Tag Archives: books

“Cooked”: Part Book Review, Part Feelings of Inadequacy around Cooking From Scratch

So, I’ve been reading Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan. Like Omnivore’s Dilemma, the book is divided into four sections that, one way or another, look at the anthropology of eating from a historical… ish(?) perspective. Meaning, of course, that This Is My Bag, Baby.
In this particular case, he’s looking at four different types of preparing food – as charted by the Four Elements (so us kitchen-magic types have something hella handy to work with here – Think: Make a braise to woo your beloved, but bake good communication into a loaf of leavened bread) – along with looking at the course of Food History, and how food (and food preparation) link us to our families, communities, and cultures.
Woohoo! 😀
In discussion the preparation of food, however, he’s also talking about what qualifies as “cooking” these days (these days…) and what doesn’t. Now, I do realize that the man lives in California, where “winter” just means “rainy and about 8 degrees celcius”. So his cult-of-freshness ideals aren’t entirely unusual. However, I do live in a climate where “over-wintering local food” are the kind that you fish from under the ice in early Januar. They are not green, they aren’t green unless we’re talking about cedar tea. So my “cooking from scratch” usess a lot of preserved (and frequently industrially preserved – think tinned tomatoes and bags of frozen veggies that I didn’t grow/forage myself) foods. I confess that I’m feeling a bit defensive about the possibility that my salad nicoise (which includes beets (raw, from a grocery store) and potatoes (same), but also industrially-frozen snap beans and tinned tuna) doesn’t entirely qualify as Real Cooking in his world.
Harumph, I say! 😦
So here it is. I use a boatload of convenience foods in my cooking. Pre-fab, freeze-dried short pasta. Tinned tomatoes. Frozen spinach. All from a bag or a box. My home-made bread, of-which I am so proud, is made with yeast-from-a-jar and white (degermed, de-branned) flour. Easily controlled and reliable (and that’s the way I like it).
None the less, a little part of me feels like some kind of an internal gauntlet has been thrown down. I find myself asking things like:
Could I make just as good a loaf of bread using at least 1/4 whole wheat pastry flour? Would that screw with the gluten content? How much harder would it be to rise? How fast will the flour go rancid? Does Watson’s Mill offer soft/pastry flour? (I don’t think it does). Can I use that sifting trick to “lighten” (“high extraction”) the flour and get a lighter, flufflier dough? What about wild-caught yeasts?
I wonder if anyone I know has a pasta-maker I can borrow?
Maybe I should look into making yoghurt (trying) again, or trying my hand at a more-complicated-than-Fake-Ricotta cheese…
Can I lacto-ferment chard stems… When I eventually get around to having chard stems again?
…You get the idea.
Basically, I’m half afronted at this (perceved) critique of my cooking as being Not From-Scratch Enough (whatever that means), and half Called-To-Action to “improve” on my from-scratch cooking/cred by getting off my ass, making myself some mozzerella, and trying my hand at slightly-more-(as-in-any)-whole-wheat flour bread.
I told my Lovely Wife that I wanted to try lacto fermentation, and she looked at me in mock (or at least partially-mock) horror. I’d also like to find out if it’s possible to make stuff like salami or procciuto in an electric dehydrator, the same way you’d make jerky… (Probably not… but we shall see).
Anyway, that’s where my head is at. Maybe there will be a trip to the Herb and Spice for a pound of whole wheat pastry flour this week, or maybe there won’t be. For the moment, I’ll stick with my rendered-lard candle and soon-to-be soap (yes, I’m about to try my hand at soap again… Here’s hoping…) before I go diving further into the world of Cooking From Scratch.
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

