Today is the new moon in the month Annette Hinshaw calls the Birth Moon. This is the month of deepest, darkest winter. It's a hard time of year, but we know Solstice will come soon and the days will start getting longer. Ms. Hinshaw draws parallels between this time of year and that period of late pregnancy when when the mother-to-be can't seem to bear it any longer and just want the birth to come. At this time of year we are waiting for the Solstice, waiting for the scales to tip and the sun to return.
This dark time of the year can be scary. It reminds out monkey brain of times past when winter meant potentially life threatening cold and hunger. Even now when most of us aren't facing eminent death we still face the discomfort of the season. Dark, cold and wet seriously curtail our actions and most of the time I just want to come home from work (in the dark) and curl up in my bed (which is cold) and eat something carby and fatty. This is about the time of year when I feel like I'm going to scream if I have to go the same, close, easy dog park one more freakin day.
Most cultures have a big festival to brighten the dark time and bring a bit of sympathetic magic to the struggle of the divine entities in charge of changing the seasons. Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and Yule are all festivals of light that help us through the deep of winter. In our culture Christmas is a magical time but so many of us loose the magic as we grow up. Once your parents are found out as the gift bringers and no one is leaving presents under your tree anymore except you it just doesn't feel the same. One way to bring a bit of the magic back to the season is by focusing on the time just before the holiday - the waiting, the Advent.
Advent is the Christian season that encompasses the four Sundays before Christmas. The traditional activities during this season revolve around marking the time passing and reflecting on the pivotal event that is the birth of Christ. I personally see these Christian traditions as directly borrowed from more ancient pagan traditions surrounding the winter solstice. Those of us who follow the earth and her ways also spend this time of the year waiting for the pivotal moment of rebirth. Does it really make a difference whether what we are waiting for is a Sun or a Son?
Most of us are at least passingly familiar with Advent Calendars. I wanted to make an advent calendar this year and even gathered all of the materials for my chosen pattern. But it just didn't happen. Instead, I will incorporate another advent tradition, the decorating of a creche or a nativity scene. In parts of southern France and Italy creches take up entire rooms of homes and people spend lifetimes collecting clay figurines to decorate elaborate village scenes. Mine will be more modest. I found a nativity set at the thrift store (since I am not buying new things this year) and will decorate it with the figures that came with it as well as my own collection of animals, goddesses, candles and crystals. This is a picture of the set I bought, I'll post one of the finished creche later in the month.
Waiting is hard and in this culture we are no good at it. We have been brought up on instant gratification and constant stimulation. Sometimes, though, waiting brings the best results. Like with soup. Sure you can open a can of soup and have something liquid and hot in about 30 seconds, or you can gently simmer chicken parts in water for hours and get a gelatinous, salty/meaty, flavorful broth. And chicken soup is potent medicine for these dark days!
Chicken Stock and Chicken Soup with Rice
1 gallon of assorted chicken bone and skin scraps along with vegetable peelings and trimmings
Carcass of one chicken plus some bony wings, half an onion, one carrot and some celery tops
4 - 6 cloves of garlic, smashed but not peeled or chopped
1 tbs black peppercorns
2 tsp sea salt
2 tbs apple cider vinegar
Sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme or bay leaves
Enough cold water
*Place your chicken and vegetable bits with the garlic in a spaghetti pot, add the vinegar and cover with cold water. If your chicken bits are frozen allow to sit at room temperature for a while (how long? until you think about it again. 15 minutes?). Turn the heat on medium for a while and let the water heat up until everything is defrosted and the water is starting to get warm. Turn the heat up to high and bring the pot to a good, rolling boil.
*At this time you will notice fluffy foam rising from the top of your stock pot. Skim this away with a spoon. When you've gotten almost all the scum (it causes a cloudy broth, but doesn't alter the flavor much so it's not imperative that you get all of it) turn the heat down to medium low and add the salt, peppercorns and herbs.
*Put a lid on the pot and adjust the temperature so that you see occasional bubbles rising to the surface, but not a full boil. On my electric stove this is at about 2, but it will vary depending on your stove. Let broth simmer like this for a couple of hours (how many? 'Till you can't stand it anymore :) . I like to cook my broth between 6 and 8 hours. This is long enough to extract the flavor and gelatin from the bones, but not long enough to start breaking those down again. Anything over 3 hours is good enough. Good stock takes a while. Practice waiting :)
*When you are ready carefully strain the stock. I carefully pull much of the large bits out of the pot and place in a colander over a bowl. I then strain the rest of the liquid through a wire mesh strainer into another bowl or pot. I add whatever drips out of the big chunks in with the strained liquid... waste not want not! (The cooked carrots, potatoes, mushrooms or parsnips can be fed to the dog, as can any meat you pull off the wings. Please do not feed cooked bones, onions or garlic to your dog!)
*Quickly cool the stock in a cold water bath and place in the fridge. After it has cooled you can pull the fat off the top and spoon the stock (is it like gelly? Cool! If not, it still has good stuff in it and tastes great!) into smaller containers to freeze.
*To make chicken soup with rice gently sautee onions and garlic in olive oil or chicken fat you pulled from the top of the stock. Salt and pepper appropriately. Add carrots, celery or parsnips as you wish. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil then down to a simmer. Add cooked or raw chicken and either cook or reheat in the stock. Add rice. Finish with a splash of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, and maybe another small clove of garlic, pressed. Serve in big bowls with lots of love. It was worth the wait, right?
One of the lessons of the Birth Moon is that the waiting can be as good as the getting, or at least as productive. Like Greek grandmothers, sitting in their black dresses, watching the world go by, we can learn to embrace waiting. If nothing else, it makes the getting there all the sweeter.
What will you be doing this month to honor the darkness? How will you mark the waiting that comes before the joyous moment of Solstice morning?