Tuesday, February 18, 2014

D is for Death

Winter is still upon us.  In a time when we should be looking ahead to spring and birth and light, this blog post will focus more on the darker half of the year.  Death knows no season, but for many Pagans, autumn and winter are the seasons that represent endings.  Endings come in many forms. Relationships and friendships end. Good books end.  Life ends.  The end of life is my focus for this post.

I don’t really know for sure if death is the end of everything, or if it’s the beginning of a new chapter.  What I do know, however, is many people and animals that I love have passed from this existence.  Death is something we are faced with everyday, from your bacon sandwich to the spider you just whacked with a newspaper.  It’s not something we can escape, and as the saying goes, ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!’

Instead of dwelling upon the illnesses and accidents that  take us away from this life, it is far preferable to focus on life and living every day to the fullest.  That, as we all know, is much easier said than done.

I look at Samhain as a gift.  It is a time for us to remember, to visit with ancestors, to laugh and cry, and even to be angry if that’s how you heal.   It has always been my favorite day.  As the veil thins leading up to Samhain, I become more and more excited. Will someone visit?  Will I see something for the coming year?   And then I ask the other question: What am I going to cook?

Samhain has lots of traditional, seasonal foods.  Likewise, different cultures have many traditional foods for funerals.   I believe that grieving is very draining and that one should eat for strength during a period of mourning, even though it’s normal to have no appetite during that time.

For Samhain, traditional foods include pork, apples, pumpkins, root vegetables, and nuts like hazelnuts/filberts.    Those are fine, delicious, grounding foods.  The key word here is ‘grounding’.  Some may believe that it is better to be grounded on Samhain, while others would prefer to be less fettered and therefore better suited to receiving visitors from beyond the veil.

Others prefer to offer their ancestors foods that they best loved in life, as a way of enticing them to visit. My thoughts are as follows:  The living may wish to eat a light meal and offer the heavier meal to the spirits of the dead.  This may allow the spirits to stick around longer and the living less grounded and perhaps more aware of the spirits on this night.

(Before Samhain, a fast may even be in order.  What I try to do is a fast for a day before Samhain, but not a total fast. I can’t not eat. It gets ugly, believe me.  It can be juice or very light foods, preferably without animal products.)

Now, yes, cooking for both the living and the dead does require two menus, but the dishes can have a lot of similar components.  After you set out the food for the spirits, the leftovers can be wrapped up and kept for the next day for the living.   

Below are a couple of menus to get you started:

For the spirits:
Fried fish
Rosemary roasted potatoes
Carrots and cabbage with caraway seeds
Beer bread
Apple tart

And for everyone else:
Fish stew
Sauteed arugula
Fried apples
Rosemary cookies

Autumn is the season of water, emotions, introspection, and communication with the other planes of existence.  That is why I chose fish. 
I chose arugula because of its bite.  A bitter green would work here as well.
Rosemary is for remembrance.
Apples are a traditional Samhain food.
Carrots and cabbage may be traditional money-drawing foods, and while spirits don’t need money, a little extra prosperity in the next life can’t hurt, right?

**I realized that recipes for everything would make this post entirely too long, so please check back for those!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

D is for Diana (and Duck Pie)

Diana (Artemis, to the Greeks), is the goddess of the hunt.   Although she vowed never to marry and remained a virgin, she is also the goddess of childbirth.  Diana’s festival takes place on August 13th.  Her symbols include deer and hunting dogs. 
One of Diana’s archetypes is the Child of Nature.  I believe that this child is a symbol of someone who grew up understanding nature and where food comes from, and learning to hunt only for food and taking only what was necessary.  Giving thanks was also a part of this ritual. This archetype reminds us to feel the grass under our feet, dance in the moonlight, and respect the Mother’s creatures.

These days, we don’t rely on hunting for meat (for those of us who eat meat. If you don’t, you may not be interested in the following recipe…).  Some people hunt for food, while others hunt for sport (I’m not judging…).  As I have written before, we have become quite disconnected from our food sources.  Plus, a lot of our food doesn’t resemble what humans used to eat, even after agriculture took hold.

I don’t hunt because I am the worst shot in the world.  If I had to try in order to provide food for my family, I would do my best, but I am afraid of hurting the animal instead of killing it as quickly as possible. 

I feel it is very important to dispatch of a living creature as quickly and painlessly as possible.  Even though I don’t hunt, my cousins do, and when I know they are planning a trip, I say a prayer the night before or the morning of.   I give thanks in advance to any animals that are killed, and I ask for a quick and painless trip to the afterlife for them. 

I connect to Diana a bit, but not as much as I connect to Vesta.  I enjoy learning more about different feminine forms of the Divine and looking at their similarities and differences, but I don’t always identify with or connect to that particular form.  And that’s okay. 

