Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Ostara feast, plus ramblings

I knew that moving to another country would affect several aspects of my life, but I'm still trying to adjust to the fact that celebrating Sabbats is so difficult. No, it isn't difficult because of prejudice or anything like that; in fact, this city does have quite a few Pagans in it. I just haven't been able to meet more than one of them. It's difficult to meet other people because of distance and traffic, work, and the bane of the Pagan community in general, apathy. No one wants to write back to anyone, or commit to meetings. It's frustrating, but it really isn't much different from my life back in the US. But I digress.

The main point is that Ostara is almost upon us. I will not be participating in a formal ritual, but I will most likely do something with personal significance. I decided to take a day off from work and enjoy the gorgeous sunshine today. Yesterday it alternately rained and snowed all day, but today is absolutely beautiful. Mind you, I haven't been outside yet and it is most likely colder than the proverbial witch's teat. ;)

Still, it is time to celebrate the coming of Spring and all that it promises - warmer weather, longer days, awakenings,rebirth, realizing our potential, and fertility. Some also revere Eostre, the Ango-Saxon goddess.

In the kitchen, Ostara marks and end to cured, preserved foods. Young greens are ready to be picked and eaten. We also eat eggs, those humble symbols of fertility. Some people may also eat rabbit, another fertility symbol that goes along with the egg. I have not had rabbit in years. My parents used to raise New Zealand Whites. It was also sad to know the cute little bunnies were about to give their lives for our dinner, but rabbit is very tasty.

Instead of rabbit, I offer you something that bunnies themselves love - carrots.

The Ostara feast I offer you is stuffed, or "deviled" eggs, creamy carrot soup, dandelion greens, and chocolate cake with orange frosting. We had to get chocolate in there somewhere!

Stuffed Eggs

6 hard-boiled eggs, cooled and peeled
1-3 Tbsp mayonnaise or salad dressing
1 tsp Dijon mustard (my mom loves to use honey mustard instead)
2 tsp minced red onion
salt and white pepper
fresh chives or cilantro, chopped

Slice the eggs in half lengthwise and remove the yolks. Mash the yolks in a bowl with the mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper. Gently fold in the finely minced red onion. Mix until all is incorporated and you have a creamy texture.

Spoon the mixture into a piping bag or a small zippered sandwich bag. Snip off a small corner of the bag and pipe the mixture into the cooked egg whites. Garnish with freshly snipped chives and/or cilantro.

Creamy Carrot Soup

2 Tbsp oil
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups peeled, chopped carrots
5 cups broth (vegetable or chicken, or a mixture of broth and water)
1 cup milk or nondairy milk (almond or rice, but not soy)
salt and white pepper
2-3 Tbsp fresh dill
sugar to taste (optional)

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil. Cook the leeks over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Add the carrots and garlic. Cook until garlic is fragrant. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer until the carrots are tender, about 15 minutes.

Ladle the vegetable pieces into a blender. Add enough liquid to puree. Do this in small batches if necessary. Puree for 2-3 minutes, until completely smooth and creamy. Return to the soup pot and add the milk and chopped dill. Add salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Heat thoroughly. Do not boil.

Dandelion Greens with Garlic and Onions

1 pound dandelion greens
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 -2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
4-6 Tbsp oil

Let me start out by reminding you to pick dandelion greens that do not grow near the road. Make sure you choose greens that have not been sprayed with any pesticides either. Remember these plants are considered to be weeds by many.

Discard the dandelion roots and wash the greens well in salted water. Cut the leaves into 2-inch pieces. Cook the greens in salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. This also helps remove some of the bitterness. In a skillet, saute the onions in the oil for a few minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the garlic is fragrant (but not browned) and the onions are tender and translucent.

Drain the greens and add to the garlic and onions. Toss with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. You may wish to sprinkle the greens with a little red wine vinegar before serving, or pass it around for individuals to season their own plates.

Chocolate Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

Chocolate and orange, what a combination! It's my favorite combination, actually. Now, for this cake you can certainly use a mix in order to save time, but making a chocolate cake from scratch really isn't difficult. The following chocolate cake recipe is not my own (there really aren't any 'new' chocolate cake recipes, are there?), but it's pretty simple and straightforward.

