"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Peck of Disappointing Peppers

The Gleaner’s Pantry usually has an abundance of food after any major holiday - and this year was no exception. The day after Christmas there was a special glean, and along with a plethora of cookies, cakes, pannetone, and various and sundry candies, there was also a vast amount of fresh vegetables and fruits. 

I took home three or four sacks of oranges, a half a dozen pomegranates, and a goodly number of specialty pears wrapped in crinkly foil paper, lovingly packed into wooden crates, and labeled with a well-known national
brand. But the real haul was a near-bushel of shiny, green, taut-skinned jalapeños. I couldn’t see a damn thing wrong with these peppers, nor imagine why they had been thrown away. I took all of them that nobody else wanted - at least two full shopping bags full. 

This morning I spent three hours with a pair of latex gloves on, prepping the peppers for canning. I searched the cabinets and discovered a dozen wide mouth pint jars; I unearthed the lids and rings and set them to boil. I sat down with a paring knife and put on a CD and filleted some fifty or sixty peppers and cut them into rajas. I made a brine of one third white vinegar and two thirds water, a half cup of sugar and a quarter cup of salt, pickling spices and several cloves peeled garlic. 

Ten pints of sealed pickled peppers later it occurs to me to actually taste the peppers - there were a lot left over. And damn! I finally figured out why such a huge quantity of perfect peppers was at Gleaner’s in the first place. These supposed jalapeños had ZERO heat. They were basically small, pointy green bell peppers. 

You have probably noticed - if you are over thirty years old and like to cook -  that jalapeño peppers have changed in the past decade or so. A new hybrid came out ten or fifteen years ago: a bigger, blunter, WAY less spicy jalapeño. I think it’s a cross between a jalapeño and a green bell pepper. Recently, it seems that this is the only “jalapeño” you can find. The older, smaller, hotter jalapeños have pretty much disappeared from the markets. These days if I want a hot pepper, I have to buy serranos. But I have never yet run into a hybrid jalapeño that had NO heat whatsoever.

My guess is that somebody bought a bunch of this batch and then complained to the grocery manager - I know I would. And then the manager taste-tested them and came to the same conclusion I did - these jalapeños are shit. 

Oh well - now I have twelve pints of pickled anemic peppers. We usually go through a pint of pickled jalapeños every two weeks or so. They are standard garnish for three out of every four meals we eat here - scrambled eggs, taco toppings, sandwich fillings, components in tuna or chicken salad. But peppers without any bite at all? I just don’t know how we will use them up. 

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas’s Eve 2018 (with recipes)

Another Christmas. Another year almost gone. As my children get older, each year seems more and more precious. As in years past, I made an advent calendar of events, a posterboard hung with 24 gift tags, each one of which had an activity or community event written on the back. Although they are both teenagers now, Hope and Paloma were still excited to turn over a tag each night before bed. 

A few highlights: 

Pioneer Park Old Fashioned Christmas. Our favorite event of the season. Santa looks a little skeptical of my big girls. 

We crossed the border to visit Vancouver’s Van Dusen botanical garden light show. It was raining cats and dogs and we got soaked, but the lights were spectacular.

Decorating cookies. The girls invited friends and made a party out of it. We went overboard and there were hundreds of cookies. Hope had the bright idea of distributing cookies at Ferndale’s assisted living facility. She’s a sweet, thoughtful child. 

All three kids in front of this year’s tree. It’s another live tree and will be added to our small but growing Christmas grove. 

The menu tonight is simple but yummy. It’s just the five of us, for the first time in memory. We usually go to my Mom’s house for a formal Christmas Eve dinner with the good china, but this year my stepdad broke his leg and had to have surgery the day before yesterday and isn’t feeling up to visits. We will get together for new year’s instead. 

Small Feast: 

Cream of mushroom soup 

Roast lemon- garlic-herb chicken 

Fingerling potatoes roasted in drippings

Romaine lettuce and crudités with “Cesar” dip. 

I recently invented this mock-Cesar dressing/dip and I love it. I make the base in a mortar and pestle, remove half of it to be a rub for he roast chicken, and then finish the dressing. 

Mock-Cesar dip:

In a mortar and pestle, combine 

1 large clove garlic
1 tsp whole Black peppercorns
1/2 tsp salt
2 anchovy filets 

Mash with pestle until a coarse paste forms. Add

1 Tbspn olive oil and mix with a spoon. 

Remove half the paste and use it to season your whole chicken, making sure to get some inside the cavity as well. I stuffed the cavity with a half onion and a half lemon, and set the chicken on a bed of rosemary and thyme. 

