Monday, February 2, 2009

February The First

February First is possibly my favorite holiday in the wheel of the year. It doesn't have the glitzy packaging of yule, or the warm sunny feelings of Summer Solstice, but it does have the deep satisfaction that comes with finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. February First, often called Imbolc in celtic/wiccan circles and Candlemas or St. Brigit's day after the Christian holidays associated with this time of year, is the cross quarter day in between winter solstice and spring equinox. If the spring equinox is the middle of spring (as I would argue) then you could (and I do) call February First the first day of spring. Yipee!

February First and associated holidays are ripe with symbolism. In wiccan tradition it is the night that the winter crone goes to the well of wisdom and comes away the maiden of spring. In some ancient celtic traditions the onset of lambing season is celebrated at this time and the festival is called Imbolc, meaning "in the belly" or Oilmelc, meaning "ewe's milk". In Ireland St. Brigid's day is the Christianization of the festival for the goddess Brigid, Brigit or Bride. She was associated with flames, wisdom, blacksmithing and all kinds of changes or initiations. Candlemas is a Christian holiday ostensibly celebrating the purification of the Virgin Mother after the birth of Christ. It is a tradition in much of Europe for church and home candles to be blessed at this time. Over the years I have played with all of these symbols while developing a celebration for this time of year. In the end I have keep coming back to the two things my celebrating is really about: nature and food.

I like to take a hike or walk around the neighborhood for February First if at all possible. I live in a rather mild climate so by this time of year there really are lots of signs of spring to be found. They're not the showy ones like tulips or cherry blossoms but the more subtle ones like swelling buds and new grass growth. This year I had the rare opportunity to take a long walk through SE Portland, my favorite part of town, and look at all the beautiful old homes and their odd little yards. I saw a number of shoots coming up from crocus or lilly bulbs and lots of budding street trees including one with big fuzzy buds. I did see some blooming snowdrops in one yard held up above the street by a retaining wall and a little dead bushtit bird. This afternoon I walked around the more commercial district I work in and saw more buds, more birds and a beautiful moon shining down in the chilly afternoon sun. It's not high spring yet, but the wheel is certainly turning.

My other February First tradition is to make a red soup in honor of Brigit. I often use a base of red lentils which cook down into a creamy red sauce and throw in whatever red or purple vegetables I can round up, including red potatoes, red peppers, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Brigit is a goddess of the transformational fire and a slow simmer transforms this hodgepoge from the crisper into a warming stew for a chilly February night.

Brigit's Red Soup to Warm the Belly and Soul
(recipe updated 2/9/09)
photo by Goregon, Thank you!!
*1/2 a red onion, diced fine
*4 cloves garlic, minced
*1 carrot, chopped
*1 tbs coconut oil, goose grease or other cooking oil
*1 cup red lentils, rinsed
*7 or more cups of chicken stock, vegetable broth or water
*1/2 cup roasted hot or sweet peppers (optional)
*1/4 cup diced dried tomatoes, or more diced canned tomatoes
*1 red bell pepper, diced neatly for garnish
*Yogurt or sour cream mixed with a little curry powder or turmeric
*salt, pepper, curry powder, seasoned salt, hot sauce to taste

Warm (or in my case defrost) the stock and roasted peppers in a 3 quart or larger soup pot. If you want you can blend the peppers into a puree. Add tomatoes and the lentils and taste liquid for salt. Add more if necessary and bring the pot to a boil then down to a simmer.

When the lentils are soft (half an hour?) sautee the onion and carrot in a different pot or sautee pan. Salt and pepper and season (I used mustard seed and curry powder) to taste. When the onion is soft add the garlic and cook another minute until fragrant. Add the sauteed vegetables to the lentils and allow to simmer another 10 minutes at least, or as long as you want. Taste and season again, perhaps adding a little lemon juice or vinegar to brighten the flavors.

Garnish with chopped bell peppers and the seasoned cream. Enjoy the soft, sweet, warm of a loving bowl of soup.

What signs of spring are you seeing around you? Even if there are feet of snow still on the ground you are probably seeing some stirrings as the days get longer. How do you warm yourself in these still cold days?


Amy said...

Ha! It's so odd to think of the Equinox being mid-spring...we usually think of June as mid-spring... By Equinox we have maybe had one or two days above freezing. :)

Alyss said...

Here in Oregon it is full on summer by the middle of June :) Obviously, the Wheel of the Year shows different signs in different places - what dates/date ranges would you give for the beginnings or middles of your seasons?

Amy said...

Hmm, well, we can't plant anything until Memorial Day, so I would say Spring begins around late April. Summer in late June, and Fall in early-mid September...we're a bit skewed up here. Right now I'd say we're well into mid-winter. :)

icedteaforme said...

this is a great recipe, thanks for sharing, I am making it next week!
love the ingredients, and I even got some fresh raw tumeric!