While the world is going happily to hell, my household has been working to become more self-sufficient. We have a long way to go but this process has been bringing us closer to our ancestors, to the land, and to our Gods too. Working with the land in any capacity is a healing thing, and since I know I’ve been getting emotionally overwhelmed by watching and reading the news more than normal these past few days, I thought perhaps those of you who are in the same boat might enjoy reading this, or at least find in it a bit of a helpful respite.
Firstly, I’ve made my first journeys into canning. I’m still a little afraid to try induction canning. I’ve never done that before, nor do I remember my grandmother doing it, but I have done water-based canning over a decade ago and I know my maternal grandmother did as well. I wanted to try it again. So, I made pickles. It was easy, much more so than I expected. First, I took myself in hand and even though I was nervous took our leftover parsnips and carrots and pickled the hell out of them. We’ve been picking up produce and eggs weekly at a local CSA. The farm is really wonderful, the people lovely to deal with, and the food organic and fresh (they work with two other local farms also, so the farm stand is well stocked. There was even a bit of fruit, though it’s early yet for that) (1). The parsnip/carrot pickles turned out well. The canning process went as it ought to have done; the jars sealed. It helped my confidence a bit, so two nights ago, I took 2/3 of our cucumbers and made dill pickles. They turned out beautifully and as soon as we get more pickles from our CSA, I’ll be making more. It’ll be even better once our dill flowers. We planted dill and have a ton of it. There’s something really nice about using produce or herbs that one has grown oneself. So far, we’ve only been able to do that with our greens (Romaine, lettuces, sorrel, spinach, some chard) and herbs but soon we’ll have more vegetables to play with. I’ve been able to freeze quite a bit, at least two mos worth of greens for a household that eats A LOT of greens) (2). I mostly pray to my ancestors when I’m doing this, but Sigyn and Frau Holle have also been strongly in my thoughts and my prayers. I remember my adopted mom talking about how tending the home is sacred. It is making clean space that nourishes our loved ones. It is worthy work. I think of Them a lot when I cook now, and thank Them always for Their guidance. I’ve always liked to cook but this is new ground for me – literally!
Secondly, we have battled woodchucks and won. I was going to cook up the one we caught, but my housemates are culinary wusses lol and refused to even consider eating it, so, I let the local critter man just take it away. We’re also seeing a lot of garter snakes on our land. This is a good thing, a sign of a healthy environment, and I like snakes. I’m glad they’re making themselves known. They can stay ha ha. My poor housemate though never saw one up close until she found one lounging in a planting pot she was wanting to use. I’m afraid it freaked her a little bit, but she’s slowly getting used to them (3). When I see one, I give thanks and sometimes make small offerings to the Lithuanian Goddess Egle, and also to Eir, sometimes Asklepius. The snake brings healing, wisdom, transmutes poisons. I’m really glad they’re present and I almost always take it as a positive sign when one appears.
This week we received our first box from Misfit Market. This company works with local growers to buy up produce that stores won’t touch. That produce might be oddly shaped. It might be weird looking. It might be perfectly good but small or a little weird in color. Usually this produce would go to waste (though farmers can turn it into compost at least) so this way, it doesn’t. They have a number of subscription boxes one can order. I was shocked when we got our box. The produce looked just fine to me and it tasted really good. I would have bought any of it in a store if I’d seen it. I am really boggled at the idea that it would have been rejected from regular supermarkets, but I’ve been horrified lately by food waste.
My husband and I watched this documentary recently – he knew about this already, but I didn’t. It blew my mind. I have trouble conceiving of such waste. When my grandmother was raising her five children, she was so poor she shot squirrels to feed her family. I was terribly poor in my twenties and the idea of having a full refrigerator and larder is still something that occasionally makes me cry. I have a pantry now, with a good three months of food at least put away (all staples like flour, sugar, pasta, rice, beans, etc.), full cupboards, fresh produce on my counter, a full fridge, a large freezer full of meat, and greens, and game and I am grateful. I remember more than once in my twenties having to eat food that was borderline bad because it was all that I had, and going hungry too. I can’t stand to see someone hungry. Those who come to my home leave well fed and with food if they need it.
