"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." -- Annie Dillard

Friday, September 27, 2013

Vocation

Random thought for the day:
Your most important work is not always what you get paid for.  Money isn't the only measure of the importance of work.  The word vocation means "calling," not "job."  :-)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Spinning

This time of year the garden spiders weave webs everywhere.  It was misty this morning, and my son noticed dew-covered webs on the way to school.  I have been seeing them on the bushes out front.  We wondered: why don't the spiders make these webs during the summer?  We only notice them in spring and fall. 

Inspired by the spiders, some thoughts about spinning. Spinning is a magical act -- think how often it appears in fairy tales, like Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin.  Fairy tales are remnants of old mythologies, often girls' initiation stories whose roots are lost in the mists of time. Spinning -- which occupied much of women's time for thousands of years -- was connected with coming of age for young women, and you can see that in the old stories if you look.  You'll find girls and goddesses at their spinning wheels, beauties and brides spinning straw into gold.  Penelope weaving her tapestry waiting for Odysseus to come home.

In European mythology spinning and weaving were tasks nearly always performed by women and girls. Twenty thousand years ago, women were spinning fibers and weaving cloth to create the first fabrics.  Right up until the Industrial Revolution, spinning and weaving and sewing were women's work, sometimes for pay, always a tremendous contribution to the family economy and the larger economy.

A really fascinating book about "women, cloth, and society in early times" is Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. I bought it years ago and just got around to reading it recently.  Couldn't put it down!  Yes, I'm a big-ole history nerd.

Spinning and weaving (like baking and gardening) are transformative, turning one thing into another.  Spinning is sometimes associated with the moon, which measures the months and pulls the tides.  Weaving is associated with dreaming and memory and the creation of a new reality.

In Greek mythology, the Three Fates spin our lives and our fates.Clotho spins the thread, Lachesis measures it out, and Atropos cuts it! In Greek mythology even Zeus feared the Fates (usually called the Moirai). In Norse mythology the Norns are very similar.

Greek myth Three Fates Norns Moirai tapestry art

On the third night of a child's life, the Fates were supposed to come and determine a child's destiny. Sound familiar from The Sleeping Beauty? Three fairy godmothers?

Spinning stories, spinning lies, spinning thoughts into words, measuring our time and destinies.

One more spinner who often shows up in mythology and folklore all over the world:


vintage spider from Lunagirl Images

Neith, the spinner of destiny, to the Egyptians. Arachne, whose weaving rivaled that of the goddess Athena, to the ancient Greeks. Anansi the trickster in West African stories, who is also the bringer of rain, the king of stories and the giver of gifts such as agriculture.

From the Native Americans, Iktomi the wise/foolish god of the Lakota and Ojibwa dreamcatchers (ever notice that they are like spiderwebs?)  Spider Woman or Spider Grandmother in Hopi mythology is the creator of all life. The spinner/weaver is a very old goddess, and cultures all over the world seem to recognize her.

In the Southern U.S. it is good luck when a spider weaves her web in your house or garden (not the poisonous kind of course!)  So I guess the garden spinners are bringing us good fortune.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Today is a Good Day for Pie: How to Make a Pie Crust

Isn't every day a good day for pie?  I don't know if rainy days are good for pie baking or not (need to look that up), but today I'm in the mood.  I'm making a good veggie supper tonight -- roasted potatoes and onions, squash casserole, lentils, and broccoli -- and it just screams out for a peach pie for dessert.  

how to make pie crust, baking a pie tipsI'm using some of the organic peaches I froze a few weeks ago.  I usually use fresh, but one reason I froze some is so we could have the luxury of peach pie during the "off-season."

Some people are intimidated by the idea of making their own pie crust, but it's not really all that hard.  True, it is one of those things that gets easier with experience, but that's not because it's difficult; it's only because there is some degree of intuition involved.  A feel for how much water is enough, how much flour to use when rolling it out, mixing enough but not handling it too much...

I'll give you my simple four-ingredient recipe (one of them is water!) and the few little tips I've learned over the years.  People rave about my pie crusts (even people not related to me, with no reason to lie) so maybe the tips help.

For a two-crust 9-inch pie you will need:
  • 2 cups flour + extra for rolling out the dough
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup shortening  (or 2/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut up into cubes, or mix of both)
  • 6-7 tablespoons cold water (I always put it in the freezer while I'm mixing the flour and butter.)

Sift (or just mix well) the 2 cups flour and the salt.  For years I have used bread flour.  Recently I read NOT to use bread flour, rather to use all-purpose, so I guess take your choice!