As I mentioned above, I connect more with Vesta (I know her as Hestia), so the way I prepare for the hunt is to have food for the hunters.   Therefore, you get yet another recipe.  This IS a kitchen witch’s blog, after all!

Hunters’ Duck  Pie
Or Duck Hunters’ Pie, if you prefer!

This makes a hefty pie that you can cut into thick wedges and eat cold.   There are a lot of steps. You spend a lot of time waiting for pastry to chill and duck meat to braise.  This is something to make when you have an afternoon free.  You can even make things separately and keep them in the refrigerator for a day or two.

  If you’ve never had duck, you might want to start with something simpler. Still, duck is delicious, and I recommend it.

·         4 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
·         1 1/2 teaspoons salt
·         7 tablespoons lard, chilled
·         7 tablespoons butter, chilled
·         1 cup ice water

·         2 pounds duck legs and 1 pound duck breast (or use one or the other)
·         2 cups duck or chicken stock
·         10 ounces pancetta or bacon, minced
·          2 small onions (about 2 cups), minced
·         2 tablespoons butter, duck fat, or bacon grease
·         6 sage leaves, minced
·         2 springs rosemary, chopped
·         2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
·         1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         2 teaspoons black pepper
·         ¼ teaspoon cayenne
·         1 egg, beaten

9” spring form pan

  • To make the pie crust, combine all ingredients except water in a food processor.  Pulse to break up and evenly distribute the chilled fat.
  • Turn the food processor on and stream in enough cold water to form a dough that holds together. 
  • Remove dough, form into a ball, and wrap in plastic. Chill in the refrigerator for 45-60 minutes.
  • Season the duck meat well with salt and pepper and arrange in a Dutch oven.  Pour in the stock.
  • Place in a 300 F oven with the lid on, and cook for 90 minutes.  
  • Check doneness of the meat.  The meat should be falling off the bone.  Give it another half hour and then check again. The entire cooking process may take up to 3 hours. Keep an eye on the duck and check it every half hour.
  • When the meat is falling off the bone, remove it.  Reserve the liquid.
  • When the meat is cool enough, remove it from the bones.  Strain the cooled liquid.
  • Heat a skillet on medium-high heat.  Cook the bacon until you’ve rendered out some of the fat.  Don’t let it get crispy. 
  • Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. 
  • Lower the heat and cook the onion 7-10 minutes, until tender.  
  • Mix in the herbs and seasoning.  
  • Add the bacon and the duck meat, cubed. 
  • Pour in enough of the strained broth to moisten the mixture.
  • Thicken either with a roux or a tablespoon of cornstarch dissolved in cold broth or water.
  • While this mixture cools and thickens a bit, roll out the pastry, reserving ¼ of it for the top of the pie. 
  • You want the crust to be relatively thick, about 1/3”.    It does not have to be a perfect circle, but it does have to come up the sides of your spring form pan.
  • Butter the bottom and sides of your spring form pan and line with the pastry, minus the part you’ve reserved for the top.
  • Fill the pie with the duck mixture.
  • Roll out the remaining bit of pastry and cover the pie.  Pinch the top and sides together.
  • Cut a couple of slits or an “X” in the middle of the pie.
  • Preheat the oven  to 350 F.  
  • Bake the pie for 25-30 minutes at 350.
  • Reduce the heat to 325 and bake for another hour.
  • Remove the pie, brush with the beaten egg, and place back in the oven for another 20-25 minutes.
  • Remove the pie from the oven and allow it to rest.
  • This pie is ideally served cold, so it is nice to make it the day before you plan to serve it.
  • Serve it with a spicy mustard and some cornichons.  Send a hot thermos of tea, too.

** Alternately, you can make a venison pie.  

If you are taking this pie hunting, don’t forget to leave some as an offering of thanks and blessings for a successful hunt.   Give thanks and blessings to the animal(s) when you are successful.   Remember that the hunt is possible through the Divine. 

Oh, and save me some pie!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

C is for Cooking (And My Path)

This is a re-post.  I wrote this essay a couple of months ago.  I wanted to share it again for the Pagan Blog Project for the letter "C". 

Of course I get food out of cooking, but I get so much more than a meal out of the process.  For me, the act of meal preparation is an exercise in spirituality as well.  Allow me to elaborate.

I am what I call an Agnostic Pagan, or Pagan-ish Agnostic, depending on the day.  I have written about this topic before, so I won’t go into it too much here.  I will say that I connect more with the wheel of the year, the changing of the seasons, than I do with the (to me) rather abstract notion of ‘god(s)’.
I must begin by providing some background information.