I recommend watching the documentary. It really opened my eyes and maybe it will give you all ideas for small ways to cut food waste. I just decided to do what I suggest people do with ancestor veneration: to start where I happen to be at the moment and go from there. Our next step is learning how to compost (4). When I’m dealing with food, I vacillate between honoring Ceres, Pomona, Nerthus, Frey, and for cooking, Fornax. This brings me to my final update. We finally installed our Ceres shrine. There will eventually be special space for Nerthus and at least one shrine for Frey and when our fruit trees and bushes start to blossom, we want to put up something for Pomona. This week, however, we installed our Ceres shrine and it is lovely.
There is a wire arch over it and beans planted on either side that will, as they grow, climb up over the arch so that Ceres’ statue will be surrounded by green, growing things. Behind her, our main garden bed begins, and immediately behind her there are zucchini, onions, and eggplant growing. On either side of her, there is fennel, hyssop, borage, and chamomile.
We are also growing the nine herbs of Woden, but that’s a post for another day.
- The farm was originally doing a weekly CSA box, but their farm manager took a leave of absence due to family illness (not Covid) so they refunded everyone, saying that they didn’t feel they could guarantee the quality and timeliness they wished. We got our refunds, $50 gift cards, and it’s not that big a deal. We would have had to go weekly to pick up the produce anyway. We do that now and get to pick what’s in our box. It all works out well. They even have butter and eggs from another local farm, which is lovely. We’ve really been trying to eat organically but just as importantly locally. We’re trying to develop relationships with local farmers and gardeners, supporting where we can instead of buying from supermarkets. So far, so good.
- For me, working the land physically has brought me into greater communion with my male Lithuanian ancestors, but working in the kitchen brings all my Disir around. (For those not Heathen, Disir are female ancestors). It’s a place sacred to them, where nourishing the line, the home, loved ones takes real and concrete form and where stories and wisdom, knowledge and family culture is passed down from our grandmothers (and some grandfathers too but it’s simple historical fact that gender roles were much more divided prior to the twentieth century – this is not to say that women’s roles were treated with disdain. They weren’t. They were utterly essential. One of my Lithuanian ancestors, a male ancestor really drove this home for me. He emphasized that most men worked outdoors with that type of hard labor – some women too but mostly men. Then the women took over with household gardens and indoor work (Cooking, keeping the fire). It took both to successfully sustain a family and both were sacred. There was absolute egalitarianism in his approach to it, and a sense that there were mysteries in both that were holy, complimentary and holy).
- There aren’t poisonous snakes in our immediate area, though the mountain has been getting rattlers recently. We’re just getting garter snakes.
- We have two compost boxes in the back, but I’m concerned they will attract rodents.
Tomorrow is St. Nicholas Day. In parts of Germany and Switzerland, children would receive small gifts, and certain sweet foods would be shared. There are smells and tastes that I associate with this day alone – something I was reminded of this morning at work when a coworker walked in with gifts of coquito for her advisor. That too is something typically made only for Christmas and she said the smell of the cinnamon when making the drink conjures the holiday spirit like nothing else. I get that. St. Nicholas day is like that for me.
My mom always called it Oski’s Day and keeping the same custom would honor Odin as the Gift-Giver (Oski) on this day. She’d make leckerli (sort of a Swiss gingerbread), we’d have dates, candied walnuts, and mandarin oranges and we’d burn beeswax candles in offering to the God. That combination of scents brings me back powerfully to all the winter holidays we shared, because while Dec. 20 is traditionally the start of Yule, for us it started on the 6thwith this small exchange of gifts.
For those wanting a taste of this holiday, here is a traditional recipe for Basler Leckerli.
Odin is a God of so many things, awesome in the oldest sense of the word, terrible but He is also the winter king Who fills our homes with abundance, Who comes sharing wealth, warmth, and joy. He bestows sweetness. In the midst of the dark and the cold, He is fire burning.
(image by Righon)
It is hotter than hell today in New York, even with air conditioning. I’m taking a break from a full day of cooking to write this and it’s a nice chance to sit own under a fan and rest my feet. I have deepest respect for the women in our ancestral lines who spent the majority of their time running a home, cooking, cleaning. I love to cook but don’t have to do so daily and I forget how exhausting it can be. It’s good to be reminded sometimes and I find it helps me connect more to my female ancestors overall.
