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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Time for a nice hot cup of...

As the days continue to get shorter and colder and darker, it's always nice to have a nice steaming mug of something to curl up with. My profession being what it is (namely, a person who makes fancy hot drinks with ridiculous names), I figured I'd take some time to share some of my personal favorites with the internet.

London Fog

A customer who hailed from sunny California, where they don't actually need hot drinks but apparently have them anyways, brought this one to my attention. Her recipe depended on the vanilla-flavored sugar syrup that most coffeeshops have on hand these days, and if you can find one nearby, by all means ask them to make this for you. This is my at-home version.
  • Brew 6-8 oz (depending on the size of your cup: I put in enough water to leave a good inch of space at the top) of strong Earl Grey tea. How strong it is can vary according to your taste, but remember that it will be sweetened, so you may be able to go stronger than you might otherwise. I use two tea bags, or two tablespoons if I'm using loose tea.
  • When the tea is brewed, discard the tea bags and add vanilla sugar (sugar in which vanilla beans are buried and kept until the sugar takes on a lovely vanilla scent) or plain sugar (preferably raw) and just a drop or two of vanilla extract to taste.
  • I like to finish off with a drizzle of warm milk or cream (warm so it doesn't cool the tea down too much. I just nuke it for a minute or so. Yes, I know, I'm a bad hippie) - this is not essential for the classic drink, but this is what makes it "foggy" for me :)
Cider-in-a-Pinch

I really love cider. No, I REALLY love it. So much so that, whenever I make an effort to keep it on hand, it seems to disappear at a rate of about five gallons per day. Ok, not really. But it goes pretty fast.
When I'm really craving hot spiced cider and don't have any available and don't feel like making an expedition out to get some, this is what I do.
  • Put some water on to boil - as much as necessary for however many people will be drinking the brew. I've been known to drink a quart in one sitting.
  • Get a non-metal container (I use a quart-size Pyrex glass measuring cup. A large glass or ceramic bowl, such as the innards of a crock pot, would also work just fine) that is big enough to hold all the water you're boiling with some room to spare.
  • Into this container, put at least 1 tablespoon each of apple cider vinegar and honey for every cup of water, or more to taste - I usually add a little more when I'm pouring the water in, until it takes on a nice golden color.
  • Throw in some random spices you have lying around - a stick or two of cinnamon, a few pinches of cloves, a grating of nutmeg; basically, whatever you have on have that would go well in cider. Experiment!
  • When the water is boiling or is nearing that point (it doesn't have to be all the way there, just hot enough to melt the honey and mix everything together), pour it into the container and stir until well-combined. Pour into pre-heated mugs and sip carefully. Feel free to adjust the amounts and ratio of honey/ACV to your own taste.
Nelly's Super-Awesome Magic Cocoa

Yes, it's going to sound rather weird. Don't judge. Just make it. And believe.
  • Start slowly heating 1 c milk (organic, whole) for every cup that you anticipate will be drunk. I never have leftovers.
  • As the milk starts to steam just a little, add in between 2 teaspoons and 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder (the highest quality you can get) per cup of milk by spoonfuls, mixing each in by rolling the handle of a whisk between your palms.
  • Once all the cocoa is mixed in thoroughly and the milk is steaming a little more, add your favorite honey (I use raw wildflower honey from a local source) in the same amounts as the cocoa or perhaps a little more, also by spoonfuls, drizzling each in and then mixing using the same whisk technique. It helps if you have two people here.
  • When the honey is mixed in, add the following: 1/2 to 1 whole cinnamon stick, broken into pieces, for every 2 cups of milk; 3 or 4 cloves for every cup of milk; 2 to 4 teaspoons of dried dandelion root per cup of milk; a sprinkle or grating of nutmeg for every cup of milk; a few drops of vanilla extract per cup of milk. Once that much is fulfilled, I like to add a little more of each spice, "for the pot." With everything mixed in, cover the pot, turn down the heat and let it all simmer together for 5 to 10 minutes, checking every minute or so to whisk.
  • Pour into warmed cups through a strainer, adding all spices caught in the strainer back to the pot. I like to put a little scoop of vanilla ice cream in the bottom of the mug first. Before serving, add just a tiny dash each of salt and chili powder.
  • Sip slowly. Revel.
Happy sipping!