I do not have a garden currently.   I have a postage stamp-sized yard and a brown thumb.  However, I was raised by a mother who is also an avid gardener.  It is something she does because she enjoys growing food, and it is something she does so we can *have* food.   She may not identify as Pagan, but she does have a deep connection to nature and the seasons.   She depends on the earth, rain, and sun to help her crops grow.  She preserves everything that comes out of the garden, either by canning or freezing.

I have seen what a drought can do.  I have seen what a severe storm can do, flattening stalks of corn to the ground and making my mother almost cry from frustration.  Nature has a lot of power, and I grew up respecting it.   Late winter was a time to plan; spring was a time to start seeds.  Summer brought hoeing, watering, weeding, and the first harvest of green beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes.   

Since I have never been very talented at growing food, I helped to harvest it.  To this day, I still love picking and shucking corn.  I still gag at the smell of tomato plants.  My back and knees hold the memories of stooping to pick green beans (ouch!).   

I also learned to take the bounty from our two small gardens and turn them into delicious dishes.  These meals are my way of giving thanks, not only to the earth, but also to those who worked so hard to plant and tend these edible gifts. 

Food is tangible.  We can touch it, smell it, and taste it.  Nature is also tangible.  The concept of god(s) is not something we can see, taste, hear, or touch.   It isn’t even something that I proclaim to feel all that often.   
I won’t go so far as to say food is a manifestation of the Divine.  If it were, wouldn’t everyone have enough?  Would there still be starving people in the world?  I would hope not.   What I will say, however, is harvesting and preparing food and giving food to those who need it helps me feel a closer connection to the Divine.  

Nowadays, most of us don’t have gardens.  We don’t depend on our own agricultural efforts, but we do depend on the agricultural efforts and talents of others.   In these modern times, we can get strawberries in January (yuck) if we want them or asparagus in October.   Food is grown all over and shipped great distances.   Most of us don’t even know where the majority of our food comes from, let alone have an actual hand in its production.   I count myself in that group.  I try to know where my food comes from, yet I still don’t grow it or slaughter it myself.     Our connection is waning, but I am trying to get some of that connection back.   I long to feel a deeper connection to the Earth.  From there, I believe that I will feel the essence of the Divine.  

Sure, I’ve plucked chickens and helped cut up venison and such, but it’s been a long time.  I haven’t lived with my parents for many years, and I can’t really do much in this little trailer park.  What I can do, though, is support local farmers by buying locally and seasonally.  I can show my gratitude to them in that way.  
Other ways in which I practice my path in the kitchen include being mindful and trying not to waste food.  I admit that things do sometimes get pushed to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten about for a while, though.  I’m a good cook but a lousy housekeeper.   

I used to identify with the term ‘kitchen witch’.  I suppose I still do identify with it to some extent.   Once upon a time, I read and researched the magical properties of certain fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, and nuts.   My goal was to include ingredients with similar energies into my recipes and to make meals that were harmonious as well as delicious.  I strived to make foods for certain purposes.  I devised recipes for love and prosperity.  To this day, I swear my Prosperity Shortbread recipe helped me land a new job after I left that horrible high school teaching gig.

Currently, my focus is a bit different.  I still try to keep similar energies together when I combine ingredients, but it isn’t a prime concern.  I still cook with intent.  Maybe I’ve read Como Agua Para Chocolate too many times, but I don’t like to cook when I’m angry, for fear of putting negativity into my food.   I still feel that my emotions could affect the outcome of the meal.  Maybe it won’t affect the diners’ emotions outright, but I don’t think anyone should have to ingest another person’s stress or anger.

Even though I still feel that the Divine may not be terribly invested in humanity, I still chant when I knead dough.  I say prayers for the health and well-being of those who eat what I prepare.  I try to prepare everything with a peaceful mind and a grateful heart.  I am grateful for the food itself, for some people have little or none.  I am grateful for those who eat the food because it means I have friends and family.    To me, that’s what it’s all about. 

To me, it isn’t about casting a spell for love by making an apple pie.  Instead, it’s more about recognizing the end of the year and enjoying the sweetness of the apple pie and sharing it with someone I love.   That, to me, is recognition of the Divine:  Love.  

It all boils down to love and thankfulness.   That’s where I am on my journey to the Divine right now.  It could change, of course, and it most likely will.  That’s what happens when people grow.    When I make a family recipe, I feel love and gratitude.   When the seasons change and different produce is available, I feel gratitude.  I am alive, and that’s a gift.  

There you have it.  My path is about love, gratitude, and a reverence for the life that grows upon this planet.  My path is about nourishing bodies with things that grow in nature and about feeding people’s spirits as well.  I am trying to spread the love around.

Sit at my table, and I will feed you.  I will set before you a plate of food that has been cooked with love.  I will share with you not only a plate of roast and vegetables, but also my sincere hope that you push away from the table with a full belly AND a full heart.    That is how I experience the Divine.