Friday, January 31, 2014

C is for Cauldron

The cauldron is much more than a simple pot used for cooking over a fire. The cauldron is a symbol of Cerridwen.  In Welsh mythology, Cerridwen is the keeper of the cauldron of inspiration and transformation.
  The leprechaun’s pot of gold is a cauldron full of coins.  The cauldron has appeared in mythology and literature throughout the ages.  Who can think of Shakespeare and not picture the three witches making their diabolical potions while chanting about newt eyes and bat wings?   

 It is not only a cooking vessel, but also a symbol of the divine feminine.   I see the cauldron as a symbol of the womb, a place of amazing growth and transformation, the place from which all life springs forth.  As a cooking vessel, I see the cauldron as a place of amazing transformation as well.   

As in the womb, a few basic elements combine to create something completely new and different.

Years and years ago, I bought a little cast iron “cauldron” on eBay.  It has been used for spirit flames, for burning the old year’s problems at Samhain, and for making black salt.   These days, I use a Dutch oven for some things, but my big soup pot is my modern cauldron.   Even a slow cooker can be used for a modern cauldron (since it seems to take nearly a year and a day for some things to cook!).

In the fall and winter, I enjoy making soups and stews and other comforting things that bring nourishment and warmth.   Humming as I work, stirring deosil for positivity, I happily putter around the kitchen around my modern-day witches’ cauldron, making culinary magic happen.  As I do so, I am reminded of the sacredness of food and flame.  I think of warmer days when the earth gives up her bounty to sustain us through the darker part of the year.

A cauldron (or a pot) is an essential tool for me.  Give me a pot (cauldron), wooden spoon (wand), and a good knife (athame, anyone?), and I’m quite happy.   Cooking is the most basic form of magic for me, having been doing it since I was quite young.   I recognize the individual gifts and elements each ingredient contributes to the final project, and above all, I honor the cauldron’s sacred power of transformation.   Much like Cerridwen’s cauldron, mine is also full of inspiration.

For this blog post, I will share two recipes.  One is for a soup cooked on top of the stove, and the other is for a dish that is cooked in the crock pot.

Curried Peanut Soup
I like making this for Imbolc because the spiciness and earthiness remind me that Mother Earth is awakening slowly in the northern hemisphere.  The warmth cuts through the winter’s brutal cold, and the lovely color reminds me of the sun and the first golden flowers of spring.
1 medium onion, chopped
5 or 6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 inch ginger, peeled and chopped
1-2 chilies, seeded or not, chopped
2 small sweet potatoes (about 2 cups), peeled and cubed
1/3 cup natural peanut butter
1 ½ cups coconut milk, light or regular
2-3 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons each ground cumin and hot Madras curry powder
8 cups chicken broth

In your soup pot/cauldron, heat the oil over medium heat.
Add the onions, ginger, and chilies.  Cook for 5 minutes before adding the garlic.  Cook 2-3 minutes longer.
Add the sweet potatoes, cumin, and curry powder.  Stir to coat everything with the spices.
Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and allow the soup to simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender (15 minutes).
Add the peanut butter and stir well. 
Ladle the chunky parts of the soup into a blender. Add the coconut milk and puree until smooth.
Return the mixture to the pot.  Heat gently. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Slow Cooker Baked Beans
This recipe makes a pot full of sticky sweet, rich and satisfying baked beans.
½ bacon, cut into 1” pieces
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 ½ cups navy beans, cleaned and sorted
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup tomato paste
¼ cup molasses
½ cup apple juice or cider
2 teaspoons each ras el hanout and smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Water to cover the beans

If you are cooking beans in a crock pot/slow cooker as in this recipe, you don’t necessarily have to soak them.  
Put the chopped onion in the crock pot first.  Then, add the bacon and the beans.
Dollop in the tomato paste and brown sugar. Pour over the molasses.
Add the liquid and stir to combine.   Cook on low for 8 hours or high for about 5-6 hours, until beans are tender.
Season with salt, pepper, ras el hanout, and smoked paprika before serving. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

B is for Bread: Pita with a Prayer

I’ve written before about how I enjoy baking bread because it gives me a chance to infuse the dough with intent.    Below is a revised pita recipe and the blessing that I say for each ingredient.