Next "cut in" the shortening and/or butter (more on "cutting in" in a moment).  I often use all shortening.  Sometimes I use all butter.  I think half butter and half shortening is good.  IMPORTANT:  If you use butter, use cold butter!  Do NOT melt or soften the butter, and do NOT use margarine.

To "cut in" the shortening/margarine, you use either a pastry blender if you have one, or two knives:  With the blades almost touching, move the knives sideways back and forth in opposite directions in a parallel cutting motion.  Here's a video. You don't want to stir, you want to "cut in" the fat until it is in tiny pieces like little peas.

Now add your cold water ONE OR TWO TABLESPOONS AT A TIME.  You add it gradually and gently "fluff" with a fork in between, until the dough starts to hold together.  Again, with experience you get a feel for when it's enough.  The amount of moisture in the air, the weather, the temperature, stuff like that, can make it vary!

Gather the dough together, firmly but gently.  (You don't want to handle dough more than necessary; that makes a tough crust.)   Cut it in half.  For best results, let the halves rest in the refrigerator for at least a few minutes.  This will re-chill the butter and give you a nice, non-sticky, easier-to-work-with dough.

Get your rolling pin and roll it out!  Take out one half of your dough.  On a floured surface, flatten the ball a little and begin to roll it out with a flour-rubbed rolling pin.  Start at the center and roll outwards, changing your angle each time to keep the dough roughly circular.  You want to get a round that is slightly larger than your pie plate.

(Regarding pie plates:  Glass is fine.  Ceramic with an unglazed bottom is excellent.  I have never tried metal.)

When the first crust is ready, fold the circle in half (gently!) and then half again (in other words, into quarter).  Move the folded crust gently to the pie plate and (gently) unfold it.  Did I mention, gently?  Press it gently into the plate, and trim the overhang to the edge of the pie plate.

Now you can add your filling!  I'm using 4 cups peaches, sliced.  Since they were frozen with a little sugar, I'm not adding any sugar.  With fresh fruit, add 1/4-1/2 cup sugar, to your preference and depending on how sweet the fruit is.  I added a pinch of allspice.  (Barely enough to taste, just so everyone will say, Hmm what is that?!)  You can of course use apples or blueberries or blackberries or ...  About 4-6 cups of fruit.  With apples, I add cinnamon, because I love it so.  With berries, I always cook them in a pot on the stove with about 1/2 cup sugar and then remove from heat and add a little cornstarch dissolved in a little water.  You can do that with peaches or apples, too; the cornstarch will help your pie be less "runny" when it's cooled off (if you can wait until it's cooled off to eat it!)

Okay, take your second dough ball out of the fridge and roll like the other one.  Fold like the other one, and this time when you trim it leave about half an inch of overhang.  Save the trimmings to decorate with! Tuck the top overhang over underneath the bottom crust, and gently pinch them together to create a seal.  There's your pie!

There are many ways you can decorate/embellish the edge of your pie.  The easiest is to press all around with the tines of a fork.  You can also use your knuckles or fingers to make a wavy edge.  Here is a very helpful page that shows how to make fancy pie crust edges.  (If you prefer, here is a video showing some techniques.)

Now if you saved your trimmings, you can roll them back out and cut out shapes to decorate the top of your pie.  I like to cut out leaves and/or flowers, but you can do anything.  Rubbing a tiny bit of cold water on the back of your shapes will help them stick to the pie top.

Finally, remember to cut a few "vents" -- just little cuts into the top crust to let steam out!  You can make these part of the decoration.  If you like, you can brush your pie top with a little melted butter (which will brown nice and shiny) and/or sprinkle with a little white sugar.  Or not.

Bake in preheated oven, 425 degrees F, for about 40 minutes or until nicely browned.  It's best to let the pie cool awhile before eating it -- so the filling will firm up and also so you don't burn the heck out of your mouth! (Hot fruit is like lava.)

Wow, no wonder people think pie baking is complicated!  Writing that took so long that my pie is ready...  

Great things about baking fruit pies:
  • They are delicious.  Duh.
  • They contain fruit (OK, and butter and flour and sugar, but still there is fruit!) 
  • They are good for breakfast as well as dessert! 
  • They are a great excuse to eat ice cream.
  • They make the people you serve them to very, very happy.
  • And you know what... baking a pie impresses people.  At least the ones who don't bake pies!  Remember, they think it's difficult... my, you're such a domestic goddess.
  • Finally, baking is a good excuse to wear one of my cute vintage-style aprons (which some significant others, including my husband, seem to find oddly enticing).  Just for fun, here is a link to my favorite source for really cute, well-made, vintage-style aprons MOMOMADEIT on etsy.

