Spices: Clove Bud

Clove Bud, Franz Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen, 1897. Public Domain.

Clove Bud, Franz Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, 1897. Public Domain.

Every spice cabinet I’ve ever opened has the underlying aroma of clove. Clove is that spice that you buy maybe once every five years, except if you’re my mom, then it’s once every thirty.

True story, a few years ago McCormick published an ad that listed their different herbs and spice packaging throughout the years, accompanied by a tagline that urged people to clean out their spice cabinet. Well, some of my mom’s spices were from the early 80s. Thirty years!

Until I had a toothache last week, I never knew of much use for cloves outside of baking. I remembered reading in my favorite essential oil book*  that clove had antiseptic properties and was often used as a dental analgesic.

I put a few drops on some cotton gauze and stuck it in my mouth. After a few moments the gum was blessedly numb. Granted, my mouth tasted like I licked my mom’s old McCormick clove tin, but I was grateful for the relief.

Clove Bud

Latin Name: Syzygium aromaticum, of the family Myrtaceae. Also in the family Myrtaceae (Myrtle family) are myrtles, guava, allspice and eucalyptus.

Native to: The Maluku Island in Indonesia, historically known as the Spice Islands

Parts Used: The flower bud of the clove tree

Common Forms: Ground, dried whole bud, essential oil. The active compound of clove is eugenol, also contained in basil, bay leaf, cinnamon and nutmeg.

History:  Archaeologists have found evidence of cloves in Syrian pottery dating back to around 1720 BC (1). The first reported use of clove is from the Hang Dynasty (260 BC to 220 AD). According to written records, “officers of the court were made to hold clove in their mouth when talking to the king.” (2)

Clove is one of the four “major” spices in trade and history, along with nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper. Procuring it sparked expeditions and wars. For more information: History of Cloves.

Using Clove: Clove is used in a variety of ways. Most of us know clove from culinary applications–my favorite being Soft Ginger Cookies.  Historical Europeans preserved meat using cloves, as well as enjoying it for its added flavor (clove studded ham spiral, anyone?). Jamaican jerk spice blends and Indian curries also can contain cloves.

Medicinally, clove has been used for thousands of years. In Ayurveda, clove is indicated to aid slow digestion. Perhaps it’s best known application is as a dental analgesic and antiseptic, for which it is still used (rather,  its active compound, eugenol) in modern dentistry.

Magically: Because it belongs to the myrtle family, I associate clove with Aphrodite (3). Therefore, use in spells, charms, or ritual involving relationships, love, beauty and sexuality would be appropriate.

When I’m practicing in the kitchen, I use clove as a warming and comforting agent. Use sparingly, however, since it is very powerful because of the eugenol. Excess eugenol can have definite physical effects in the mouth.

Scott Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs lists Clove as masculine and associated with Jupiter and fire. It is also indicated to use for protection, money and exorcism.

Sources and Resources:

*The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann Woodward. I can’t recommend it enough.

1. 2. “Clove” from Wikipedia. Footnote 18. Spice: The History of Temptation by Jack Turner. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clove

2. “Cloves” by Cynthia Gladen. https://www.lib.umn.edu/bell/tradeproducts/cloves

3. “Aphrodite” http://www.theoi.com/Summary/Aphrodite.html

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Cinnamon Sugar Pecans

Cinnamon-Sugar Pecans—the stuff that dreams, Renaissance Faires and Roquefort-Pear Salad are made out of (please, try that salad–it’s absolutely divine, no matter what pantheon you worship).  Lucky for you, and your post-Renaissance Faire budget, they are very easy to make. They’re also a tasty gift, a nice touch to add to salads and sweet casseroles, and an easy, appetizing dish to include in your upcoming holiday parties from Samhain to Imbolc. Really, you can’t lose.

Cinnamon-Sugar Pecans (or any nuts)

1 pound pecans*

1 egg white, whipped till frothy

1 c. sugar, white

1 to 2 tsp. cinnamon

generous sprinkle sea salt

Directions

1. Set your oven to 200. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

2. In a large bowl, whip the egg white until frothy. Add the pecans, toss to coat.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, cinnamon and salt.

4. Add the sugar mixture to the egg whites and pecans. Toss until thoroughly coated. Spread evenly on the baking sheet. Bake for at least an hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven when the pecans are very fragrant and the sugar shell is hard.

* You can definitely size this recipe for whatever amount you need. I’ve quartered it, halved it, etc. and it’s always turned out great.  Just remove the amount of egg white or add an egg white per pound.

