Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sunshine Soup

Sunshine Soup is a staple of our Winter Solstice Banquet tradition. The secret to a great result is the fresh pumpkin. Where I live in Seattle, it is much easier to find pumpkins in the grocery store around US Thanksgiving than it is in late December, so I buy three pie-sized pumpkins and deconstruct and freeze them. This recipe makes enough soup for 10, so be warned.

Sunshine Soup


1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion diced
2 bay leaves
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
8 cups fresh pumpkin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups half and half
~ 1/2 pound gruyere cheese
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Sauté the onion in the butter until it turns until it starts to turn golden. Add the stock, pumpkin, and bay leaves. Cook until the pumpkin is tender - about 15 minutes or so.

Remove the bay leaves. Purée using an immersion blender.

Add salt, pepper, half and half, and cheese.

When the cheese is mostly melted, turn down the heat and add the citrus juices.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sweet Cheeses: An Instant Pot Story

I’ve been working on several of the dishes that Doug and I are planning for the Winter Solstice Banquet next Saturday. One has been vexing me particularly; cheesecake. Last year my results were pretty awful looking though edible. I was determined that I would solve the last of my cheesecake problems this time and be proud of what we set before our guests at the end of the ritual meal. Here are my results:

I ate one already

Sweet Cheeses

Mini lemon cheesecakes fit for a low-carb queen


Yields six cupcake-sized servings

Equipment

Medium and small mixing bowls
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons
Hand mixer Do not over-mix things
Spatula
Silicone baking cups
Cooking spray
Instant Pot (just go get one)
Wire rack

Ingredients

8 ounces of cream cheese at room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated erythritol
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 drop lemon essential cooking oil or 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1 beaten egg at room temperature


Make batter

Take your cream cheese, sour cream, and egg from the refrigerator the night before to be sure they are not even a little chilly. The reason for this is that if they are cold you will have to over-beat them to get the batter smooth and that is a disaster waiting to explode inside your Instant Pot.

Using a hand mixer, blend the cream cheese and sour cream until fairly smooth. Do not over-mix.

Pre-mix the erythritol, cornstarch, and salt.

Add half the dry ingredients to the batter and mix until just combined. Do not over-mix.

Scrape down sides of bowl with a spatula.

Add the remaining half of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Do not over-mix.

Add the vanilla extract, lemon juice, and either zest or drop of lemon oil and mix until just combined. Do not over-mix.

Put away your hand mixer. Put the beaters into the dishwasher and forget they are there. Hand mixer? What’s that?

Using your spatula, gently fold the beaten egg into the batter until just combined. Do not over-mix. Stop it. Quit mixing now.


Pressure cook

Spray the bottom of your baking cups with cooking spray.

Ladle batter into cups. Gently lift cups a half inch or so and drop them on the counter repeatedly to smooth the top of the batter and encourage air bubbles in the batter to rise to the surface. Use the tines of a fork to pop the bubbles, then repeat the dropping to re-smooth the surface.

Put a half cup of cold water into your Instant Pot. Depending on which kind of rack you have, you might be able to fit six silicone cups in all at once. I’m doing two batches of three so that they cakes aren’t distorted by being crowded on the rack.

Set the Instant Pot to high pressure for 26 minutes. Allow 8-12 minutes after the cooking cycle for full natural pressure release. Remove the cakes and place them on a wire rack to cool to room temperature. If cracks have formed in the top of the cakes, they will mostly or fully close up during cooling.

When cool, put your cakes into the refrigerator overnight. Do not skip this step.

Serve with some fruit element. I make a mixed berry compote. If you make that with erythritol as well you can keep your overall carbohydrates down to ~ 2 grams per serving.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Project 60: Solstice Tree Skirt


After ten years of not really celebrating Solstice after moving to my no-dining-room condo in Greenwood, in 2018 Doug and I restored the Winter Solstice Banquet, complete with full-sized Solstice tree.

This year, I decided to invest in one of the extremely fabulous tree stands that I had seen in BC. That, however, meant that I needed something to go around the base for maximum fabulousness. I remembered that I still had a considerable supply of crimson velvet. I bought it when I bought all the drapes for my place so that I could make additional matching accessories if I wanted. I have done; four sofa pillows, a lumbar pillow for my office chair, etc.