-N

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

SPIRIT 2-fer: Caring and Compassion

My previous post got me thinking about the subject of the next grace on the list, as well as one several steps down, and how they fit together. As I mentioned before, there may be such a thing as caring too much - when one's thoughts and worries about others begin to overshadow the concerns of oneself to a point where it becomes damaging. This is the opposite extreme to being entirely self-absorbed, and just as harmful to oneself and, I believe, the world at large.

Compassion is often grouped together with caring as being indistinguishable, but I propose a considerable difference in my personal definitions of the words. Where caring is the thought alone, maybe with the word to go along with it, compassion is thought, word and deed in one - and therein lies a world of difference. Caring alone, as good as my intentions are and as much as it springs from my love for my friends, leads to nail-biting and hair-tearing and more sleepless nights than I care to admit. I can speak of my concerns to other friends, but even after pouring my heart out, I always seem to come away with it even fuller and heavier than before. Compassion, on the other hand, with its inclusion of action, gives me a real outlet rather than just temporary relief.

To put my definition of these terms and two previous ones more succinctly, caring is to compassion as awareness is to activism. The girl who is merely aware and caring reads an article about war or a worrying letter from a friend and cries. The girl who is active and compassionate puts the paper or letter down, gets up, and goes to a peace rally or speaks to the friend. I want to be the second girl.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Signs, signs, everywhere are signs...


A week or two ago, I took advantage of the lovely weather to take a walk with a friend and shoot the breeze, just to share what was going on in our lives. Lately I've been quite worried about several of my friends, and I was letting my walking partner know all of my concerns, as they have been in the forefront of my thoughts. I looked down at the sidewalk and saw a playing card at my feet - the Queen of Hearts. A bell rang in the back of my mind that this meant something, but I couldn't remember just what, so I picked up the card and put it in my wallet, planning on deciphering it later. When we were retracing our steps to end the walk, I noticed another card on the ground near where I'd found the first one. Wondering if this might be the second half to whatever message I was supposed to be getting, I picked it up as well, even though it was soaked through...although it had barely been sprinkling. It was another Queen of Hearts.

Now I could have overlooked finding the first card alone as an obvious coincidence - it was a neighborhood with plenty of kids, who could have been playing with a deck of cards and forgotten to clean them up. But the second card being exactly the same as the first, as well as both cards being directly in my path, gives me a bit more pause about the whole situation and makes me more inclined to believe that this really is the universe trying to let me know something.

The Queen of Hearts corresponds to the Queen of Cups in tarot, and every source I saw during my research mentioned the word "compassion." This card denotes someone who cares a lot about others, which is of course a good thing, unless it's taken too far. There's the possibility of this card showing up in a situation when someone is putting their cares about others above their own cares, sometimes even to a dangerous level. I don't think I'm in any danger of completely forgetting myself for others, but there is the fact that, when my friend and I started talking and she asked me what had been going on in my life, the first thing I thought of was my worries about my friends, NOT what had been happening to me.

I know I'm being told something. I think it's something along the lines of "lighten up a little bit!" or "don't worry so much about what you can't change!" or even "remember yourself!" I'd welcome any other views on the matter, especially the bit about the second card being all wet. Totally can't get that part.

In other news, I'm making yogurt at least once a week and it is better every time :D

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

YOGURT!



Oh my god/ess(s), you guys. I am sitting here in front of the computer, drinking my morning tea and eating my breakfast, part of which happens to be...

YOGURT THAT I MADE ALL BY MYSELF!!!!!!!

It bears some resemblance to conventional store-bought yogurt but it's MUCH runnier (like pretty much drinkable) and it's got about a third of the tanginess of normal plain yogurt, but damn is it good. I thought about experimenting with honey and dried fruit and granola and things, but for the first one I just added a couple drops of vanilla extract - just enough to almost taste it, to just get a good waft of vanilla right before I put the spoon in my mouth - and it is HEAVENLY. (summerland-y? whatevs. it's fucking awesome.)