Anyway, Hermes did us a good turn recently and asked for chicken. I divined to see if He wanted full sacrifice but the answer was no, cooking chicken for Him would suffice and since He always seems to approve of citrus dishes (especially sweets) when we offer them, I’m making lemon chicken. (I’ve included all the recipes below. He also wanted pie). Whenever I do a divination session, I ask if it’s ok to close the session. We literally could not close the divination until we’d worked out what meal to cook for Him. Unlike with sacrifice in our house, we’ll share in this meal too, unusual for us, but something He wanted.
So, in case anyone is interested, I wanted to share the recipes. Don’t poo-poo the vinegar pie. It’s an Appalachian dish, dating to the early 18th century, a poor-man’s lemon tart. It does not taste like vinegar at all, but like a lemon pie or tart citrus custard. So, give it a chance. You won’t be disappointed.
Ingredients: 3 pounds of chicken or 4 breasts with bone.
4-6 lemons cut into slices
2 TBLS dried oregano
salt, pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425 F. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Coat bottom of baking dish with olive oil. Arrange lemon slices on olive oil. Combine spices and rub thoroughly over chicken. Place chicken skin side down over lemon. Bake 20 minutes. Turn chicken skin side up. Reduce heat to 350 F and continue cooking 35 minutes (longer if necessary but until chicken is very tender You can, if you wish, broil it for a few minutes to cook the skin).
Basic White Sauce and Creamed Spinach
Equal parts butter and all-purpose flour (about 1/3 stick of butter). Put it in a pan. Melt and whisk together. Add spices – since I’m doing this with spinach, I used red pepper flakes, salt, and nutmeg. Add at least two cups of milk – eyeball it. Add until you think you’ve added too much. Stir continuously until it thickens. Add spinach. Keep stirring – it WILL cook down and get creamy just when you think it won’t.
Two and a half pounds of all-purpose potatoes
1 TBLS salt, 1 tsp pepper, olive oil, 4 finely chopped shallots
3 large chopped garlic cloves.
Preheat oven to 450 F. Coat bottom of pan with 2/3 cup olive oil. Cut potatoes into quarters if they’re small, or dice them if large. Spread in a single layer on the oil. Add spices, shallots, and garlic. Toss thoroughly. Cook for 20 minutes. Turn and stir. Cook for another 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4 eggs, 1 ½ cups white sugar, ½ cup butter melted (one stick), 2 TBS. apple cider vinegar, ½ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Combine everything and mix well with mixer. Pour into 9” pie shell. Cook 25 minutes. This WILL BE WOBBLY when it is done. Just relax. Let it cool before you cut it and it’ll firm up as it cools. LEAVE IT ALONE UNTIL IT IS COOL. Trust me on this one.
(I made a whole-wheat pie crust today for this, but you could use any type of pie crust. I have various recipes that I use and it just depends on how lazy I’m feeling. Lol).
Now I’m off to finish my prep for dinner.
Yesterday, my husband and I were out and about and we decided to stop for lunch at Dutchess Diner in Poughkeepsie. We left ill and in my case, pissed off. The food was, quite simply inedible: tasteless, unseasoned, and gross. It actually made my husband sick to the point of vomiting because it was so poorly thought out. Now, usually I’d just file this under ‘never eat there again’ and be done with it, but it irritated me to the degree that I realized it crossed into space that violated my food taboos and I have many, particularly surrounding food (this is one of the joys of being a priest and vitki: one acquires various taboos and, to use an Irish term as there isn’t one that I know in English, gessa. In other words, there are things I cannot do in service to the Gods and things I must, respectively). Hospitality and food specifically are huge areas where quite a lot of sacred things come together.
Firstly, food is fucking sacred. Be it plant or animal something has laid down its life to sustain ours. It is the predator-prey cycle. And for all those vegetarians who feel morally superior to everyone else because they don’t consume flesh, consider this: science has proven that not only are plants sentient in their own way, but they know when you’re about to cut and kill them. I read one article years ago that said one study showed they even scream. We just can’t hear it. (My gardener friend just told me that the smell of cut grass is grass warning other grass and plants that cutting is coming, because they are being slaughtered. Again, there were a couple of studies done. They exude chemicals when they are dying that is akin to crying. They cry as they are dying). You do not actually have the moral high ground. It’s a good lesson about how we shouldn’t prioritize one form of life over another. It’s ALL valuable. It’s all full of consequence.
