Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The rushing winds, and a recipe for ritual cookies

As I walked out of the office at work today an amazingly strong wind greeted me, hugging me in the parking lot beside the building and played with my sweater as I walked to the car. My coworkers, all bundled tight and looking at me sideways for walking around "in this weather wearing no coat" were complaining about how blustery it was - and I simply sighed into the gusts and said aloud how much I enjoyed it.

I really don't know what they said to that, or if they even heard me. Honestly, once I sighed into the wind it was just the two of us, and the wind was all I heard.

It's no coincidence that I was greeted with winds like this after seeing an aerial video of Loughcrew in Ireland. Those same winds, rushing and full of voices, greeted me on the Equinox as I climbed the mountain in Meath and played with my sweater then too, and hugged me and whispered old words into my ears.

There is a scent to winds like that, winds you know have carried things away never to be seen again, winds that could take you too if it was your time to go. Winds like that, they're special friends that we greet with smiles and laughter and wave to as they leave as quickly as they came. The wind today smelled like the ocean, like coarse sand and rock and wet trees. It was old for sure.

It is important to listen when the winds talk to you, as it is when any of the Elements speak up. So very, very important. What they say may be the answer to the thing you're thinking of most.

Recipe time! I haven't posted one in a while, and this one is a great one.
Ritual Cookies (Blessing Cookies)
based on a French recipe, circa 1604
2 cups almond meal
1 teaspoon rose water
1/2 cup of sugar
2 egg whites

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. add a dash of sugar as they start to get frothy. I have a KitchenAid, and let me tell you now that this takes some time, even in a stand mixer, so if you're doing this by hand you're looking at a decent amount of time. Don't let that stop you though - it's totally worth it.
In a separate bowl, mix the sugar and almond meal together. Really whisk it so the almond meal breaks up (it tends to clump all on it's own) and so the sugar is even in the mixture. Now wash your hands and add the rosewater. Using your hands, work the rosewater through the almond sugar mixture until it's evenly distributed.
Fold the egg whites into the dry ingredients. If you haven't done this before, there are about a thousand youTube videos to show you how. Really, it's just adding the dry ingredients to the bowl with the egg whites and slowly mixing until all the dry ingredients are in and you have a solid dough. It takes time, and patience but you're making an offering for your rituals - so set some intention while you're carefully folding together your ingredients.
Scoop out small spoonfuls onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  (really, don't go crazy on size here. think bite size)
10 minutes at 350 degrees
25 minutes at 200 degrees or until lightly browned

The witchery....
I love having bread or cookies for a ritual, and these are a particular favorite of mine. It's a sensory thing - you're essentially making and baking marzipan, which has been used for centuries to make sweet decorations for everything from suckling roast pig to cakes. It can be dyed colors, it can be shaped easily, and it's SOOOO sweet it'll make your teeth hurt.  I've reduced the sugar in this by half and it doesn't suffer at all, so don't worry. Here you're making a bite size cookie from the time of Elizabeth 1st. As it's baking, your house will be overwhelmed with the scent of toasting almonds and rosewater - it's enough to make your mouth water! While they're baking, meditate on the ritual you're going to conduct. Think about how and why and where and who... allow the scent of the elements of the cookie to mingle with your thoughts on how the incense will be, how the wine or water will be. As you're listening to the baking, quiet as it is, think about the quiet of meditation and focus on the similarities between the two.

The cookies, once done, will need to cool before you taste them. This dough is stiff, and holds its shape while baking fairly well, so if you wanted to flatten them a little and press sigils into them, or shape them for a purpose, this would work.

Almonds are a herb for Beltane, of the Sun, and of Jupiter. They represent life after death. They are poison for some, and toxic in high quantities for all. Don't eat more than 50 kernels at a time for adults, 10 for kids.
Rose is an herb of the Spring Equinox, Water, and Venus. It attracts love, fosters lust, and can be used to entice a lover.

Happy Baking!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Over the land lies a mantle of white

a shower of diamonds comes down from the sky
two hearts are thrilling despite of the chilling weather...

Really didn't think I was going to get to talk about snow again this year, but here we are - the sounds of shovels outside and the alerts on our phones telling us schools are closed and roads are dangerous... these are the moments I'm really glad both himself and I can stay home on days like this. Telecommuting is a beautiful thing.

If you're like any of the rest of us who thought Spring was here to stay, you've started planting things outside. In all honesty, I probably should have waited longer - but when you get the urge to plant things in the ground, you really don't wait. You just go get dirt on your hands. I didn't bring any of those pots inside either - they're all still outside, with more than a few inches of snow on them.  Will they make it? Probably - and if not, well, I'll start another batch. That's the way these things go. In some cases I'm very much of the "survival of the fittest" gardening camp - if they make it, they make it. If not, well, time to plant another batch.