*Also, you can apply it to different nuts, but be aware that because of varying fat content some nuts (like cashews) might burn easier, so check more often.

Enjoy! I know that I’ll be giving these to friends as gifts around Yule and Christmas and adding them to any dish that I can possibly get away with!

Recipe: Smothered Braised Pork Ribs

I made this recipe on Saturday night during one of the many rain showers that rolled through. I wish I could add a picture–I have several–but they all look terrible! The lighting in our house is not conducive to taking nighttime photos of food. Still, trust me, if you l like pork and you like sauerkraut, this is a super easy autumn meal. It would also be great for a Mabon or Samhain potluck, as it feeds six, easy.

Smothered Braised Pork Ribs

Adapted from this recipe.

Time: 30 minutes active, 2-3 hours inactive

Ingredients

2-3 pounds country style pork ribs

1-2 tbsp ghee or cooking oil of choice

2 leeks, white and light green area, sliced thin

1 lb. sauerkraut, preferably from the cold case

1 – 2 c. liquid, choose between chicken or beef broth, dry white wine, beer

Seasonings: salt, black pepper, nutmeg

Hardware

1 dutch oven

Tongs/metal spatula

Spare plate

——–

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350.

1.  Generously season the ribs with salt and pepper. Lightly sprinkle nutmeg.

2.  Heat oil in the dutch oven. When hot, sear the ribs on one side.

3.  Once the ribs are seared a nice golden brown, remove them from the dutch oven onto a plate. Add more oil if the pan is dry, then add the leeks. Sauté until soft. If the pan dries, or a thicker crust is forming, deglaze the pan with a small amount (less than a 1/4 cup) of liquid.

4.  After the leeks are soft, place the ribs back in the dutch oven, uncooked side down.

5. Cover with sauerkraut. Add 1 c. of liquid of choice. Cover with lid, and put in the oven for 2-3 hours, checking every hour. If the pot dries out, simply add another 1/2 c. to 1 c. liquid.

6. Ribs are done when they fall apart due to gentle prodding with a fork, about 2 hours.

——–

Serve with:

German potato salad, sautéed red cabbage, sauerkraut, buttered carrots

Dry Riesling

Honoring the Ancestors through Food, Part Two

Third question–Theoretical Application

[Disclaimer #1 before the next section:  While I think some traditional ways are preferential to modern ones, I also think that inspiration from traditional ways is more valuable than trying to emulate them wholesale.]

[Disclaimer #2: Yes. I know. These are broad generalizations. “Traditional culture” can mean anything from the milk-and-blood eating Masaai to the largely-meat Inuit to nearly-vegetarian-except-for-bugs. There are similarities though, and restrictions that would have been temporally based. For example, all livestock/grazing animals/game back in the day would have been grass-fed–no CAFOs in the Mesolithic.]

But using food to connect–what does that mean, in particular? I can think of several things:

1. That food be grown and tended traditionally. Pastured-based dairy, poultry and beef has been shown to be higher in CLA, vitamin K2 and other nutrients that our bodies need. Also, land needs animals (there, I said it), especially prairie and grasslands. I’m not going to make outlandish claims about the superior health value of organic produce, as I think those claims are still contested, but growing produce traditionally is low-impact, creative and when done best can be restorative to the soil and surrounding natural systems. Having a part in these processes connects us to the past and to the future, much like picking up your Granny’s knitting needles to make a baby blanket.

2. Eating traditional ingredients. Many pre-industrial diets are pretty healthy, especially with the addition of fresh meat. Think about it: soured oats and an egg for breakfast, a ploughman’s platter of meat, cheese, greens, chutney for lunch, then for dinner is a stew. Emphasizing fresh vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, soured grains and reducing white sugar and flour.  Also, these cultures ate all parts of the meat and used the bones for broth as well–important in traditional cuisine and full of vitamins A and D, as well as minerals and gelatin. Making sure dairy sources are fatty and greens are cooked with fat is also important.

There are some traditional ingredients that are controversial, to say the least. I’m thinking particular about raw milk. Raw milk is what any culture who drank milk drank before the pasteurization process was invented. In modern times, if you haven’t heard, some groups claim that the health benefits of grass-fed raw milk outweigh the risk of maybe consuming harmful bacteria. If you’re going to consume milk, they claim, you should only consume raw. Governmental agencies and other safety advocates say nonsense, if you’re going to consume milk, raw milk could kill you. I’m doing more research on this at the moment, so I don’t have a firm conclusion yet.