Flour to ground us firmly in Mother Earth and remember our roots.
Yeast to help us rise above our challenges.
Water to wash us clean of negativity.
Oil to smooth out life’s wrinkles.
Sugar to sweeten, and salt to season.

1.5 cups A-P flour
1.5 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 pk.  Yeast
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
½ cup plus  ½ - ¾ cups warm water
3-4 tablespoons olive oil

Mix the sugar into ½ cup of warm water. Sprinkle the yeast over and allow it to bloom for 5 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt.  Mix to combine.

Combine the rest of the water with the olive oil.

When the yeast is frothy, pour it into the flour mixture. Add the other water and stir to form a sticky dough.

Dust your surface with flour and turn out the dough.  Sprinkle extra flour on top.  Knead the dough for 5 minutes.

Grease the bowl with a little extra olive oil, return the dough, and turn to coat.   Cover with plastic wrap and leave the dough to rise for at least 90 minutes, until doubled in size.

Tip:  Heat your oven to 200 F.   Turn it off when it comes to temperature.   Place your bowl of dough and a pan of boiling water in the oven to create a warm, humid environment for the dough to rise.

Remove the dough when doubled in size.  Heat the oven to  490 F.     Divide the dough into golf-ball sized pieces.  Roll the pieces to about ¼” thickness.   

Place the pitas on a lined pan and place in the oven for 8 minutes, checking after about 6 minutes.
This recipe  yields 10-12 soft, puffy pillowy pitas.  

**As I knead the dough, I alternately  repeat the ingredients blessing and a couple of chants.
I like:
Hoof and horn, hoof and horn
All that dies shall be reborn
Vine and grain, vine and grain
All that falls shall rise again

I like that one because of its mention of grain. 

She changes everything she touches,
And everything she touches changes

I like that one because of the changes that occur in the dough, from a sticky mass to a smooth ball that doubles in size, to a beautiful baked result.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

B is for Basil

I’ve done posts on basil before because it’s such a fantastic herb.  It’s so sweet and fragrant and it just exudes loooooovvvvve.  When I lived in Istanbul, some of the restaurants I visited along the Bosphorus placed pots of basil on the tables for decoration.   The leaves were very small and the shape of the plant was bushier than the basil we typically see here.   I had one, but my brown thumb killed it.  I may be a good cook, but I am a lousy gardener, as I’ve written before.

Basil is ruled by the planet Mars.  It carries the element of fire, and its energies include love, money, and protection.  (Cunningham, 1990).

Once upon a time in Malta, when a household had a young girl of marriageable age, a pot of basil was placed on a windowsill to let potential suitors know ‘here there be baebes’.  Or something like that.

A nice tomato-basil salad or soup are both great love dishes.  Eat pasta with pesto sauce to attract money (with proper visualization and real world steps, too, of course.) For purification and protection, add basil to citrus.   

The following recipe is part of a brunch menu for the winter solstice.  If you have a pot of basil in the kitchen, you have access to this lovely herb all year long.  If you don’t have fresh and do not wish to buy it out of season, I suppose half the amount of dried basil could be substituted, but I’ve not tried it.

I serve this salad with smoky duck and sweet potato hash with eggs, buttermilk biscuits, and spiked coffee.   What better way to warm up after a sunrise solstice ritual, right?

Citrus Fruit Salad with Sweet Basil Dressing
3 oranges, peeled and sectioned
2 mandarins or clementines, peeled and sectioned
1 grapefruit, peeled and sectioned
1 ruby grapefruit, peeled and sectioned

Place citrus fruit sections into a bowl.  Mix gently to combine.  Drizzle with Sweet Basil Dressing. Toss gently.  Chill before serving.
Serves 4

Cunningham, S. (1990). Cunningham's encyclopedia of wicca in the kitchen. (p. 130). Woodbury: Llewellyn

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Another Smoothie

I have heard of adding oatmeal to smoothies before, but I'd never tried it.  It was high time, I decided, so this morning I made another avocado smoothie.


