Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Outdoor frame of mind

Preamble: Banner photo found at www.sxc.hu, a wonderful site for free photographs with Creative Commons licenses.

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Our Protogrove celebrated Beltane a bit late this year, though it really worked out well for everyone involved. It was especially good on my end, as I was able to make it to the annual May Day Parade here in the Cities and then celebrate with the group after final exams had ended.

The parade was wonderful, as usual: this is only my second year attending, and I even got swept up by the end of it! A puppet theater runs the main show, and then after the "official" parade is done other groups can have their go at entertaining and informing the crowds. It was a lot of fun to put on a silly mask and march down the way for a while.
Sunshine came and went, large clouds blown with a fair breeze patterned the ground with cool shade as we watched the colorful beings wander along. This being the Chinese year of the Tiger, there were a good many paper-mache tiger helms and claws on eager kids and adults alike. We growled and roared and breathed along with the grain-bearers, sea creatures, and even a polar bear ambling by.

Afterwards, we gathered in the park and wandered past food vendors and group stands. The pagan community is rather well-represented at the parade, with holistic healers, local pagan groups, and other folks all coming in to stand at a booth and rub shoulders with all manner of folk.

The ceremony started a little later. Woods, Plains, Sky, and River all came to greet us, their heads towering over ours and hands spread wide to enfold the people as we watched. This year's theme was breaking free of all those bonds we have in life: debts, worries, doubts, all those things that weigh us down and can break our spirit. The symbolic death and resurrection was followed by the sun's journey across the lake, and our roars of triumph at its return to our lives.

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Just this last Sunday, we got together for Beltane with my Protogrove. Again, we couldn't have asked for a nicer day to hold it outside--sunshine, new folks, and the usual amazing potluck spread made for a very relaxing afternoon.

And it was when I sat out in the sunshine and looked across the farm fields that I realized just how weird I'd been lately. Weird here is defined as getting so caught up in material wants: new purse, new shoes, drooling over things I could never afford and would probably only use or wear a few times in the summer anyway. Now seriously, I've been spending hours browsing for stuff online, and it's been eating away at my sanity well before final exams were over.

Yet once I get outside--in the car on the way even--it all melted away. That self-imposed burden of "I need that stuff or I will not be happy" was replaced with sunshine, a gentle breeze, and a calm and clear mindset I had not known for too long.

What was going on?

I knew that my newfound obsession with fashion was getting unhealthy, yet somehow I wasn't able to turn away. It got in the way of my studies, free time, and sleep... well, I was very stressed about my final exams, and the internet does offer an easy escape from textbooks and practice tests.

An escape, but no cure.

Going to ritual with everyone--going outside, and being out there away from the city--cleared my mind and calmed me like nothing else did. It reminded me why I had been drawn towards the Pagan path in the first place.

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As a young girl, I remember that our old house was a pale butter yellow; small, but large enough for a family. We were lucky enough to have some wonderful trees on our corner lot: a towering spruce to one side, and two large crabapples which bloomed a deep pink every spring. I remember laying beneath one of them on the grass, just looking at the world around me.

One day my parents decided that I was old enough to go to church with them. I got ready to go to wherever this was, and before we left Dad showed me a magazine lying on the couch. The cover had a dark background with big bold words that he wanted me to read. Now, I've always been good at English, but then I was young enough to just pick out simple words (and even now I sometimes get dyslexic). He pointed at a word, and I said "dog". Dad said, "No, try again" and I said "dog", sure that I was right.
Exasperated Dad then told me "no, it says God. Come on, we're going to church."

and no matter how they tried to teach me that the dogma was right and I had to have faith, I always thought it was weird to sing inside that big dark building. How could God hear through the roof?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oishii ne!

More bacony goodness! :D

This time we're making okonomiyaki, which is a Japanese dish made with shredded cabbage and batter. It's often compared to a pancake or pizza, since you can top it with just about anything and the name means "as you like it".

(Image from Wikipedia)

I first learned about this when I took Japanese in high school--we were very lucky to get something that wasn't Spanish, French, or German to learn--and Nagai-Sensei made sure that we learned all about Japanese culture in addition to grammar, vocabulary, and kanji.

Although I have not yet traveled to Japan, I'm lucky enough to have friends who have been there and know what kinds of ingredients to use. For example, my friend J. pointed out the "right" kind of sauce to get at United Noodle. This is about the largest and most well-stocked Asian food store in the Twin Cities area, so if you haven't been there yet, go check it out. (If you know the area, it's right by the Franklin neighborhood.) Even if you don't know what kinds of groceries to stock up on, you can also grab lunch there which is entirely worth it. You can get soups, donburi (rice-bowls topped with various goodies), and a host of other freshly-made and authentic dishes that won't break your wallet like an expensive specialty restaurant would.

