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!

Happy Autumn Equinox!

Well, ladies and gents…it’s finally officially here! Autumn!

Unfortunately I have to go to work today, but I know the ride will be amazing. The vineyard I work at is down a winding country road, and on such a beautiful day I don’t think anything could be better.

How We’re Celebrating Mabon:

-Collecting acorns (special points if they still have their hats). Leaves haven’t started to fall yet; that’ll probably be on the agenda for Samhain.

-Decorating my altar.

-My family is in town so we’ve been enjoying their company.

-Continuing to plant the fall garden: lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, turnips, peas, broccoli, collards, beets, parsnips, carrots, cilantro, parsley, basil, chamomile, calendula, dill, chrysanthemums, etc…Yay!

-Taking walks and enjoying being outside.

-Later I’ll do my seasonal Tarot spread and place out some offerings.

-Thursday I started seasonal cleaning and have gotten pretty far. Completely cleaned and reorganized the office/library and utility room.

-As far as making my house a home (see post here), that’s going a bit slow, but there has been definite progress. We’ve sampled about 18 different paints for the dining room–though, we’re no where close to deciding. We bought a new dining room table, moved the old table to the kitchenette, started re-landscaping the front, and I’ve been working on re-organizing (see point above). I think in another six weeks, by Samhain, we’re going to have a substantially different home! Yay, progress!

I hope everyone is having a great beginning of autumn day!

Transitions and Lughnasadh

Believe it or not, Lughnasadh is almost here.

(I can’t believe it.)

August 1st is less than a week away. First harvest, harvest of the corn (grain). Which, appropriately enough, our only two ears of corn might be ready by then!

Of course, for those less agriculturally inclined, the reflections of the season usually center around what’s metaphorically/spiritually ready to harvest and what needs a bit longer, separating the what from the chaff and the transition from summer into autumn. It can seem a bit crazy, especially in Central Texas, that August 1st can celebrate the descent into autumn. But every year I think it’s crazy, and every year August 1st rolls around, and it feels right. The shadows begin stretching over the lawn just a little bit earlier; we take out the summer tomatoes and plant the fall crop; I can berry jam and apple butter.

Now that I work in a winery I know that August 1st is right in the middle of the grape harvest [for Central Texas, not so in other places]. The whites have already come in, and in quick succession the Petit Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat will be hand-picked, dumped into tubs, shoveled into the destemmer-crusher, piped into then the press, then pumped into tanks to begin fermentation.

No matter how hot it still is, how far away the cooler weather may be–it is harvest.

In my own life, it’s a time of transition. I’ve gone back to work. C had her first day of daycare today (yes, I cried, a lot.) Like I mentioned, the garden is in part dying off and in part being replanted.

And I’ve decided that, by Samhain, my house is going to be a home.

See, we’ve lived in our house for 2.5 years and it’s still..blank. The walls are empty. The front yard is a mess because of previous poor landscape design. Everything looks temporary, transitional. I suppose it’s because once we moved in we had a baby, and then we thought J was going to lose his job and we’d have to move, and then, and then, and then.

But I’m done with and then. Could life change on a dime and we find ourselves packing boxes to move to Place X? Sure. But I’m sick of walking into my house and feeling like it’s just a pit stop. I want the beige walls to be another color, there to be family pictures and artwork, grown-up furniture instead of college/newlywed furniture, and for the front yard to look decent. For people to walk in and feel the energy of a blessed home. You just can’t have that if there’s a little bit of chaos or emptiness wherever you look.

So I’ve given myself (and by extension J, haha!) the deadline of Samhain. The entire season of harvest to tuck into working on the lawn and the house. By October 31st I want our (largely non-existent) trick-or-treaters to walk up a clean path, surrounded by a seasonal front-yard and peer into a homey foyer. Where the energy of the house clearly says, we’re a family that loves each other, and we welcome you to our home.

Appropriate, I think, for a season I’ve always thought of as ‘Harvest Home’.