If you're like me, you celebrated Ostara yesterday. I usually dye eggs, make something with pork or lamb, and make something suitably yellow for dessert. This year I was hosting an arts gathering at my house, and so instead I made two batches of french bread and put out savory and sweet toppings in the form of pressed goats cheese with honey, maple cream, and honey butter. There was tea and coffee and much arting and it was fantastic. We went out to dinner and had Mexican, and came back to relaxing and a house that still smelled of fresh baked bread.

Then it snowed, and we were immediately reminded that Mother Nature will do whatever she bloody well wants to, whether we like it or not.

What I didn't do last night was hold ceremony. A lot of Pagans I know would look askance at me for that, and I get it - I really ought to be holding a rite for the holy days. And I know that - it's not like I forgot. I chose not to hold anything, and I have a reason for it.  Time.

We have a limited number of hours on this planet, and while rite and ritual is important, so is recognizing what the people in our lives need from us. Last night, my partner needed me - so instead of pushing him off to go hold ceremony we cuddled on the couch and watched Galavant. It was cheesy and hilarious, and actually exactly what both of us needed.

See, being a hedgewitch Druid Pagan mashup is more than knowing what root to put in the tea to make your cramps go away. It's knowing what your body, heart, and mind needs - and laughing in the arms of the man I am spending the rest of my life with? That's a ceremony too.

March is the anniversary of my moving to this state, and moving in with him. And now, 3 years later, I'm happier than I've ever been.  The first year I was up here, I held a ceremony on every holy day, I spent time on the full moon in the backyard connecting with the land and the wise ones here, and I did my best to integrate to my surroundings - and thankfully they took to me like fish to water. I know this is my home.

So now, when the needs of my soul outweigh the needs of holding a ceremony, I listen to my soul and do what's best for me. The Goddess smiled on us even still, because what's a holy day of fertility and new life without celebrating the love between two souls?

In these snowy days of Spring think hard about your love, however many there may be, and nurture it.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

When the ingredients aren't your own

At the gift of one of my best friends, I tried a service that delivers complete meals (some assembly required) to your home. More to the point - she's avoid carbs at all costs right now and this box was carb heavy so she said "here, try this and see if you like it" and handed me 3 meals. 

Excited, since I've wanted to try this for a while, I unpacked the box with the same gusto that I did my Pampered Chef consultant kit - everything was shiny and new and exciting and I was going to cook like a chef now for sure! (tools help, but I learned a lot with this) 

or.... I wasn't. Not being one who follows the recipes, but taking into account that I was trying a service that assumes you don't really know a lot about cooking (as evidence by the detailed instructions and the pictures that accompany every step) I decided that I'd follow the recipe to the letter and let the chips fall as they may. I shouldn't have - really. I made a chicken pasta dish and ended up with a dish so bland I couldn't finish it. Neither could my partner. I augmented dinner with marzipan rosewater cookies I'd made over the weekend and he augmented dinner with popcorn. 

It was plain. It was boring. It was lacking all spice. (I added garlic and red pepper flake as I was cooking for fear of it being too blah. it didn't help) 

So tonight I decided to try again, and made the second recipe in the box: An Indian fish and rice dish, heavy with onion and ginger. The recipe has a quarter head of cabbage in it. I made it to the recipe, adding only salt and pepper as the spice packet they included was considerable. 

I should have added more curry. 

It wasn't bad, it was light for all the frying in it and the rice was tasty (I added a pat of butter to that one) and the crispy onion was a nice addition. In a fit of inquiry, I went and looked up this recipe online, searching specifically for Indian versions of this dish. Mine had an egg scrambled and added to a pan of hot oil and ginger. Everyone one I found had hard boiled eggs. Mine had cabbage. Theirs have parsley. Mine had rice made per the bag. Their had rice sauted in oil and with onion added, then covered in boiling water and covered to steam up.  Mine used cod fried in oil.  Theirs used haddock poached in milk with bay leaves. 

I'm going to make this again, I'm going to add more curry, and I'm going to make it to their recipe, not the one that came in the box. 

So in all this cooking (and I have one more to go, pork sandwiches that I'll be making for myself on Friday) I've discovered that it's not so great a thing to have the ingredients picked out for you in this manner. I've been gifted food before, notably pieces of a farm share, and I haven't felt the same total detachment that I felt with these ingredients. 

My partner and I are paid into a farm share ourselves this year, and I'm incredibly excited about this! Knowing that someone, however rushed they may be, is working a farm and then packing up a bag of farm share for he and I... they care about the land they're working, and they're doing something about making sure that healthy food makes it out into the world. I can't say that I feel that with this service. I don't know what I was expecting, but this wasn't it. Live and learn! 

