Tuesday, November 25, 2008


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?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Full Moon in Taurus

Did you see the moon last night? Here in Portland it was glorious! We had just endured 48 hours straight of rain (believe it or not, that is unusual. 48 hours of wet and grey, yes, but two days of continual rain is not common) but the clouds had broken early on Thursday morning. By the evening the sky was mostly clear and the moon lit up the fields with that beautiful, silvery glow of moonshine.

The full Death Moon this year was in the astrological sign of Taurus. Taurus is an earth sign and so signifies the pleasures of the earthly things, of the practicalities of life and of blossoming where you are planted. The full moon in Taurus is a time for reassessing your finances, enjoying a fine meal, slowly and with friends or for enjoying other earthly pursuits.

Amazingly, without before I even knew the full moon was in Taurus I was inspired to deal more closely with my finances yesterday. I rewrote my monthly budget and aticulated to myself some longer term goals with my money. I am strongly inspired by Riana of These Days in French Life who has, over the last few years, built a life for herself where she doesn't need to spend money. She allows herself a small budget for eggs and milk, and did some bulk shopping for food in the late summer but mostly lives off foraging, trading and being amazingly resourceful. At the beginning of this month I decided to try to go a year without buying anything new except food. As the full moon rose last night I reaffirmed this into a pledge... I will buy nothing retail until the Death Moon next year. I am doing this to curtail my personal spending, to reduce my impact on the earth's resources and to open myself up to the blessings of the universe. A full cup can not be filled.

Besides money Taurus is also all about that other earthly delight: food. This week I indulged by making a batch of my favorite whole grain, kasha. Kasha is the toasted seeds of the buckwheat plant. It is a seed, not a grain and is gluten free so it is having a bit of a revival among health concious folk. It is a staple food of the peasants of eastern Europe. I was taught to cook it by the granddaughter of a Polish Jew... her name was Slotnick and she knew kasha. The earthyness of kasha goes great with mushrooms, onions, hard boiled eggs and mild cheese. I made a meal out of kasha and feta along with roasted beets in a horseradish sauce. It doesn't get any more indulgently earthy than that.

Traditional Kasha

-1 cup kasha (toasted buckwheat groats.. they're brown, not green)
-1 egg or just egg white
-A little fat for the pan - I used bacon grease but that is sooo not kosher ;)
-some sliced onion and sliced mushroom (canned appears to be traditional, but Rosie always used fresh), or not
-2 cups water, boiling or not, or chicken broth
-Salt and black pepper
-Sliced mozzarella or crumbled feta

*In a small bowl combine the raw egg with the kasha. Stir until all the grains are wet.

*Melt the fat in a cast iron (or other) skillet and cook the onions and mushrooms with salt and pepper until soft and starting to brown.

*Remove the veggies to a plate and add the eggy kasha to the skillet. Cook, stirring and breaking up the mass with a wooden spoon until all the kasha is dry. Add the water or broth and bring to a boil (lots of recipes call for having the water hot before adding to the skillet, I've never noticed much of a difference either way). Turn down to a simmer, stir in the veggies and put a cover on the skillet. Cook until all the water is dissolved and the grains are tender.

*When the grains are cooked and fluffy melt mozzarella cheese over top, or stir in crumbled feta, or serve with bowtie pasta.

This time of year the dark is getting darker, the cold is getting colder and around here the wet is getting wetter. The full moon in Taurus reminds us that there's always warmth at the kitchen table, and always light if you tend to your lamps. What is the Taurus moon talking to you about? What are you doing to grow where you are planted?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

When the Veil Between the World is Thin

I have more ridiculous and wild stories to tell from Halloween than from just about any other holiday I celebrate. Halloween, both in it's traditional nature and in my experience, is a rowdy, chaotic, rambunctious and almost dangerous time of year. Halloween is one of the two times in the wheel of the year that the veils between this world of the living and the other worlds of the magical and beyond living are thin. This, along with our traditions of costumes and parties, sets the scene for debauchery and mystery.

Halloween and other related holidays like Dia de los Muertos and All Saints Day are traditionally focused on our relationships with the ultimate mystery, death. It is a time when we can easily contact the dead - both beloved ancestors and the less benign sprites and most of our current Halloween traditions spring out of the modern European fears of the dead. We light Jack O Lanterns, dress up in costumes and hand out candy at the door all to confuse or appease those possibly mean spirited beings. In Mexican and Spanish culture traditions still reflect a more caring relationship with the dead. It is a time when families clean up the grave sites of their ancestors and tell stories about their lives.

I have been working to spend part of the Halloween season each year thinking about those who have died. I am fortunate enough to never had any very close friends or relatives die and have a hard time really bringing that part of the season to a personal level. This year I redecorated my personal altar and added photos of a friend from high school, my grandfather and my childhood dog who have all died. I also included images representing extinct or endangered species whose loss to this world I feel almost more acutely than the loss of a grandfather I never knew, a dog whose time had come or a woman who lived an amazingly full if painfully short life.

In my life Halloween is a time of dressing up and going to crazy parties. I feel this is very much within the spirit of the holiday and is a heckuva lot of fun. This year I dressed up as a substitute teacher complete with a terrible pink cardigan and a kick me sign. It's always so fun to see how creative my friends get. This year I met Mother Nature and Father Time, Peter Pan, When Pigs Fly and an Upside Down guy. It's fun to play someone else for an evening, to masquerade in the anonymity of a costume party.

However, being not yourself has it's dangers. Sometimes we feel free to do things we wouldn't do when we are ourselves. In past years the malicious sprites of these dark nights have truly wrecked havoc on my life. One year someone threw a pumpkin through the windshield of my car. Who would do that if they were feeling responsible for their actions? More than once I have said or done unwise things while under the influence of alcohol and party crazyness. I am generally a thoughtful and responsible person, but when in costume we feel free to do things we would never do otherwise.

This year we made it through with no major incidents, thank the ancestors! Fun was had by all and we got to celebrate the turning of the wheel of the year in all out costume party style. And now we settle into a dark, wet winter.