2 cups vanilla almond milk
1 cup frozen avocado chunks
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 tablespoons peanut butter, almond butter...or just skip it
1/4 cup cooked oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon butter extract, optional (gives a "batter" taste)
sweetener of choice  (I used about 3 tablespoons of Truvia)

So...I guess you know the rest, right?  Put it in the blender until it's smoooooooth.  It will be very thick.

And delicious.  Mmmm...good breakfast.  Tastes like a peanut butter no-bake cookie, with some of the same texture due to the oatmeal.     

This makes 2 beeeeeg servings, or it will make 3-4 smaller servings. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

PBP - A is for Altar

A is for Altar

I had a kitchen altar for a while when I lived in that other place.   I don’t have one here.  Mainly because I don’t really have a need for one.  I don’t really have the room, either.  Any potential spiritual space is full of clutter and trash and desperately needs to be cleaned and reorganized first.  We’ve been here since the end of August.  Helloooo…Yeah, it ain’t happenin’ any time soon.

Anywho, about the altar:    I had a polymer clay Hestia figure on it and some items that are sacred to Her.  I made the Hestia and two pigs (sacred animals) myself.  I also had a key, some candles, and an amethyst bracelet.    I chose those things because they symbolize and are sacred to Hestia, who is the kitchen deity with whom I am most familiar.

She is a veiled goddess, and I cover my head, so it fit.  

I’d post a picture if only I could find it.  I’m sure there is one on this blog somewhere.   

And yes, I can recognize Hestia as a form of the Divine *and* still consider myself an Agnostic Pagan.
I think altars can play an important part in one’s spirituality because an altar provides tangible representations of the Divine as the individual sees It.   I don’t see altars as necessary, even for rituals if they are performed.  Cooking and kneading dough are as close as I get to ritual these days.

For a kitchen altar, I suggest things such as:
  • A figure that represents one’s personal hearth deity
  • Other symbols of that deity/sacred items
  • Elemental representations (or fire at the very least) (candles are perfect, of course)
  • Perhaps some small bits of clay or plastic food, or pictures
  • A small plant (aloe, especially)

I may set my altar up again one day.  It might be good for me.  If I do, I will include the clay food items I made last year.  If I can’t find them, I will try to find the space to make some new things.   We’ll see what happens.

Friday, January 3, 2014

PBP - A is for Afterlife

I nearly took the easy route and wrote about autumn for the letter “A”, but this blog has tons of posts about autumn on it.  I figured I might as well branch out a bit if I can.

When I think of the afterlife, I think of…well, I’m not completely sure I believe it exists.   A lot of people spend their time on this planet planning for when their souls are going to leave it, rather than enjoying the present.   I don’t want to do that.   I want to enjoy the brief time I will spend here.

As any regular readers might know, I sometimes doubt a lot of things.  The afterlife is no different.  I don’t know for sure that it’s there. No one does, except the dead, and they’re not talking.   Not to me, at least.   
What I will write about is how I would like the afterlife to be, how I envision it.    Some people call it the Summerlands.  Heaven.  Avalon. The Isle of Apples.   I don’t have a specific name for it, really.    Some people think there might be separate afterlife scenarios for each group or even each individual soul.  I just don’t know.   What I’d like for it to be, though, is a place where I can be reunited with the friends, family members, and fuzzy animal friends I’ve lost over the years. 

I envision a beautiful field, surrounded by woodlands.  Rolling hills, golden sunshine, deep green foliage, and an azure sky filled with puffy clouds.  Pretty standard, right?    Well, this is MY private afterlife, where the people I want to see and spend time with come and go at regular intervals.  I also have time to spend alone.
I guess that means that my version of the afterlife is something that is both personal and shared with loved ones.   I don’t know about interactions with the living, except maybe when the veil is at its thinnest.   

Won’t know til (if) I get there.