This is one of the Vanic mysteries: to draw sustenance from the land and to give back to the land in return. To grow something, tend it, nourish it, and then consume it drawing upon its nourishment is a powerful cycle. Modernity has utterly corrupted it, removed us from the land, from the slaughter of our own animals, from the tending of our own crops, from buying meat and crops grown naturally and by our neighbors. We fill our food with chemicals and by- products and utter shit to the point it no longer qualifies as food. It’s obscene. The corollary is that we also don’t really give a shit anymore about properly preparing it. Far too few learn from their parents how to cook and maintain a home.
To prepare food is a grace, an honor, an expression of hospitality. It is nourishment, of course on the basest level, but spiritually ever so much more. Cooking is alchemy. It’s a combination of elements to product, through some weird chemical process, a different, more nourishing whole. To show disrespect for food is to show disrespect to the Gods. Part of being respectful is learning how to cook properly. This includes cooking for yourself; and as with allowing media to take up space in one’s mind, being mindful of what ingredients one uses, of what one allows to take up space in one’s body is equally important. Worry about the integrity of the food rather than the calories. Just eat less of a portion of actual food. You may find you need and want less.
I’m going to digress here for a moment. Let me talk about salt. Salt was a prized commodity to some of our ancestors. It was precious. They knew its value. They hadn’t yet been exposed to a corporate pseudo-health industry trying to convince them that man-made chemicals are better, or that food should be left ill-prepared. Salt is magic. Salt brings out the flavor of food, particularly meat. It must be added during the cooking process, NOT after, for the proper chemical and alchemical process to happen. Adding it after cooking will not work. Apparently, it’s the fad now to cook everything, including meat without salt. It’s positively disgusting; it’s like eating cardboard. Now, I understand moderating one’s salt but if you’re not willing to cook a thing properly than just don’t cook it at all; it’s the same with butter. Margarine is filled with chemicals. It’s gross. Use butter and if you must be careful, use less. Substituting good, natural, wholesome ingredients with processed shit is like spitting in Frey’s face.
This is why it drives me crazy when people (who haven’t been properly brought up, i.e. had parents who for whatever reason didn’t teach them how to handle themselves in a kitchen – and there are many reasons this may happen, including the parents not having been taught themselves) try to take short cuts in the kitchen. Stop. Just stop. Do things as they are meant to be done. If you don’t understand the process, trying to experiment or take short cuts is a quick road to disaster. Learn how to do things properly.
When I cook, I am honoring my ancestors, every last one of them who did this every day to feed themselves and their families. I am forging and re-forging a connection to them through the work of my hands. When I cook, I’m honoring the Vanir and often pray as I prep my food, because everything I’m doing is possible because of Their gifts. To walk into a place and pay money – also something sacred, a form of nourishment, a thing with transformative power ruled by the Duergar—for something poorly prepared, treated with utter lack of care, disdainfully and foolishly is a violation of every one of those tenets. It goes right back to the old maxim: if you can’t do something right, don’t do it at all.
For those wanting to better their cooking skills, I recommend taking a couple of classes from a local culinary school if you can afford it (they often offer classes for the lay person). Otherwise, there are youtube videos, magazines, grandmothers—not necessarily your own. Old people, know things lol. ;). Get a good set of knives, a good skillet, a cooking pan, a mixing bowl, and a crock pot (a great book to start with is Make it Fast, Cook it Slow which offers 365 recipes for the crock pot), mixing spoons and cups (they are not the same). Also, when working on a budget, it’s better to use simple ingredients that are real, like beans and rice and a lot of flavoring than to buy a bunch of processed, frozen crap or fast food, even if that can be deceptively filling. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Yes, mistakes will happen and some things as you learn will be inedible. This is ok. It’s part of the learning process and it’s a far cry from presenting to guests something that should be edible but isn’t in the mistaken guise you’re competent.
It’s that time of year again when most of us start thinking about our dead. Of course I’m of the mind that every day is the proper time to think about our ancestors, but many of our religions give special focus to them in autumn (Dia de los Muertos, Samhain, Winterfylledh, etc.).