Here is a book (on Amazon) all about baking pies, called appropriately enough "PIE."  Ummmm, pie.



  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Diary: Lemons and Garlic = Hummus


Started the laundry
Loaded the dishwasher
Feeling unwell, so took to bed for an hour to watch Criminal Minds (a guilty pleasure show!)
Feeling better, went out and picked a bunch of mint to make tabouleh later
Wrote for awhile, which gave me some energy motivation
Made tabouleh (yum!)
Made hummus (yum!)
Cleaned the downstairs bathrooms(the boys have to clean their own upstairs -- they have to learn!)
Planned meals for next week
Cooked squash/zucchini casserole (yum again!)

Lots of lemons and garlic, so I'm making Middle Eastern food.  Hummus is so easy to make, full of protein and fiber, and great for those nights when you don't know who'll be eating dinner when!

SPICY HUMMUS:
Throw all this in the food processor or blender/Ninja:
2 cans garbanzo beans (or 3 cups cooked)
Drain beans but save the liquid to thin the hummus to desired consistency.
4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
Juice of one lemon
3 cloves garlic, finely minced or crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
.5 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt to taste

Makes about 32 oz.  Serve with pita bread or raw vegetables, spread on sandwiches.


Harvest Moon ... and Celebrations

Harvest Moon mythology folklore
Tonight is the Harvest Moon: an old name for the full moon that falls nearest the Autumn Equinox, which is usually in September.  The Harvest Moon appears larger and brighter to some people, but they're really not. This time of year there is no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise of the full moon, so the night seems brighter than usual. This allowed farmers to stay out and work in their fields by moonlight under the Harvest Moon, and later, under the Hunter's Moon (the next full moon, in October), allowed hunters to see the deer and other animals that came out to browse in the then-harvested fields.

Apparently (allegedly?) each full moon had a name in certain cultures.  I've seen lists of moon names attributed to the ancient Celtic people of Europe, the Chinese, the Algonquin people of what is now New England, among others. Sometimes the September full moon was called the Corn Moon by Native Americans.

Tonight, go out and dance under the big bright moon! Or celebrate it in some other way:  Bake "moon cakes" (round sugar cookies).  Sing moon songs.  Just go out with someone you love and look at it for a few minutes.

Why celebrate the full moon?  Well, doing so makes us feel just a little closer to nature.  It connects us a little to the nighttime and the world of magic and imagination.  It helps us appreciate cycles, since the full moon comes around again every month -- the moon is ever changing, but in a cycle, so ever constant as well.  Predictably changeable, which is comforting.

And why celebrate at all?  Celebrations bring us together -- "us" being families, friends, communities, even whole cultures.  One thing I love about Christmas (which I do love!) is knowing that it has been celebrated with many of the same traditions for hundreds of years as Christmas, and as who knows how many thousands of years as Yule and the Winter Solstice!

My mother was great at celebrations -- at making a day feel special.  Not just the major holidays, but more private special days like birthdays, the first day of school, the first day of Spring.  Snow days (I grew up in the American South, so snow was a special event that closed all the schools!).  Cookie day (December 23).  She honored the cycles and the passing of time and the extra-ordinary -- or maybe she just knew an excuse for a party when she saw one!  She found meaning in these days, and shared meanings become shared experiences, which become little rituals, and rituals become traditions, which connect us with the past and with each other.  My mother has passed on, but these traditions large and small help to keep her spirit with me and with my children.

vintage altered art wheel of the year greenHere are some books with useful ideas about Celebrations, particularly geared toward parenting:
New Traditions: Redefining Celebrations for Today's Family by Susan Abel Lieberman
To Dance With God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration by Gretrud Mueller Nelson
Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara by Ashleen O'Gaea
Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Beltane to Mabon by Ashleen O'Gaea

Monday, September 16, 2013

Transformation: Garden

I wasn't sure what to do with myself this Monday morning, feeling in a funk, so I walked out early to water my vegetable garden.  Thinking this morning of transformation.

Plants perform an amazing feat of transformation ~ they take sunlight, water, and the nutrients in the dirt, and transform them into vegetables and fruit and nuts and flowers ~ food for our body and our soul.  Then we take the sugars and proteins and other magical chemicals in the food and turn them into our bodies, which somehow create consciousness and creativity and all the things we do each day.