HOW I DID IT:
When I was a young'un my mom used to make her own yogurt, and still has the electric yogurt maker she used to use. It's basically a device for keeping 5 little jars of yogurt at the correct temperature for all the good bacteria to grow for as long as is needed to "set" the yogurt after adding the starter. I've seen recipes where people just pour everything into one large Mason jar and keep it warm by putting it into a cooler with jars of hot water, but I figured if I had the equipment on hand, I might as well use it.




  • I started with 4 cups of Organic Valley whole milk (I s aw they'd been given a rating of 4/5 on a recent survey of milks that pertain to be organic and happy; Horizon got 1/5 btw) and heated it slowly to about 185 F slowly, stirring a lot with a whisk so a skin didn't form on top and checking the temp about every 5 minutes till it got close. This is called scalding the milk (heating it quite high without actually boiling it) and is supposed to kill all and any nasty bacteria that might be floating around in it before adding the good bacteria, which is the next step.


  • Once it got to 185, I took it off the heat to cool down to 110-115 F (any lower or higher and the bacteria in the starter would not be happy) The " starter" is just a heaping tablespoon (like waaay heaping) of plain lowfat Stonyfield yogurt, but according to my mom (who used Dannon when she made hers) you could probably use pretty much any brand, as long as it's plain.


  • Once the starter is COMPLETELY mixed in to the hot milk, I poured it into the jars (which had been pre-heated by filling them with boiling water and letting them sit for a while, then dumping the water out and drying them off before I poured the mixture in), set a timer for 12 hours and went about my daily routine. When the timer went off, I moved the jars from the machine to the fridge to let them chill overnight.
And, wonder of wonders, everything worked pretty much ok. I'd like to figure out why it's so runny - in one of the recipes I saw, the woman said she liked to let her yogurt "brew" for 14-24 hours instead of just 12, so maybe that would do the trick - but it is absolutely delicious as is (I don't even want to spare the two-or-so tablespoons I need to save for the next batch's starter!), and I think I'm going to go crack another jar open right now!

Dairyful blessings,

-N

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Herblore: Another look at valerian

So some of you might remember my not-too-fun experience with valerian the last time I tried it. Well, I know I said I wouldn't touch the stuff again unless I had really serious insomnia, but time heals all wounds, as they say, and when my sleep schedule got a little out of whack from Easter break, I decided to give it another go, just to help me get to sleep early enough.

For the mixture, I used 2 or 3 Ts of chamomile with a good pinch of valerian, steeped it in a cup of boiling water for about 5-10 minutes (or sometimes more if I got distracted), then strained it and added another cup or so of milk as well as honey to taste (lots of honey...valerian is not the most delicious of tastes ever, even at that low a concentration). Then I'd sip the concoction slowly, over at least a half-hour, usually as I lay in bed reading or chatting online or something, with the intent to turn out the lights no more than an hour or an hour and a half after starting to drink the tea. And, when I actually did that, it worked quite well: I fell asleep quickly and slept soundly until morning, then got up and about without too much of the lingering drowsiness that can be a side effect.

However, I only actually did this once. All other times I attempted to follow this routine, I found myself caught up in long conversations with T or W in which I was inexplicably drawn to the heavier topics and the "big questions" that linger in my relationships with each of them. I could definitely feel the sleepiness from the valerian setting in, but also this strange drive to poke and prod and find out the answers to questions I've been not asking for a long time. After some time spent focusing on these and ignoring the urge to sleep, the latter wears off and leaves me fairly energized (or at least not noticeably tired, even into the wee hours) for another several hours. It did lead to some conclusions, but there was also a ridiculous amount of stress involved for all parties, and even after thinking about it I'm still not sure if the stress balanced the satisfaction or not. I can't find any information on this particular effect in lists of general side effects for valerian and have no idea where to start looking for info about it on its own. Any keyword ideas?

As for other effects, I've definitely noticed that my dreams are more vivid. Fortunately there's been nothing like the terrifying nightmare the first time I tried the stuff, but I can tell that my dreams are less foggy and more plot-driven. Also, on a couple of occasions I've been able to stop myself from waking out of the dream much better than I normally can, as well as waking up briefly to look at the clock and turn off my alarm or to speak to someone, and then immediately falling back asleep and resuming the dream from the saved point, so to speak. I have to admit, that part is pretty cool. As well, my cat has been super-affectionate lately, coming up to sit on my lap when I'm at the computer and sleeping next to or on me every night. Valerian is supposed to be similar to catnip for the fuzzy ones, so maybe she can smell it in my sweat or something.