And if nothing else, grab a package of frozen pork buns. One or two can be microwaved or steamed for a great quick lunch at home, work, or school and everyone comments on how good they smell! ;)

Okonomiyaki--my version
Please note that I go by feel on this... so feel free to change amounts so that it works for you. These are approximate amounts!

1 egg
1 cup Flour
Water or broth as needed
1 TB corn starch
1 cup finely shredded cabbage
Bit of thinly sliced onion (optional)

Toppings (up to you, but suggested):
Chopped green onion
Sliced mushrooms--button, portobello, or shiitake all work well
1-2 slices raw bacon or meat of choice
Little shrimps, raw or cooked
Okonomiyaki sauce (Otafuku brand if you can find it, recipe below if not)
Nori (sushi seaweed), finely sliced/shredded/chiffonade
Japanese-style mayo (trust me, "recipe" below)

Heat fry pan to medium-low heat.
Break egg into a bowl and whisk a bit with a fork. Dump in some of the flour and stir until egg is incorporated. Add cornstarch and some water or broth, whisk again. Keep adding flour until you have about 1/2 cup batter. Should be about cake-batter consistency.
Add shredded cabbage and stir. If you want a smaller one, use less cabbage and batter. Otherwise, add more flour and water/broth until there's enough batter to cover the cabbage with some left over to hold everything together. Add thinly sliced onion and stir in if desired.
Pour cabbage mixture into heated pan and spread out with a spatula. A thinner 'cake' will cook faster, but it should still be soft in the middle when done--about 3/4 in. is good.
As first side cooks, top 'cake' with sliced toppings: mushrooms, onion, meat, shrimps, or what have you. Flip when bottom is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Cook until meat is done and batter is set, another 3 to 5 minutes. It's ok if the middle is soft--this isn't a crispy dish.

Transfer to plate, and top with sauce, mayo, and nori if desired. Keep extra sauce handy and enjoy.

Okonomiyaki sauce recipe

Japanese style mayo:
you only need a little for one serving, the rest can be refrigerated for later.
2 big tablespoons regular American mayo (not Miracle Whip! It's different!)
White sugar
Rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar

Add sugar and vinegar to mayo so that it's sweeter and tangier, kind of like coleslaw dressing. It will get thinner, and that's ok.

And if you're vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions, feel free to change up the toppings. I don't know how this would work with gluten-free flours, so let me know how that works! ^^

Friday, May 7, 2010

catching up

Obligatory sentence about how finals are stressful and busy and I'm up to my eyeballs in studying for exams... oh and I don't want to ever hear the word "salinization" again for about the next forty years.

Moving on.

I have had a small epiphany today:
Bacon is proof the Vanir love us and want us to be happy.

The original Ben Franklin quote (or attributed to him) reads 'Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy'. I have also seen its corollary 'Chocolate is proof Goddess loves us and wants us to be happy'.

Therefore, as I made a delicious spin on a BLT for lunch today, I thought of how our dear friend the pig is descent of wild boars, which are sacred animals to Frey, Freyja, and probably Nerthus too. If we're eating a sacred animal, why else would it taste so good except that They wanted us to enjoy it?
(and yes, I always say 'thank you' to those creatures that died for my meal!)

BLT Variation with flatbread

2 slices bacon
bit of thinly sliced onion
a couple sliced mushrooms
some spinach
fresh snow peas
one flatbread or pita, sliced in half

If you have a cast-iron pan, now is the time to use it. In any case, set the pan over low heat and cook the bacon strips, pouring out the extra grease as you do. Cook however long you like (I like my bacon still chewy, can't handle the really crispy kind) and set aside on a paper towel.
In the still-warm pan, add the onion and mushrooms and cook slowly until golden and softened.
Assemble sandwich: one half of flatbread, spinach, bacon slices, cooked onions and mushrooms, and some snow peas for crunch. Top with other piece of flatbread.
Transfer sandwich to pan and warm over low heat for a minute or two per side to warm the sandwich through and give the bread a little color. Putting a small lid on the sandwich as you do this helps it stay together.
Enjoy with more snow peas on the side.

And for goodness' sake, please use real bacon. Anything as thin as a piece of paper or made out of turkey is meant to be crumbled over a baked potato and that's it.

Add cheese if you like. I thought that with cooking everything in bacon grease, my lunch would be rich enough. Though having all those snow peas--fresh, green, crunchy, and very flavorful--balanced out the bacon nicely.