3. Preparing traditional dishes. Some of these are harmless enough, such as Colcannon. Who doesn’t love a huge pot of mashed up potatoes, leeks, kale, ham and scandalous amounts of butter? Soured oatmeal seems fine to me; I love fermented foods. Gotta love a big pot of stew, as well! Other dishes…well…I can’t say I’m raring to try oat-stuffed cod heads.

Conclusions

The Weston A. Price Foundation pioneered the traditional food-culture trail in the 1940s, and with the popularity of farmer’s markets, eating locally and the Paleo/Primal diets, traditional foods are coming back in vogue. Pagans as a whole have been on the tradiotionalist train since the beginning of the neo-Pagan movement in the ’40s and ’50s. I’m thinking in particular about the Patricia Campanelli who wrote The Wheel of the Year and Ancient Ways: Reclaiming Pagan Traditions. So, not exactly groundbreaking territory. It really isn’t even a new idea for this blog, I’ve explored it in most food philosophy posts.

Still, I find the idea of ancestor work through food compelling. It has so many nuances. One could connect to ancestors of place by eating seasonal foods, and buying local meat, honey, alcohol and produce. Blood ancestry could be explored through growing cultural ingredients and using them in different recipes. Also, of course, since culture is fluid, one shouldn’t feel trapped in “I’m Scottish so I must eat kippers and bannocks”, and instead experiment with traditional (and non) ingredients, methods, etc. and see how they can be incorporated.

Personally, our family already does some of this, but I would like to incorporate some low-stress daily/weekly dishes and methods into our rotation. Tea, while more modern, is one aspect of this. I’m thinking about starting a soured porridge pot and a sourdough starter. I’m also tentatively exploring raw milk, more for the culturing possibilities (yogurt, cheese, clotted cream) than for drinking. We’ll see.

Much to my husband’s dismay, we’re also now taking regular spoonfuls of ghee and Cod Liver Oil. At least it’s not it’s not fermented.

(Yet.)

Honoring the Ancestors through Food, Part One

I’ve always been curious about how our ancestors ate. I love the whole realm of food and beverage, from anthropology down to history. One of my favorite aspects of being in the wine business is that it is a traditional industry steeped (fermented?) in history and culture.

So I began pondering: How would eating traditionally connect me to the ancestors? Not just my temporally near ones, but what about my deep, genetic ancestors?  I honor the ancestors in my daily prayers, but it feels important to cultivate that connection in other ways.

My favorite aspect of all the holidays and Sabbats is definitely the food. I make butter on Imbolc, Colcannon on Samhain, soda bread for the Vernal Equinox. Not to mention the feasts of Yule, Christmas and Thanksgiving. So, if I like that connection so much, what about starting to extend it to daily life?

One of my favorite blogs, Hunt Gather Love, got me to thinking about food anthropology, and piqued my interest even more when she posted about a traditional Scots diet (basically, bleeding venison and kale).

So–first question–who are my ancestors? And where are they from?

Thanks to extensive genealogical research done by my maternal aunt, I know that my bloodline contains ancestors who arrived in America from France, Austria, Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. I also have one flaming genetic marker for Celtic ancestry: I’m a red-head (and freckled).

Question two–That’s a lot of different cuisines and regions.

Sure…well, kind of. And it’s not like I’m trying to be a purist here. Hello, I’m an American whose family has been here since the 1700s. I could also add in Scots-Appalachian food (redundant, perhaps?) and traditional Southern into the mix. But since I’m mostly referring to deep ancestry, I think those more modern distinctions are less important.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned from research into a traditional Scots diet:

Grains: barley, rye, oats.

Vegetables: kale, cabbage, Allium crops (garlic, shallots, leeks, onion), turnips,  sea vegetables, wild vegetables (nettles, watercress), marsh plants (sea beans).

Fruits: berries, apples

Dairy: cream, milk, butter, cheese, whey

Meats: fish (especially salmon and trout), shellfish, game meat (especially venison), lamb/mutton, eggs, sometimes beef.

Sugars: honey

A traditional Irish diet would have looked much the same. In researching the topic I found more references to milk products, ducks, geese and beef in the Irish diet–but that doesn’t mean that the Scots didn’t enjoy these foods as well.

A more continental European diet would include beans and legumes, more grains (wheat, though not much, and millet), and a more diverse set of vegetables and fruits.