To the remaining paste in the mortar, add

1 tsp whole grain mustard
Juice of one large lemon
Heaping spoonful mayonnaise

Mix gently until well incorporated and smooth. 
Add lemon juice if needed for acidity, taste for salt. 

Make a crudités platter with celery sticks, hearts of romaine separated into leaves, cucumber rounds, etc. Serve the dio right there in the mortar. It’s very strong flavored but super yummy. 

Merry Christmas! 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Little Altars Everywhere

Beltane altar

My religious background is very complicated. I was born Jewish, because my mother and her mother and her mother were Jews, albeit secular ones. My mother used to say they were just Jewish enough for Hitler to want them dead. I don’t identify as a Jew though, because I don’t practice Judaism, and I do practice some other religions. In fact I believe that according to orthodox Jewish law, I stopped being a Jew at the age of eight, when my father had me baptized into the Mormon church. 

While my parents were married, which they weren’t anymore very shortly after said baptism, we used to go to Mormon services fairly often. After the divorce Dad would still take us once in a while during our weekend visits, while we were still small. I remember long boring services and lots of cookies.  But he fell away from the church, and he fell away from his kids, and stopped taking us to church, or anywhere else. Mom never set foot in a Mormon church again, as far as I know. I myself haven’t been to a Mormon church - except for my cousin’s wedding - in thirty five years. 

In fact I didn’t set foot in a church of any kind for over twenty years, unless it was as a tourist in Italy or Mexico. But I nonetheless had a spiritual life. It was centered, as most of my life has always been centered, around books and learning. In community college when I was sixteen I took a class called the Power of Myth, that used Joseph Campbell’s work as a textbook, and I’m here to tell you it blew my mind. 

Litha Altar 

The year I was twenty-one I was pregnant with my first child. I spent months that year reading the White Goddess by Robert Graves. Among the many things I learned in that book was the sacred tree-calendar of the Druids, and I named my daughter Rowan, after the tree that ruled her birth-month of February. Since then, I’ve more or less considered myself a solitary witch.

It’s true that I attend my local church, a tiny ELCA congregation called Zion. After many solitary years I felt the need to worship with others, and I wanted a deeper connection with my neighbors. I was attracted by the aesthetics of Zion, I admit: a small, whitewashed building with a steeple and a real bell, and a real graveyard, sitting alone in a green valley near my house.  It took me years to screw up my courage and attend a service. 

It so happened that at that first service, the young woman who was pastor (a good sign!) gave a sermon in which she said “a church is not a place where a bunch of people sit together all believing the same thing” which was auspicious. At coffee hour afterwards I introduced myself. I wanted to come back but I was very conscious of the fact that I wasn’t actually a Christian. I wanted to ask if I could come as an interfaith visitor - but of course I didn’t know those words and what came out of my mouth was “is it okay if I come here as a Pagan?” 

But although I go to church two or three times a month, and I find it nourishing, I’m still a witch. The main way that I practice my path is through observing the sacred calendar of the earth - the solstices and the equinoxes, and the cross-quarter day’s in between them. The names that I attatch to these holy days are Celtic or Neo-Pagan, but it really doesn’t matter to me what they are called. If I knew the names in Ancient Greek or Mayan, I might use those names. 

Samhain Altar 

Observing the holy days means laying an altar for them. Over the years in this blog, I’ve shared pictures of my seasonal altars many times, and I’ve shared observations of various holy days such as Mabon and Imbolc. But I haven’t talked about the practice of keeping an altar. 

Some people are very formal about their altars. They have set places for them, with well-demarcated boundaries and lots of rules for which items belong on the altar at which seasons. You can probably guess I’m not one of those people. I do have certain icons that I like to use for certain holidays - usually my own paintings that evoke the season or a particular deity. One of my very long term goals is to eventually paint enough icons to have an entire set for all seasons. But for the most part, I play loose and fast with the idea of an altar. 

The shelf above our hearth is my main altar, and I have a smaller space in the kitchen for a kitchen altar. But an altar has no fixed position. As Black Elk said, “the sacred mountain is everywhere.” And so, wherever you lay your altar, you are really laying it on your heart. And if it isn’t laid in your heart, then it isn’t laid anywhere and you are just playing with leaves and stones. Not that there’s anything wrong with playing with leaves and stones. 

Altars even spring into being all by themselves, and I think these may be my favorite and most sacred type of altar - the ones that emerge organically from the life of the household. When I notice that my ordinary life, the simple repetitive rythyms of my days, creates little altars everywhere, then I feel especially blessed and feel that I must be doing something right. Then I feel that Hera, Goddess of hearth and home, at once the royal Queen of heaven and humble housewife, has come to visit me and is incaranate in the work of my hands. 

Spontaneous altar that emerged on a side table