can be served cold or warm.


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