I dug through my stash and lo-and-behold there was enough left to make a tree skirt. Seattle has become a kind of fabric desert in recent months with the downfall of Pacific Fabrics, Nancy’s Sewing Basket, and the desperately inconvenient relocation of District Fabrics. All we have now is Jo-Ann Fabrics. Sigh. I knew I wanted something gold to go around the hem, so I screwed up my courage and resolved to wash all my clothes after spending time in the PERFUMED HVAC environment of the Jo-Ann store on Aurora. Ugh. Anyway, such is the strength of my commitment to Solstice.

I found some nice gold fringe, bought it, and zoomed back out into the fresh air.

I think it will look really nice under the tree.

Project 59: Handfasting Shirt

So, on 2 October 2019, Doug and I made it official in grand style. We had our handfasting ceremony at our beloved Olive and Grape here in homey Greenwood followed by a Greek taverna night to celebrate. Needless to say, I needed a new outfit.

I decided that the Retirement Aloha Shirt was the design I wanted and set about making it. I followed up with a new pair of black jeans, but they’re just like the ones before them, so I didn’t take a photograph.

A year and a day later, on 3 October 2020, we will be married at the Scottish Cultural Centre in Vancouver BC where we first met. I like circles.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Reul Dòchas nan Rìgh

About a year and a half ago I was approached by the Vancouver Gaelic choir about writing them a new Christmas carol. At first I was a bit dubious about it. After all, I'm a Witch and I wouldn't touch Christmas with someone else's broomstick, but it didn't take long for another thought to occur to me: I sing songs all the time bout being in love with pretty girls and that's not ever going to happen either.

So, I set to the task. I asked myself what about the nativity story was relatable. Royalty? Travel? Extravagant gifts? Yes, to all of these, but most importantly, hope. That's the power I see in that aspect of Christianity and for good or ill, it has entranced mankind for a while.

The Gaelic vision of the nativity includes Saint Bridget, who in some accounts is magically transported from The British Isles to Bethlehem in time to minister to the Virgin Mary. That's a pretty transparent co-opting of the goddess Bridget, of course. Gaels in the time of conversion were unwilling to utter forsake her, so they made her into the foster mother of Christ, which in their culture was the most honored position.

So, I imagined Bridget, Mary, and Joseph - quite a trio - encountering the three Kings: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. The result was this song. Anyone who wants the sheet music and / or sound file can drop me a message and I'll send it along.

Reul Dòchas nan Rìgh


Reul dòchais dha'n triùir a thàinig bho'n Ear;
toirt naidheachd ro aoibhneach do chlann daoine gu leir.
Togaidh sinn sùil ort thar linntean nar crìdh.
Nach toir thu dhuinn solas, Reul Dòchas nan Rìgh!

A' mhaighdean chiùin shèimh, Brìd gheal ri taobh.
Seann Iosaph, fear-faire do'n leanabh beag naomh.
Nach foiseil an triùir siud san stàbul cho finn
nuair a ràinig triùir eile fo Reul nan Rìgh.

"Chuir sinn ar cùiltean ri caisteal 'us cuirt
'us thog sinn oirnn falbh thar fàsaich air cuairt
a' leantainn na reul ùr a nochd dhuinn san Iar."
Ars a Mhòrachd, Balthasar, mu Reul nan Rìgh.

Thug iad tìodhlac, Mirr, tùis, agus òr.
Agus rinn iad adhradh do mhac Rìgh na Glòir
na laighe sa mhainnsear ann am Bethlehem bhinn
air an oidhche a chunnaic Reul Dòchas nan Rìgh.

The Star of the Hope of Kings


A star of hope to the three who came from the East;
bringing joyful news to all mankind.
We look to you across the centuries in our hearts.
Won't you give us light, The Star of the Hope of Kings!

The soft gentle maiden, Bright Bridget beside her.
Old Joseph, guardian of the little holy child.
How peaceful these three in that distant stable
when three others arrived under the Star of the Kings.

"We set our backs to castle and court
and set off across the desert
following the new star that appeared to us in the West. "
Said His Highness, Balthasar, of the Star of the Kings.