Victorian vintage image lady in garden by Lunagirl
The beauty of the flowers feeds the soul (we all need both "bread and roses" to survive), convincing us to replant their seeds and seducing the bees into spreading their pollen (which the bees transform into honey!)  Birds eat seeds and bugs and worms and transform them into feathers and flight.  Their beauty feeds my soul and imagination.

Today my garden held several jalapenos ready to pick, dozens of baby bell peppers not ready to pick, and a couple red tomatoes.  There are now TEN tomatoes on my windowsill, and I think it's time to make salsa.  I've never made homemade salsa before, but it seems a good way to use all these tomatoes and jalapenos!

SALSA RECIPE:
6 medium tomatoes, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapenos, minced
2 roasted jalapenos, minced
1 bell pepper, red or green, chopped fine
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice of one lime
salt and black pepper to taste
optional:  cilantro or parsley, scallions
optional: chili powder, oregano

Blend it all in a bowl and refrigerate for several hours.  I hope it's good... we'll see.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Diary: Chili!

Sorted and washed piles of laundry
Reading and writing about fairy tales
Sat down and folded towels, sorted socks
Sort out my desk drawer
Cook oatmeal for breakfast
Read Michael Pollan about fermentation
Chop onions and peppers
Cook chili for supper
Pick jalapenos to make cornbread
Water vegetable garden, herbs, and flowers
Save some tomato seeds for Pop
Tried to fix the ice maker
Made a note to buy some ice trays
Made a grocery list for tomorrow
Find a source to order miso

altered art image from vintage seedpack by Lunagirl EASY VEGETARIAN CHILI:
2 medium onions, chopped
2 green bell peppers (or 1 green and 1 red), chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6-12 oz soy veggie crumbles, thawed (optional)
.5 teaspoon salt
.25 teaspoon black pepper
.5 teaspoon sugar
3 small cans (or 2 large cans) tomato sauce
2 cans (15 oz each) diced whole tomatoes, undrained
3 cups cooked kidney beans (or 2 cans, drained and rinsed)

Saute onions in a little oil under tender, about 10 minutes, over low-medium heat.  Add peppers and saute until tender.  Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, and saute a couple minutes more.  Add other ingredients. Simmer at least 30 minutes, preferably a few hours as it will get better with time.  Better the second day! 

We like this vegetarian, but of course you could use ground meat.  If so, brown it first of all, then proceed to add the onions and peppers, etc. I've been making my vegetarian chili for many years, and it is "approved" by non-vegetarians as delicious! 

JALAPENO CORNBREAD:
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 cup yellow cornmeal mix, self-rising
1 8.5 oz can creamed corn
.5 cup milk
1 tablespoon canola oil
.5 cup shredded cheese
2-4 jalapeno peppers, minced
Bake at 450 degrees F for about 30 minutes.
Use more or less jalapenos depending on how hot you like it!  I often use two with the seeds and two chopped without the seeds ~ the seeds and white inner membrane are where most of the heat is!

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th is a special day!  Fridays are named for Freya, the Norse goddess of love and fertility ~ a lot like Aphrodite and Venus ~ who are a lot like Ishtar ~ all the Morning Star, the Star of the Sea (Stella Maris), the bright light rising in the East (Venus).  Which happens to also be Mary.  Visions of the Virgin Mary, Mother Mary, often appear on Fridays.  It is traditional to eat fish on Friday ~ fish which comes from the sea, sacred to Venus, born of the sea.

painiting Venus aphrodite mythology Friday the 13th


When I lived in Georgia, a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared on the 13th of every month in a town nearby.  (Visitors said they smelled the scent of roses shortly before she would appear.)

Why the number 13?  There are 13 full moons in a year.  Thirteen is a magic witchy number!  Have a lucky day!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sorting

This may seem a little silly, but while sorting the laundry this morning, I thought of sorting seeds as a theme in mythology and fairy tales.  The "impossible task" of sorting reoccurs in many stories.  "By nightfall they must all be sorted!"

Cinderella's stepmother tells her to sort a pile of seeds and grains "or else!"  In the Russian tale of Vassilisa, the cruel stepmother sends the girl to face the fearsome forest witch Baba Yaga, who tells Vassilisa she must sort a pile of seeds by taking out all the black ones.  In the Greek mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, Cupid's mother Aphrodite gives Psyche the impossible task of sorting a heap of seeds as well.  In every story, the young girl is helped in her "impossible task" by birds or ants ~ the little spirits of earth and air and forest come to her aid.  Is this because she is a goddess in disguise?