So in these days when you want convenience, and you think fondly on the possibility of food arriving on your doorstep that isn't takeout from the Chinese place, think long and hard about your relationship to the food in question. I would never have bought the pieces of chicken presented to me in that package - they were fatty, and that's not something I look for in my chicken.  We're kitchen witches, and very simply that means we want a more profound relationship with our kitchens and the dishes we present to our loved ones to nourish them. I think I apologized 10 times last night for how bland dinner turned out. My partner just laughed and smiled and said "well, now we know that's not what we want to get into!" He's wonderful. 

My garden outside is growing, and my seeds for the herbs and veggies are sprouting soon, and slowly the list of what I need at the grocery is shrinking. It's a wonderful feeling. 

May it be for you. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

When every little thing makes you cry

My grandmother was a gardener. It was from her, in the moist earth in the yard where I learned to ride my bike and learned to climb trees, that I was taught the ways of flowers. I was taught what I could cut back almost to the ground, and what needed to go to ground on its own. It was there that lessons on planting and watering were taught over and over. It was there that I sat for hours and watched the plants, convinced that if I concentrated hard enough I could actually see them growing.

Turns out I could concentrate on plants more than I could concentrate on anything else till I got a camera in my hands.

Even then, it have a lot of pictures of plants, and I always will.

Just the act of rescuing my garden tools from a flooded storage container on the back porch made me cry the other day. It was a simple thing to plunge my hands in the so very cold water, pull out the tools and gloves and pots and ruined bags of potting soil and seeds, and spread everything out to dry (or stuff it in a garbage bag).  Simple though it was, the act of rescuing tools that she taught me to use made me cry.

Grief is a difficult thing. We get so used to something, to someone, to some time that when it's gone you really are lost. I haven't felt a loss like this before and it has struck me to the core. I'm still lost in it, 6 months later. I know I'll always carry a piece of it with me.

I'd love to say I sat down and wrote all my posts straight through. Some aren't that easy to get out and this one has taken time. I wasn't sure if I should write this, if I should take you on the journey I'm on through grief and sorrow. But I'm glad I have been, and I hope you understand how much closer this journey has brought me to my deities.

Even the act of sitting at the foot of the Goddess and listening has been harder lately than it has been in a long time. My mind wanders so much right now, my heart is not calm and still, my focus is worse than a toddler in a toy store. So the path of my practice has brought me back to the beginning so I can work on my focus, on my intent, on calming my heart and clearing my mind and really listening. The Goddesses and Gods have so much to say to us in these sorts of times, often when we're too lost to listen. I'm working on listening more, to gain the wisdom they're willing to teach me.

So my goal right now is to listen - to slow down, calm down, and listen.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Warmer hearths on colder days

Two days ago it was warm enough to go without a coat. Today? Today there is frost on my windows in full view of what little sun we have... and it's noon.


So in these still frigid days of sort-of winter, sort-of spring, what do we do to lighten our homes and bring the warmth back?

I bake. LOTS. And then I ship it all over the world to my family and friends because no one needs 5 loaves of banana bread in their house, ever. (even for a party, trust me on this.)

So in all that baking, the kitchen getting warmer, what else rises? Not just the bread, or the temperature... our personal temperatures rise too. The desire to touch now warm flesh rises too. The desire to linger in a hug. The desire to have a kiss last a little longer. All that rises too.

As Ostara approaches and the weather outside shows little sign of warming totally, we have to think about other ways to celebrate the return of the Spring and the fertility that brings. Many of my friends are hoping to conceive a child in the coming months. All of them have difficulties with this, and have suffered losses in prior attempts. I share in their sadness, not because I want a child of my own but because to see those I so love denied something they so desire hurts. I know these couples, and they're all wonderful people who are and will be wonderful parents. I bake for them too, I hope the rise in my bread will mimic a rise in their wombs and warmth of life will spread. I bake sweets and savories and all the while pray that their prayers are answered.

Our magic, our power cannot be used just for us. We cannot be selfish with the gift we've been given. Make no mistake - this is a gift. We are a blessed people and it's our responsibility to use that gift for others. Not maliciously, not selfishly, and not without their knowledge. My baking? My prayers for them? That is not magic being done on them. That is magic being done on their behalf. I am not casting on them. I am at the foot of the Cauldron, asking on their behalf for the Goddesses and Gods to aid them.

As the flowers struggle to rise and bloom in the ever changing weather, and the sun starts to grow through the icy winds, think about the return of spring and think about how you are using your gifts to aid those you love. Do not cast on them spells and charms they didn't ask for - this is not help. Offer, if you'd like, but do not act on them without their consent. Do ask at the Cauldron on their behalf, and let that be your aid.