One of the things that my ancestors like, and almost demand this time of year, is that I cook for them; specifically, that I cook traditional family/ethnic recipes. My German, Swiss, and British Isles ancestors don’t seem to care (They’ll eat anything LOL) but my Lithuanians really, really, really want me cooking recipes that I got from my father who got them from his mom, and so on. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have as many points of connection as I would like with that part of my line, or perhaps there are reasons known only to them, but they are most insistent that I cook for them in a traditional way.
Usually, they’re happy if once in awhile I make my grandmother’s bread, though they’d prefer if I made all the bread consumed in my house (not a possibility due to my health issues. It takes hard work and endurance to cook like that!) but around this time of year and generally through Yule they want everything: vertinas, apple cake, bow tie cookies, breads, soups, stews, everything. I started by making bread last night.
To honor them, I’m going to share some of those recipes here. I encourage y’all to share your own ancestor recipes too. The kitchen is the heart of the home. So much family lore, history, and bonding has taken place over the centuries in the kitchens, in the work that nourishes the family. It’s no wonder that our ancestors like us to remember that, as they nourish us too.
Weird Ancestor Porridge : )
The first dish that I want to mention is a traditional dish served for the ancestors in Lithuania. I don’t have an actual recipe. It’s just a porridge made from various heritage grains. I usually combine nine different grains, some oat flour, corn meal, etc. I boil them on the stove top adding a ton of honey, dried fruit, sometimes almonds, salt until it tastes ok to me. Then I put cinnamon, sometimes nutmeg on it, sometimes sugar, put it into a special dish I have and offer it to the dead. The combination of grains I use varies and sometimes I’ve substituted lentils or peas for one of the grains. Use what you have.
Mamoom’s Basic Sweet Dough
Bread is such a powerful thing, almost a sacrament in Lithuanian tradition. It represents everything good and holy, everything that nourishes life, and it can even be used in esoteric cleansings. (I can’t do a damn thing with traditional egg cleansings, but give me bread and I’m good to go). This is my grandmother’s favorite recipe.
8-9 cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 packages of dry, active yeast
1 ½ cups milk
1 cup (two sticks) butter
½ cup water
- In a large bowl combine two cups of flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast.
- In a medium saucepan heat the milk, water, and butter until very warm. The butter doesn’t have to melt all the way.
- With a mixer at low speed gradually pour liquid into dry ingredients. Increase speed to medium and beat for two minutes. Stir in the additional flour and the eggs to make a soft dough. (At this point you may add a cup or two of raisins. I prefer to use golden raisins. This is optional).
- Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic – about ten minutes. Shape into a ball and put in a greased bowl, turning all over so top of dough can get greased (I use butter to grease the bowl). Cover with a dry towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled – about an hour.
- Punch down dough. Cut into thirds or halves, cover and let rise fifteen minutes. Put in greased pans and let rise 1 ½ hours.
- Bake at 350 F for 35 minutes.
Dad’s Bow Tie Recipe
(eat them warm ^__^)
Every culture seems to have some version of this: dough covered in powdered sugar. It’s a little bite of bliss. They take awhile to make though so be prepared.
12 egg yolks
4 Tablespoons of sugar
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon rum
1 pint sour cream
flour as needed.
- mix all this up well adding five or six cups of flour gradually. Roll the dough very, very thin and cut into rectangles. Cut a slit in the center of each rectangle and pull one end through to make a little bowtie.
- Fry until golden in oil 375 F.
- Roll those suckers in powdered sugar right away
(mine never look this good! They taste good, but never LOOK this fine)
I hate making these. I love eating them but I hate making them. They take forever but they are so very worth it.
Meat: four pounds of pork loin deboned (I don’t like pork so I use ground beef)
Dough: beat three eggs. 1-2 teaspoons salt, 2 cups milk. While beating add 5-6 cups flour until dough is soft enough to handle.
Prep the meat: 1 onion chopped fine, 2 slices of bread crumbled, 2 eggs with a little milk to soften, 2 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon pepper.
Roll the dough out thin, cut it into circles, fill the circles with a teaspoon of meat, and fold over, crimping the edges with your fork, or folding and pinching the dough.
Drop them in boiling water for 20 minutes. When they rise, they’re done.
Later this week, I’ll share some recipes from my adopted mom and bio mom. Enjoy, folks.