K is for Kisses, K is for Kink – Pagan Blog Project 2012

K is for Kiss. I don’t mean the five-fold kiss that’s part of some Wiccan rituals. I mean lips locked, shared breath, tangling tongues. I mean the holiness of sex.
K is for Kink. I’ve been reading a lot of Raven Kaldera and Lee Harrington of late.
My kink community (M-O-T leather dykes, fyi) has a lot of Woo going on in it. A fair few of us are pagan of one sort or another, and our two majoy community parties fall pretty close to the year-hinges (which was actually totally by accident BUT, seriously, you should have been there on Beltain…), so it’s maybe not that surprising that I’m fast developing an interest in things like sex magic, sacred sexuality, ordeal paths, tantric sexual-energy work, and similar.
Right now, this means doing a lot of reading (the aforementioned Raven and Lee, as well as some Barbara Carrellas), listening to podcasts, having occasional discussions about energy-movement and sacred sexuality with women in my community, and generally talking the talk.
Walking the walk is going to be slower in coming, I think. Yes, Ghost and I have Grand Plans to re-read Urban Tantra, most-likely while on our honeymoon (apt) and do the exercises together. And that’s something. But I haven’t got the first clue how to actually run an ordeal ritual (for example) and I’m a bit nervous about trying something like that.
I’ve always been a solitary practitioner, a solo-dedicant, that kind of thing. But this mix of magic, religion, sex, blood, and fear/hunger is… potent enough, and screw-up-able enough on a lot of different fronts, that I feel like I could really do with some help. Looking at the mixture of them is giving me a clue why both Old Guard Leather and various witch crafts (I’m thinking BT Wicca but also Feri, for example) are initiatory and graduated in terms of learning the ways of Doing The Things We Do.
There are things that I want to explore. But I don’t think it would necessarily be wise to explore them “unsupervised”, so to speak.
If anyone has any suggestions, do please drop me a comment. 🙂
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

It’s Spring! (So, of course, there’s Snow…)

So. Perhaps not surprisingly (Nature having quite the sense of humour), we woke up to snow this morning. It’s rapidly melting – as the snow has turned to a hard rain that shows no sign of letting up – but still. Waking up and going “Oh, for fuck’s sakes. Really??” Which is not to say that snow in late April is all that unusual around here. None the less, I was hoping I’d seen the back of Winter already.
Oh, well. Soon enough. (Snow on green leaves looks about as weird as hot summer sun does coming through bare branches, so… maybe this is just balancing things out a little bit).

Anyway. I’ve been working on layout (and content) for My Eventual Cookbook this morning. Probably because gardening season is getting to be upon us (I haven’t done anything like starting seeds indoors, mind you) and – thank the gods – produce other than mushrooms, cabbage, beets, and parsnips is now available locally. YAY! 😀
There are hothouse baby tomatoes from Quebec at my grocery store. They’re pricey as hell, so we’re not grabbing them very often, but they’re there! (I made a tomato-basil-mozerella salad the other day that just made me want to sing! All sharp flavours and bright colours. It was glorious!)
There’s also fresh herbs, hydroponic boston lettuce (the kind you get in a dome, with the roots still on) and rhubarb (I see it coming up in people’s yards, and I want to go hunting). Some folks may be able to find greenhouse cucumbers and spinach, though I haven’t got my hands on any yet. There are also wild dandelions coming up all over – and probably stinging nettles and fiddlehead greens, too – if you’re up for pulling on your gloves and going hunting.

The Parkdale maket and the Ottawa (Landsdown) Farmer’s Market have both just opened, but most of the local farmer’s markets (including my Local, in Little Italy) don’t kick in until the beginning of May (CSAs can run all year, or else start any time between mid-April and mid-June and run for 15-20 weeks from that point).

It’s funny. I have a really good idea of what’s available (and long-keeping) locally, during Winter – partially because we’re just past Winter (and 2/3 of Spring, for that matter), but also because that’s when I actually worry about availability. Whereas the stuff that’s available in Summer (and, to a lesser extent, Autumn) is… kind of foggy for me. I find this Availability Guide from Foodland Ontario is helpful in terms of sorting out what to bother looking for when I’m in my (not-so-locally-focused) grocery store.