What are your thoughts about Lughnasadh? If it’s in your tradition, do you connect to it?

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.)

Yuletide Crafts

So, I’ve been feeling crafty lately. I sometimes paint and frequently write, but I’m not much of a craft person, per se, until the holidays. It seems that I get all of my crafting energies out during a six-week period.

Orange Ornaments

Our tree was looking kind of sparse when my husband requested that I “do those fruit ornaments again.”  He could have meant the cranberry and popcorn garland that I sometimes do (required: needle, strong thread, cranberries and popcorn…and string ’em up!) but I knew that he meant the orange rounds. They’re easy and look very elegant and Victorian.

First, slice a couple of oranges into thin rounds. This is easier sad than done, and it helps to use a serrated knife. Place rounds on a baking sheet and pop into the oven, preheated to 250. Check every thirty minutes. Turn the slices at the first sight of any browning. After the first hour, reduce the heat to 200 and let them dehydrate until you’re satisfied.

Orange slices, 250 for the first hour then lower to 200 til you're satisfied.

Remove and let cool. Poke holes into one of the segments and loop some pretty ribbon through. Hand on your tree. Voilà!

Glittering Hurricane Lamps

I used good ol’ Martha’s template for the scenery. I bought craft glue with a brush instead of with a tip. As I was impatient to start the project, I made do instead of going back to the store. Big mistake! I used the brush it came with and another thin one I had, but painting the glue on was a pain.

What you need:

Glass candle holders

Craft glue bottle (like Tacky Glue), applicator tip

Fine glass glitter

Template, if you choose

Soft paintbrush

Directions:

1. If you want to use a template, click on the link above. Size and print out the templates. Tape them to the interior of candle holder.

2. Lay down newspaper/covering on your crafting area. Glitter is like sand—it gets everywhere.

3. Begin to apply the glue on the outside of the holder. Sprinkle with glitter and let dry.

4. After the glue has dried, use a soft paint brush to knock of the excess glitter. Move to the next section. Keep going until completed.

Notes:

*  In addition to using the glue with the tip, if I did this again I’d use a straight-sided candle holder. The curvy ones were all I could find and made painting more difficult.

*  This is a project that you could be really creative with. Any Sabbat or holiday, any colors of glitter, any shapes. I might do some freehand for Imbolc as they glitter very nicely in the candlelight.

The Darkening Time of Year

I love, love, love this time of year. I love the early setting sun. The persistent shadows that stretch across my backyard and throughout the house. The sun is bright and white; everything but the deepest shade is overexposed.

J, C and I just got back on Sunday night from six days at the in-laws for Thanksgiving (…) and I couldn’t be happier to be home. November was packed to the brim: NaNoWriMo (finished!), Jamie Eason’s Live Fit Trainer (quit!*), Thanksgiving visits and at the very beginning of the month, Samhain. Whew. Add in the usual household chores and a burgeoning garden (yay!!) and we had a busy, albeit fulfilling, month. But, like I said, I’m happy to be home, and I’m happy to be blogging again.

Sunday night I pulled out the garland and started decorating for the upcoming Solstice season:

Last year because of being the sleepless mother of a four-month old, we didn’t do much besides hang a swag of lighted garland. This year, I have grand plans that include making these hurricane candle holders and sewing up PJs for some friends’ kids and the fam.

I’ll admit it: I love the Christmas/Solstice season. I celebrate both. Culturally and traditionally, I celebrate Christmas. Personally, I celebrate the Winter Solstice. Last year my parents, Claire and I went to the beach. The cold wind buffeted our faces, waves crashed against packed sand and when I went home I watched online as the solstice passed along the globe.

This time of year always seems to bring about discussions of whether or not P/pagans should celebrate Christmas. In an interesting turn of events in our family, one of my über-fundamentalist Christian relatives has decided to not celebrate Christmas (or Easter) since the Torah apparently (I don’t know and I’m not invested enough in the argument to find out) says to not have anything to do with pagan practices, ever. Apparently this means trees, garland, mistletoe (did you know, this person told me, very bug-eyed, that pagans had sex in front of everyone under the mistletoe?!–it sounded like information from a bad 101 book…and about Beltane, not the Solstice), Christmas music and gift giving.