Devil's Food Cake

9 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ cups cake flour (not self-rising)
½ teaspoon salt1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup strong coffee (or water)
½ cup whole or low-fat milk

1.Adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter two 9" x 2" cake pans and line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper.
3. To make the cake layers, sift together the cocoa powder, cake flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl.
4. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, beat together the butter and sugar about 5 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated. (If using a standing electric mixer, stop the mixer as necessary to scrape down the sides to be sure everything is getting mixed in.)
5. Mix together the coffee and milk. Stir half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, the add the coffee and milk. Finally stir in the other half of the dry ingredients.
6. Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 tsp orange extract (optional)

In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the butter with the cream cheese until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar and orange zest and extract (if using) and beat until light and fluffy. Frost the completely cooled cake.

Happy Ostara.

Yogurt Soup

This soup is another one of my favorites. Yogurt is very popular here in Turkey, and also very delicious. After a few months of eating nothing but Turkish yogurt, all other types taste chalky to me. They don't have the tang or the thick, creamy texture of yogurt here. This soup really needs to be made with Turkish yogurt, but it is rather hard to come by in other parts of the world. Fortunately many stores in the US now carry Greek-style yogurt, which is very close.

1/4 cup rice
5 cups of water (or half water, half chicken stock)
2 cups of plain yogurt
1 egg
2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp dried mint
1 tsp salt

Cook the rice in the water/stock until very soft. In a bowl, beat the egg and flour together until well incorporated. Add the yogurt and mix. Add 1-2 tsp water to thin the mixture.

Most recipes say to add the yogurt mixture directly into the water/stock and cook on very low heat, or to cook it separately and then add the liquid. I prefer to use some of the water and temper the mixture first, to make sure the eggs and yogurt do not curdle. Once you have slowly added some of the hot liquid and brought the yogurt mixture up to temperature, add it to the pot. Heat slowly for about 15 minutes, stirring continuously.

Heat butter in a skillet. Let it sizzle for a minute (without browning) and add the mint. Sizzle together for 20-30 seconds and add to the soup.

This soup is so good! Just inhaling the steam off a bowl of this soup will make you feel better. You get the bright tang of the yogurt mixed with the mint and it is just wonderful.

Ezo the Bride (and her soup!)

Ezo was a real person, born in 1909 in the Turkish village of Dokuzyol, near the Syrian border. Ezo's village was located on ancient camel caravan routes and the lovely Ezo, with her rosy cheeks and black hair, was adored by the camel riders who often stopped by her house for water. Her first marriaged ended in divorce, and her second marriage took her to Syria and a mother-in-law who could not be pleased. Ezo died of tuberculosis in Syria around 1952. Some say she created the following soup for the aforementioned mother-in-law, but no one is certain. What is certain, however, is the delectability of this simple soup.

Ezo Gelin Corba (Ezo the Bride Soup)

4 Tbsp butter
1-2 onions, chopped
1 tsp paprika
1 cup red lentils, washed and sorted
1/2 cup bulgar wheat or rice
2 Tbsp tomato paste
8 cups stock (vegetable, beef, or chicken)
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne
1 Tbsp dried mint leaves, crumbled

Heat the butter in a pot and cook the onions until golden - about 15 minutes. Add the rice, lentils, bulgar (or rice) and paprika and let everything get coated in the butter. Add the tomato paste, hot pepper, and stock. Bring to a boil and cook until the lentils and rice are completely tender and the soup has a creamy texture. Optional: Blend soup in a blender until completely smooth.

Before serving, crumble the mint leaves in your hands and stir into the soup. Some people also sizzle the mint leaves in a little butter (don't burn!) and drizzle it over the soup before serving.

This simple soup is often served at our school cafeteria. It is also commonly found in kebap joints, but I like to make it at home as well. It is easy to make, nurishing, and delicious.

Optional ingredient: I usually had a chopped carrot as well. If I add a carrot, I puree everything in the blender when cooked.