Traditionally, grains would have (most of the time) been soaked or fermented, which makes them easier to digest and shortens the cooking time.  Think of soured porridge, sourdough, and soaked oats.

Something else to think about–after the hunter/gatherer period of history, fresh meat would have been the province of the nobility, except for feast days. Food of the lower classes would have been grains, dairy and vegetables, supplemented with blood sausages and the like. It’s interesting to note that because of the emphasis on dairy, some of the dietary practices were similar to the traditional diet of the African Masaai tribe (like mixing raw blood, raw milk and butter together).

[Part II will discuss Application and will have a list of my resources and the Wish List Cookbooks]

Slow Down Tea

I just ordered a teapot, strainer, book on afternoon tea recipes, and a pack of loose leaf Irish breakfast tea.

No, I’m not suffering a fit of Anglophilia.

(Though watching Sherlock, Misfits, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, the upcoming London Olympics, and all of this rain we’ve been getting might do that to a person.)

(Well, okay, mild Anglophilia.)

I’m trying to explore ritual in my life. For a while I thought that I didn’t have rituals, and therefore, my thought-life was becoming increasingly chaotic. I felt like I was whirling a bit out of control, letting things fly off into the ether and not being able to control it.

Ritual! I thought, that’s the answer.

Then I realized that I do have rituals–for better and for worse.

For instance, on the destructive side, I’m a secret eater. When I get stressed, angry or mad, I go and eat. Secretly. I drive to fast food restaurants and eat. Not binge, not anymore, but I eat stuff that I normally wouldn’t touch. I had a friend tell me that she used to do this with cigarettes. Just a little secret, but the whole process is cloaked in ritual. And if it’s not a certain place, a certain meal, eaten in a certain way…it just doesn’t feel the same.

On the creative side, I have a fairly consistent ritual of a daily Tarot card draw. I center, visualize roots drawing up nutrients into my feet, strengthening my legs, activating my chakras, and extended through to the sky and space above. Then I draw a card. It’s very centering, calming, grounding. I round it off with prayer and words of gratitude. Days that I do this–and it only takes ten minutes–are by far more productive, calm and happy.

I’ve been reflecting on the summer the past few days and what I want to accomplish before autumn is upon us. It’s the middle of July, but Lughnasadh is two weeks away. Mabon six weeks after that. The summer tomatoes are producing their last, and I’m about to put in the fall vegetables. In a few days I’ll start the seed flats of cole crops (!). I can scarcely believe it!

I realized that I’m craving more structure in my life. Since the spring I’ve been pretty lax about…everything. Which is fine. But now I want structure and routine. More–I want it to be so integrated that it becomes rhythm.

Where to start, though? In an ideal world I’d love to be the type of person who wakes up at dawn, practices yoga and meditates, has a tea ritual in the afternoon, a writing ritual during nap time, evening meditation before bed…I mean, that all sounds awesome. Not to mention religious and spiritual rituals such as prayer, devotions and other seasonal activities. I mean, whew. That’s a lot of ritual.

And with everything else that must be done in life? It’s just…not feasible.

Of course, none of it has to be super involved. It can be as simple as lighting a candle, drawing a card, reciting a brief mantra.

But I wanted something to set apart. So I decided to go back to the beginning–back to when I was a little girl and had a fascination with tea, tea pots, and all things Irish, English and floral Victorian.

(I was a romantic child, obviously!)

My mom still has all of my porcelain tea pots–a very floral collection, largely featuring chintz–and I don’t really want those in a house with my toddler. So I traded in the violets and roses for a sturdy stoneware blue. I have my Celtic knot porcelain tea cups, a package of loose leaf tea on the way, and a loaf of good sourdough perfect for toast.

The funny thing is that though I want more ritual, I also want to slow down. When I said ‘whirling’ above, I meant it–it’s been a busy, chaotic season in our life. I want this ritual to help slow. it. down. To create space to think, to observe, to relax, to collect myself. The beverage version of yoga.

So, from now until Lughnasadh I’ll be having tea, between 3 and 4, every day. With milk and sugar. Maybe cheese, toast or an egg, maybe a book or my journal. But possibly just me and a warm, sweet cup of tea.

Sugar (Oh, Honey, Honey)

You are my candyyyyy girl! And you’ve got me wanting you!

Right. Sorry. Now that song is stuck in your head, I’ll continue.

Being intelligent readers, you have probably properly surmised that this post is going to be about sugar. To the point, my relationship with the stuff. I’ve done quiet a few posts on my food philosophy, but I haven’t done one in a while.