I tried a little to explain and give them historical context, etc. but it didn’t really take.

On the spiritual side of things I’m about to start working through a book called Tarot Shadow Work. A lot of thinking about regeneration and survival. I feel like, even though I’m not a Christian, that this is a time of advent for me.

So, that’s enough of catching-up. Anyone reading this, how was your T-day? What are your plans for the holidays? What are your thoughts on the whole Solstice or Christmas discussion?

*I started Jamie Eason’s Live Fit Trainer, which you can find at bodybuilding.com, about 10 weeks ago. I progressed through the first six weeks easily, but on top of 6 days of weights they add 4 days of 30 minute cardio. Then, in the third phase, plyometrics. It is way, way too much. Even scaling down the frequency of workouts and cardio, I ended up hurting my back. I’ve never had a hurt back in my life. I know how to lift weights: I took a course in college, and I’m a trained yoga teacher which provides me with some knowledge of anatomy and form. In my opinion, informed by additional research and my experience, this is not a well-designed or safe workout program.

Grandmother Moon

I know that the traditional names for the August Moon are Barley Moon, Corn Moon, Red Moon and such. As of yesterday I titled this post ‘Corn Moon’ after a little protection charm I made. However, today, as J and I set off to buy a chest freezer and I had just finished a batch of jam I knew that I really celebrated my grandmother during this esbat.

Last night, I did a small ritual. I blended up some Solar Protection Oil (is that weird on a Full Moon…eh? Whatever) and had a sheaf of corn that I had dried and wanted to charm for the house/as a harvest decoration. I plan to find a place for it to hang, perhaps at the beginning of September.

Solar Protection Oil: Orange, Pine, Rosemary and Patchouli blended with Sweet Almond Oil

Dried Corn Sheaf Blessed with Protection Oil

The above isn’t the best picture–many apologies, my corn sheaf isn’t photogenic 😉 (That sentence made me laugh.)

Anyway…I woke up this morning and prepared to make my first jam, ever! I’ve never canned before and was extremely nervous. The whole idea of botulism kind of freaked me out. I didn’t want to shell out money for the equipment before I knew if I even liked it, so I took some pointers from this website about how to can without the equipment. I did buy jars, though (she recommends reusing jars). When I pulled them out of the package, much to my delight, they were the same quilted pattern my grandmother had used when she canned.  I hadn’t noticed when I put them in the shopping cart earlier that week.

Mixed Berry Jam with Allspice, Clove, Nutmeg and Ginger

Mmmm. Jam. Lots of finger swiping.

After I set the jam to seal and cool, J and I decided to make a purchase we’ve talked about for a long time: a chest freezer. We have visions of buying a side of grass-fed beef (anyone want to split one if I can find a provider this late in the season…anyone?) and preserving our garden harvest. So, today, we decided to do that.

Not to get sentimental about an appliance, but one of the things I remember most vividly about my grandmother’s house was her chest freezer in the garage. It held all sorts of yummy things, like a plethora of half gallons of Blue Bell ice cream (Tin Roof, Rocky Road, Pecan Praline and the best…Homemade Vanilla). Blue metal utility shelves lined the back wall of the garage, filled to the brim with preserved veggies from their garden, jam and, most importantly, apple butter.

Oh, gods, the apple butter. That will definitely be happening this year.

Anyway, as I set about doing all of these harvest-y, homey type tasks I felt so, so close to my grandmother. She hasn’t passed over yet, but she turned 90 this year and lives under the care of my parents. It’s hard to see her age as she was the matriarch of the family, the rope that bound our family together during some truly harrowing times. Honoring her this moon, remembering her, acting as she taught me to act: to preserve, to be frugal, to make a home, to tell stories, to laugh—is truly a blessing I won’t soon forget.