Anyway. Back to recipe-planning. 🙂

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Refilling the Well

So, I spent the last few days visiting family in various parts of the province. This included (a) about 8-10 hours (round trip) in the car, mostly staring out the window and living in my own head, and (b) spending a lot of time away from computers and close to water, rocks, trees, and good food.

Julia Cameron (in her book, The Artist’s Way) talks about “refilling the well”. As in: getting out, doing stuff that isn’t work-work-work, that is meant to top up the part of yourself where all those ideas actually come from.

The first time I tried working my way (ish) through The Artist’s Way, I aproached the well-refilling exercises (“Artist’s Dates”, where you take yourself Out and do something fun and interesting) with a whole slew of capital-R Rules. My Artist’s Dates couldn’t cost money. And they had to be intentionally solitary. And they couldn’t be something “frivolous” or “shallow” like going to Sephora and playing with all the makeup testers, or whatever[1]. Which, not surprisingly, meant that – once Winter hit and I could no-longer use a long, rambling walk as my weekly Artist’s Date – I stopped doing them pretty damn quick.

And, strictly speaking, I totally haven’t picked them back up again.
But every so often, I get the chance to do something like this. To get away from the laptop and, somewhat more to the point, away from my email (hoy…) and… it really has a noticeable effect. As in: I wrote a short story today, and it flowed, and made sense, and wasn’t full of hideous, lumpy, clunky bits, and it was acutally good. Other times when I’ve done something like this, the result has been a poem or a new jewelry collection, but regardless. I’m noticing a pattern.

So now I’m wondering if, possibly, I should make a point of having no-computer days, or something. Maybe a bit like Cathrynne M. Valente’s Abbey Nights. Or my sweetie and I will just start hitting up a museum every Thursday or something.

Either way, I think I need to start taking time away from the email with enough frequency that I can maybe (in theory) get my writing groove back.

I was saying to my sweetie, earlier this evening, that I miss the ease of writing that I had back when I was in such an emotionally awful situation that writing stories was literally the only option I had for speaking about, and dealing with, the stuff that was going on.
I don’t at all miss the situation.
But I miss the stories and the ease with-which they came out of me.
So the goal is to find a (sustainable) means of getting that flow back, without having the rest of my life got to, er, pot.

Anyway. That’s where I’m at just now.

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

[1] Miss Sugar has a thing or two to say about glamour, and why it actually matters. When I start feeling like I’m being shallow (or similar) because I care about visual presentation and/or sensual experiences, I go and read her blog. 🙂

Food Snob Gripes About Food Snobbery

Hey there,

So I got a book out of the library the other day: Food Security For The Faint Of Heart

The author was writing in British Columbia – a climate not that much like Eastern Ontario’s, but not that different, either – and the “for the faint of heart” title sounded promising.

And it was okay. There were bits in there that were really smart — suggestions like “start slowly; pick a couple of things you want to accomplish every year” rather than trying to go from “typical Canadian food supply” (grocery stores, mass-production, etc) to “I have a flock of laying hens, a 2-acre organic garden, and hunt my own venison” all in one go. Because gods know that anyone who tries to make a complete switch from one (familiar and also easy) lifestyle to another (totally unfamiliar and, fyi, not easy) lifestyle all at once is probably setting themselves up for frustration, failure, and a lot of other f-words.
There were also handy tables about what is likely to come into season when (in BC), with suggestions on how to recalculate things for an approximation of your own area, as well as suggestions for how to stock up on dry goods all at once, and how to calculate how much flour or oil or whatever you go through in a given year.
So, yes, there were definitely some good bits.

There were also – and given the title of this blog-post, I’m sure this comes as no suprise – some bad bits.

What I’m getting at here is that there are a tonne of “food style” books – whether that “style” is ethical omnivourism, raw food, organic everything, gluten-reduction (maybe less this, as there are medical reasons people go in for celiac or diabetic cooking), or veganism – that do this Thing where there are Good (as in morally superior/desireable) foods and Bad (as in morally inferior/suspect) foods.