They brought presents, myrrh, frankincense, and gold.
And they worshiped the son of the King of Glory
lying in the manger in sweet Bethlehem
on the night that saw the Star of Hope of Kings.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Winter Solstice Banquet

When I was growing up, Christmas was often a stressful and traumatic time. Life in my family wasn't peaceful in general, so adding stress, expectations, and a fair amount of alcohol didn't improve matters. I was baptized and partially raised in the Catholic Church, so Christmas was very definitely a religious holiday with a bunch of other fun stuff tacked on to it.
I stopped celebrating Christmas when I was 15 years old because I had decided to commit myself to living a Pagan life, and it seemed the height of hypocrisy to make a fuss over the birth of Jesus. My friends and I who formed our teenage coven celebrated Winter Solstice together, of course, but without a home to decorate or the ability to mark the shortest day rather than Jesus' birthday it still kind of felt like Christmas and I didn't like it.
When, after lots of adventures I finally got my first real home in Ballard, I was absolutely resolved that I would decorate for Solstice and have a real celebration. My close friend Pandora and I conceived of a multi-course celebratory dinner, and that was the start of what became the Winter Solstice Banquet.
The Banquet is a ritual meal, rather than a ritual per se. If the Solstice is a religious holiday for you, then the Banquet is a religious event, but if it isn't, it's still a really nice evening with good food, good friends, and heart-felt reflection on the year that is ending. Each of the courses of the meal has a question that each guest answers during that course. The meal doesn't progress until everyone has had a chance to speak. For that reason, it's best to limit guests to about eight. Otherwise, you are likely to spend an uncomfortable amount of time sitting in front of empty plates.
I held the Banquet in my home in Ballard until I was forced out and moved to my condo in Greenwood. My place here doesn't have a dining area, so I thought that the Banquet was lost to me forever.
From 2007 until 2017 there was no Banquet and I grew more bitter and despondent during Christmas with each passing year. I would usually spend Christmas with Doug and his mother in Victoria, and although entirely pleasant, I had grown so resentful of the day that it was a struggle to keep my feelings under wraps.
Then, in 2016, I drew the Tower card (It's a Tarot reference - go look it up). I came home from US Thanksgiving with my family to a home in the process of being destroyed by flooding from my upstairs neighbor. When all was said and done, I came back from two months of living in a hotel to a living room with no furniture. For a while, I looked for replacement items, but nothing felt right. I started using folding camping furniture for convenience. That solution also allowed me to put the seating away when I wanted to set up my sewing studio.
Then, in 2018, my beautiful man asked me why I didn't just set up a folding table and have the Banquet again? Uhhh. Ummm. YEAH!!!!
And so on Solstice 2018, the Winter Solstice Banquet was restored.
Here is the order of service in case you want to do this too:

Winter Solstice Banquet

Appetizers

The Shortest Day

The youngest person present reads The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper while all join hands. At the conclusion, toast to "Welcome Yule."

Salad

Question: What was the hardest challenge this year?

Soup

Question: What did it teach you?

Seafood

Question: How have you changed this year?

Vegetables

Question: What was the best thing this year?

Main

Question: What do you hope for in the new year?

Salutation

Host reads Salutation by Fra Giovanni Giocondo

Dessert

Presents

A note about presents: A person attending the banquet for the first time is not told about them. The mystery of the ritual for them is to be challenged to receive without giving.
Before posting the poetry texts and the menu we developed last year, I will just add that anyone is welcome to use this as a template to create your own Banquet tradition. Just please tell everyone you know how my genius has enriched your life. Thenk you.

The Shortest Day

Susan Cooper
And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!

Salutation

Fra Giovanni Giocondo
excerpted from A Letter to the Most Illustrious the Contessina Allagia degli Aldobrandeschi, Written Christmas Eve 1513 A.D.
I am your friend and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not got, but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see - and to see we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by the covering, cast them away as ugly, or heavy or hard. Remove the covering and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love, by wisdom, with power.
Welcome it, grasp it, touch the angel's hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty, believe me, that angel's hand is there, the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Our joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty - beneath its covering - that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.
Courage, then, to claim it, that is all. But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are all pilgrims together, wending through unknown country, home.
And so, at this time, I greet you. Not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Alasdair Og Donn


Alasdair òg donn,
eireachdail, dualach,
tàmh thall anns a' bheinn àrd:

Thug thu bhuam cuid mo chrìdhe
agus ghlèidh thu gu caoin i.
Thug thu dhomh air ais i
nas fheàrr na bha an toiseach i.

Fhir nan crìdhe binn agus nam pòg,
éist ri cainnt mo bheòil dhut.
Saoil nach faic mi a-rithist thu
ach bithidh mo bheannachd mhaireann leat.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Happier

While I treasured my wounds
The days ticked by
Now most are gone
My wounds will die when I do
But no one will mourn them
They will just wish
I had been happier

Seumas Gagne
2019