Although I've been drinking this tea for the past week or so every night, I'm going to stop now for at least a week or two - I've read that continued use for more than two weeks can make your body adjust so that the previous dosage loses its effectiveness. That, and as much as I like having things resolved and getting answers to my pressing questions, sometimes it's just not worth the stress.

-N

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Recap

Well. It's been quite a while...let's go about this in a somewhat formulaic manner.

DEC:
Cleaned up my room, locked all my altar supplies and decorations in the desk I use for it and went off to Ohio for 3 weeks (which eventually dragged a bit longer than that because of flight cancellations, grr). I spent a week hopping around between families and the rest of the time at T's house, going through a lot of very emotional times. Things that had been secret (or at least had gone unsaid, even though we both had a good idea of what they were) came out in the open. As a result, I'm pretty optimistic about the eventual future, although I still get pretty worried from day to day about certain things, especially how T is holding up in what are pretty troubled times for him. If you want to know more specifics, give me a call or email and I'll tell you.

JAN:
Came back to NC to find my room even cleaner than I left it and some certain important papers (bills, transcripts, a hefty uncashed paycheck) missing. It turned out that my mom had "put them away" somewhere, and she still doesn't remember where. I'm inheriting her memory so I can't blame her too much for forgetting, but the fact that my room is getting snooped on a regular basis (another bit of proof is that a book I was reading, "How to Be a Lesbian" (pretty funny, check it out! ;P) disappeared from my room when I was out for the day) has been somewhat grating. I've since "moved house" into my absentee sister's room, which needs a new doorknob, which I intend to buy myself and use the keys.

I also started a new exercise program, Crossfit, which I love love love can't say it enough love! It's very tough, and for the first week or so I could literally barely hobble. I mean, I had to use the handicapped stall in the bathroom because I couldn't rely on just my legs to lower me far enough. Happily, though, I've gotten over the initial stage and am now really seeing a huge difference in my body after less than a month - there's obvious muscle definition in my thighs and arms, and my coworker told me he could see that my stomach was flatter even despite the baggy work shirt. I also have a ton more energy - at the dull times at work, I'll do pushups against the counter or hop in place just to be moving - and I think I'm running faster, too! I'm definitely sticking with this one.

School started the day after I got back to Ohio. I'm taking four business/econ classes and one "college student success" class. After the first couple of classes, I was more than a little distraught - these classes are SO much easier than I'm used to, and I was caught between being relieved that I wouldn't have to work so hard and being insulted that quite that little was being required of me. Now, however, I've just decided to go above and beyond the basic requirements - I can still write well and wordily even if the only thing I have to discuss is my reactions to the word "accounting" used in conversation.

I've started speaking to W again, and it hasn't been that bad. Everythings slowly getting easier - I can hear "our" songs and see people in AF uniform again without bursting into tears...most of the time. It's an ongoing process.

It's super-late and I've got a lot of stuff to do tomorrow (planning my Imbolc thingy tomorrow evening) so I'm gonna call it a night. More tomorrow!

-N

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Just a quick muse...no pun intended

I know I need to do a huge recap of the past several months, and I promise that'll come soon. For now, though, it's been on my mind lately that tomorrow (or today, or the day after tomorrow, depending on your tradition) is not only Imbolc but also the first anniversary of my dedication and the start of my journey on this Path.

So this is just a little thing that caught my attention when I was doing some research on how to celebrate: Imbolc is sacred to the goddess Brighid, or Bride (that's bree-deh, not bryd, btw), who is, among other things, the patron deity of bards. My middle name is a family name, passed down through the years, with at least one child per generation being given it (right now I share the honor with my grandfather, uncle and little cousin, whom we call Birdie). The name we all share is "Baird," which, any good Scot can tell you, comes directly from those whose title it was, who roamed the country composing and performing poems and songs - that's right, bards.

That's all, just a little tidbit I found interesting. It gives me warm fuzzy shiveries inside :)