Sorting things out.  It's a practical task ~ separating needs from wants, dark from light, things to keep from things no longer useful.  It can be a social task ~ help the kids "sort it out" ~ talk through their differences, calm down, analyze the situation, solve the problem.  It's a psychological task we all face sometimes ~ sort things out.  In therapy we sift through memories and emotions and thoughts to find meaning and direction.  In difficult times in life we can either freak out and give up, or we can sit down, start sorting, face the task in front of us one little piece at a time.

Faced with an overwhelming situation, a chaos of emotions, an impossible task, that giant pile of tiny mixed up seeds that no one could ever sort out, the stories tell us to calm down, take it slowly, and call upon spirit to help us!  Sorting through is a practical, down-to-earth task, of going through things, putting them in piles, deciding where each little thing goes.  When in the midst of tragedy or stress or just a giant pile of laundry (!), it's best to just take one thing at a time, put one foot in front of the other, and calmly sort the seeds in front of you.  And don't forget to hum a tune to call up your spirit helpers!

Sometimes writing can help us sort it out:  Write a list, sort by priorities.  Write a list of pros and cons. Write a letter to sort things out with a friend.  Spill out all your thoughts and feelings onto paper, so you go back and sift through them to find some order in the chaos.

Psyche of course means Soul, and the story of Psyche challenges us to do the daily mundane tasks that make up the day, to calmly accept the challenges of practical life, while waiting for love ~ or more profoundly, while waiting to discover our own souls.  I like this connection of the practical with the transcendent.

Well, this is what I get for blogging so early in the morning, before I've had all my caffeine ~ a long post wandering off into the psychology of fairy tales. 

Cinderella and Psyche often remind me of the sign of Virgo, which the Sun will enter in just a few days.  "Virgin" originally meant something more like complete and whole unto oneself, just fine on my own, thank you very much ~ Psyche had to discover herself before she could truly find Love.

You may not be familiar with the story of Beautiful Vassilisa, so here is a link to a great version!  http://www.artrusse.ca/fairytales/vassilisa.htm .  Note that although the old witch Baba Yaga is frightening, it is through working with her that Vassilisa grows and triumphs.  Facing one's darkness leads to the discovery of self and strength and love ... that's a theme to explore another morning.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Diary: Peaches

Wore my purple bali gypsy earrings for inspiration
Worked online
Created digital image of Hestia
Vacuumed the dining room, den, and family room
Talked to the cats
Picked basil, thyme, and rosemary
Made herb bread and spaghetti for supper
Checked on the bell peppers and tomatoes
Used seashells to create a border for my mint patch
Laundry for the boys and Michael
Read Michael Pollan about cooking and baking
Planned meals for next week
Froze some more organic peaches

Freezing peaches:

Crush a vitamin C tablet in a bowl, and add a little water to dissolve.  Peel and slice peaches.  Gently stir them into the water to coat.  Measure into freezer bags, press out air, and freeze them flat.
The vitamin C helps preserve the color and flavor of the peaches ~ I learned this from Alton Brown's site.  I can attest that they work great for cobbler or pie!  You can add a couple spoonfuls of sugar to the water if you want, in which case you should reduce the amount of sugar in your recipes by a bit when you use the peaches.  Have a peachy day!

Vintage Peaches


Hestia: First and Last

If you ever studied Greek mythology, you may remember Hestia as the goddess of the hearth.  Or you may not, as she is not as well-known as fierce Athena or sexy Aphrodite or lovely Artemis of the Moon.  Hestia was the oldest and most revered of the Greek goddesses, but one now largely ignored!

Hestia was first:  the first-born of her Titan parents Rhea and Cronos, the eldest sister of Zeus.  After Cronos swallowed his children, Hestia was the last to re-emerge, rescued by Zeus. 

Hestia is the the hearth, the campfire, the center, the focus (this word actually means hearth or fireplace in Latin).  She is home, and she watches over everything that feeds and comforts and nourishes us.  She is behind the scenes, behind closed doors, away from the arena of "achievement" and glory, "just" a housewife and homemaker.  She is first, essential, and she is last, often taken for granted!

In ancient Greece, every home had a hearth, and each day began and ended with a prayer to Hestia to protect and nurture the family within.   Hestia, first and last.


Hestia's colors are purple, silver, white, and black.  Her symbols are the circle and the controlled flame.