For the past year, I’ve had a pretty decent and moderate relationship with sugar (and by proxy, white flour). By that I mean that I’ve cut down my consumption to one of super-dark chocolate and occasional gluten-free treats.

In December that changed. It started with a box of gluten-free cookies that I purchased because I went to the store so damn hungry. The irony of it all is that I was talking to my mom about how! good! I! felt! not eating sugar and eating primarily a Primal-ish diet. Well, half the box later I shoved it off onto J, who took it to work. Problem solved.

Except, not. Except Christmas. A vacation. New Years. Etc. More and more, little bits of sugar began to creep into my life. Until, for the past week, I’ve been in a loop of mini-binges and mini-fasts.

Not. Good. If there is a slippery slope in my life, it is that of my eating disorder. When I’m eating well, exercising moderately and being a productive person I don’t even think of myself as having an eating disorder. But when that one bite becomes two becomes secret cruisin’ to eat…well. Then I have a problem, again.

On a positive note, I haven’t had this problem in exactly a year. Last January was when I stopped the craziness and started moderating my carb, grain and sugar intake. It was an experimental year, and a largely successful one.

Over the past week (yes, the same binge/fast week) I’ve been trying to moderate my sugar by doing things I KNOW WON’T WORK. Exercise (specifically, cardio! That’s right! Get back into that cycle!). Fasting (but now we call it intermittent fasting.) And my favorite: moderation (just one…no two…no three…Fuck! Who ate all the Girl Scout cookies?)

Moderation may work for some people. It does. not. work. for. me.

This is when the rubber meets the road when it comes to change. I have to accept that who I am is a person who cannot eat sugar and flour. I just can’t. I can hardly even have the stuff in the house before I eat it. This has always been the case, even when it featured prominently into my ‘healthy whole-grains’ quasi-vegetarian diet.

But what makes change attainable? It’s tricky, that’s the only thing I know for sure. I used to have these grand ideals of purity and perfection (um, hello, eating disorder). Extreme idealistic positions intrigued me, veganism and evangelical Christianity being the most prominent examples. Juxtaposed to this was the way I lived my life as a failed perfectionist. Since I couldn’t–who could?–live up to these arbitrary perfect standards I set for myself, I would just accept my inevitable failure. Enter binge/purge cycles, shame/judgment complexes, etc.

This changed, drastically, when I left the church. I eschewed notions of purity and perfection as completely unworkable and unproductive. I embraced sensuality and pleasure, and found my place in the pagan spectrum of belief.

I eventually (last January) changed my diet to reflect my new sensual/pleasure paradigm: lots of good meat, cheese, vegetables, fruit, dairy, fat and wine. Occasionally high-quality chocolate and desserts (but not often). I largely nixed refined sugar, flour and most grains. I cut the cardio, opting instead for walking, yoga, heavy-lifting and occasional sprinting.

Life was balanced. I became productive. My moods moderated. I didn’t binge. I became strong and healthy, more creative. Life seemed to open before me. Food and body-image issues took a backseat, for the first time, to life.

(Amazing what getting your nutrition in check can do, right?)

Since I’ve put myself back into this cycle, I’ve also begun veering back into the unworkable idealistic extremes that defined my late teens and early twenties. First, intermittent fasting was the answer! (No.) Then, a complete sugar detox! (It lasted two days–and everything got worse). Then, a sugar challenge! Five pounds of sugar, one year! (Siiiiighhhh).

So, here I sit, thinking about the ‘answer’ when really, it’s not hidden from me. It’s the answer I know. Meat, vegetables, full-fat dairy, limited fruit, dark chocolate, wine. Walking, heavy-lifting, sprinting, yoga. Good sleep, good books, writing, sewing, sunshine and sex.

A life of pleasure is my answer to not eating sugar. A life of decadence, indulgence and productivity. But my mind still goes to the grass is always greener line–well, those people can eat a cookie! I want a cookie!

Goddamn, what is so special about a fucking cookie when I enjoy all of the above? Without guilt, without thought? With much pleasure and satisfaction? When said cookie introduces bad moods, excess weight and binging back into my life?

I guess it’s the human condition. Rather, my condition. My child-brain wants what my adult-brain has restricted. Right now, I have to educate my child brain like I’d educate my child.

No. You cannot have a cookie.

Instead, go out and play. Write a story. Read a book.

And don’t be late for dinner!