I’ve seen it in Laurel’s Kitchen (I may love her bread-stories, and her tea buscuit recipe, but a lot of her politics is sort of desperately dated and makes me twitch); I’ve seen it in How It All Vegan (and, actually, in any number of vegan cook books, many of them a whole lot more-so – thense HIAV’s continued punk-ass presence on my cookbook shelf, while most of the others have been long-since shipped to the used book store or re-homed elsewhere); I’ve even seen it in Animal Vegetable Miracle (which I adore rather more than a little bit). I’ve seen it in more than a couple of self-sufficiency books, and the odd kink how-to as well.
It isn’t a genre thing, I don’t think — but it might be a “fringe movement” thing.

I’m surely guilty of this myself – I know I used to cut salt out of absolutely everything because it was (for some reason I couldn’t even tell you now) on my Bad List – but it still drives me nuts to see that stuff in print, particularly in books that are supposed to (a) be approachable, and (b) turn you on to a particular way of eating/thinking/cooking.

Prases like: […] and “white death” (aka “refined”) sugar… well, we won’t get into the politics of that[…]
Eugh. Why bother “getting into the politics of that” when you’ve just smeared your views all over the page…

It comes across as a bait-and-switch kind of nastiness — presenting your work as an “everyone into the pool!” style how-to, and then making it clear that you’re snearing down your nose at everyone who doesn’t already believe the same things you do, or to the same degree.

Unimpressed, author. Unimpressed.

Anyway. Moving right along.

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Small Kindnesses (New Year, New You)

So. Last week’s injunction to Relax, Don’t Do It in the name of avoiding New Years Resolution mania and burn-out was… okay.

Or possibly not.

I didn’t actually do anything Super-Extra-Special for me. Which is not to say I didn’t do anything nice, it’s just that I try to do Nice Things for myself (and, okay, my partner) just in general.

I can sing my own praises well enough — got through the initial Hard Bit of my second stocking extension (and it seems to be the right width, so good). Bought my girlfriend’s anniversary present (should arrive in plenty of time) and am feeling Very Excited about the likelihood that she’ll like it a whole bunch. Took a shiatsu class with my girl (thanks, Groupon); Tqaught a friend to knit. Made a Nice Dinner (or two) — and burnt myself all over half of my face while doing so (woops)[1] — Came up with a tasty new cupcake recipe; started Educational Reading for both my kink endevors and my magical endevors[2] and have been taking the time to Actually Read Them(!!!); …and similar. But I haven’t made a big point of doing something Special just for me.
Although I did buy myself a chocolate bar. Which is something, although not a Big Hairy Deal of a something.

I think this is… weird.
I mean, I’m a sensual headonist. Doing nice things for myself is basically at the core of my life’s mission[3]. And yet it’s so much easier to do Nice Things for myself when they come with added Virtue OR added participants. Making a nice dinnner for the two of is includes making a nice dinner for myself… but I’m unlikely to do it just for me. Reading a novel in a coffee shop while drinking cappuccino and nibbling chocolate-hazelnut biscotti is… glorious. But I tend to feel ever-so-slightly guilty about doing it when I could be reading (or, um, working) at home where I can make the cookies myself and the coffee costs me a tenth of what would cost in Bridgehead.

So, yeah.

Maybe I will make myself slippers or something. I don’t know.

Anyway. That’s where I stand on that particular prompt. 😛

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

[1] I’m fine. I was making borscht – the poet I was hosting for Voices of Venus turned out to be vegetarian. Woops – and the lid of the blender decided not to seal properly (I swear I pushed it all the way down), most likely because it was a little too full – and I ended up getting sprayed with hot (though thankfully not boiling) beat soup. Some quick thinking with lavender essential oil, followed by a lot of cold compresses and some aloe-vera gel (and in ibuprofen) meant that the swelling and – more to the point – the pain were mostly down and gone within four hours. It’s not likely that I’ll scar, let alone sustain Actual Dammage. So it’s all good.

[2] I got At Her Feet: Powering Your Femdom Relationship for the kinky D/s stuff (so far, so good, further thoughts coming soon to Syrens) and, more relevant to this blog, I got To Fly By Night: Craft of the Hedgewitch, some early thinky-thoughts on-which can be found over here.

[3] Not to mention it’s my major goal for this whole New Year, New You project…

Moderately Random Update (so exciting…)

Snow Moon was full on Saturday, and I’m only getting around to rambling about stuff now.
Not that I’m going to ramble about the moon, exactly, but I figured it was worth noting, regardless.

I have a glorious poet on my couch, working on her show for this evening (or possibly just writing stuff – I do not know), and a variety of beet-centric goodies in the process of cooking.

Borscht (which is beets, potato, red onion, garlic, frozen spinach[1], sweet-pickled red pepper[1], spiced red wine, a splash of red wine vinegar, chili flakes[1], dried dill, and mustard),
A slow-cooked pork shoulder roast[2] being done in the same spiced wine plus a little apple cider (it’s being cooked with beets, potato, cortland apple, red onion, and garlic as well, the idea being that we shall have Pulled Pork in relatively short order).

I was reading a post over at Walking the Hedge and I was fascinated by her divination stuff.
I’m so used to Divination Systems – like tarot or runes or what-have-you – that are standardized. Her casting seems to have been done with divinatory items of personal significance to her. Which makes a lot of sense, really.
I wonder how I would go about creating something like that. (Food for thought, if nothing else).

In other news (because this is such a very, very deep post): I’ve been told that my order has shipped. In theory, I’ll have my copy of To Fly By Night: Craft of the Hedgewitch by the end of the week. There will be a review/discussion of sorts forth-coming but, for now, I’m just all a-flutter with anticipation. A book about contemporary witchcraft that isn’t about WICCA! YAY! 😀

Finding Pagan Stories in Unexpected Places

It’s a half-moon today, My Lady of the night (and day) wears two faces.


I read a lot of Terry Pratchett. Nowhere near as much as I used to, granted, but still. A lot. His Witch Books (part of the Discworld series) actually had a bit of a hand in helping me to articulate my own worldview.

I remember being asked, unexpectedly, by a stranger to point her in the direction of books on kitchen witchery. I, being very much of the intuitive school of both cooking and magic, didn’t suggest much in the way of spell-craft and, instead, pointed her towards The Wee Free Men, a YA/kids’ book that had so hit my personal nail on the head in terms of relating to one’s Land and using what one’s got that I actually sobbed when I read it.

A friend of mine was more than a little horrified that I’d sent this person to fiction, but I stand by my choice. I’m enough of a DIY Pagan (okay, I’m pretty-much entirely a DIY Pagan) that books about kitchen-witchcraft that are heavily influenced by Wicca and which, more to the point, involve a certain better-homes-and-covens kind of vibe… kind of make me twitch. The don’t typically go into the emotional/spiritual side of kitchen witchcraft and, instead, treat is as, well, surface stuff. On-the-fly spells and recipes that, while they may contain sabbat-significant ingredients, don’t actually touch on their significance (because that’s all stuff you get from the Wicca – or which ever – books, right?). So fiction – which is all about stories and motivation and head-space (of the charcters, definitely, but also – to a point – of the readers) – is actually a pretty handy place to turn if you’re looking for mythology[1]. (Honestly, I think that’s a big part of why the Heralds of Valdemar series did/does so well. It’s horse stories for teenagers, but with added magic and polytheism).

Anyway. Wee Free Men is pretty faboo as far as I’m concerned. If you’re looking for something to read in an afternoon, or have an eight year old who you’d like to gently introduce to a Pagan worldview without clocking them over the head with it, I’d recommend this one.

That’s my prattle for today.

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

[1] As in: Stories that articulate and confirm your worldview and/or value-system.