Strega Nona Entertaining: Conjuring Creative Fun

From recipes to rituals, I will kindly divine the perfect celebration for you!

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Colleen DuVall

Colleen DuVall

Colleen DuVall has written articles, plays, short films, and a novel. Most recently, her work has been featured in her new blog, Off The Beaten Path for the Shepherd Express online (http://shepherdexpress.com/blogs-1-1-1-61.html), and the Wisconsin Life radio show for WPR. She recently adopted a little grey and white cat named Tessa, after beloved 22-year-old Bootise passed on.
A Samhain Spell: Embracing Your Inner Witch

If you are like me around this time of year, chances are good that you find many ways to prolong and celebrate the festivities of Halloween, throughout the month of October. Besides the obvious large crowd/party idea to as an excuse to create and wear a costume, I do always like to do some sort of solitary, introspective ritual, as well. Since the time is ripe for divination, breaking out your favorite tarot deck is always a helpful self-check-in.

Brew a nice homey pomegranate tea, substituting hot apple cider for hot water. Get your tarot deck ready and sip some of the tea, relaxing into the right frame of mind for your ritual. Light some dragon's blood incense, a pumpkin-spiced candle, and cast a circle. I always like to clear my tarot deck of past influences by opening the box and smudging the cards with the incense smoke before I begin. Meditate on where you are in your life presently and shuffle the cards well. I find that the celtic cross spread gives the most thorough overview of what is going on behind the scenes, since it covers both what is coming to pass and what is around the corner, if one continues on the current path taken. If the reading isn't entirely clear the first time around, re-shuffle and give it one to two more tries. Look for patterns. Even with a sound re-shuffling, I often find myself repeatedly drawing the same cards, because they obviously have something to tell me. The third time is usually the charm for complete insight into what you wish to  know.

Meditate on your reading and record it in  your book of shadows with the date, if you like. This can be a helpful guide when planning your next Samhain. Give thanks to the Goddesses and Gods of this most magical of nights and revel in that fact a bit. Ground and close the circle, finishing with a light snack and some more tea. Ponder how wonderful it is to be a Witch, Wiccan, or Pagan on October 31st. There is nothing quite like it, is there?

     HEALTHY PUMPKIN MUFFINS
     1/3 cup melted coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
     1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
     2 eggs, at room temperature
     1 cup pumpkin purée
     1/4 cup milk of choice
     1 teaspoon of baking soda
     1 teaspoon vanilla extract
     1/2 teaspoon salt
     1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling on top
     1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
     1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
     1/4 teaspoon allspice or ground cloves
     1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour or regular whole wheat flour
     1/3 cup old-fashioned oats, plus more for sprinkling on top
     Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. If necessary, grease ten cups of your muffin tin with butter or non-stick cooking spray.
     In a large bowl, beat the oil and maple syrup or honey together with a whisk. Add eggs, and beat  well. Mix in the pumpkin purée and milk, followed by the baking soda, vanilla extract, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice or cloves.
     Add the flour and oats to the bowl and mix with a large spoon, just until combined. If you'd like to add any additional mix-ins, like nuts, chocolate or dried fruit, fold them in now.
     Divide the batter evenly between the ten muffin cups. For these muffins, it's OK to fill the cups a little higher than you normally would. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with a small amount of oats, followed by a sprinkle of cinnamon. Bake muffins for 23 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
     Place the muffin tin on a cooling rack. These muffins are delicate until they cool down (you have been warned!), so it's best to wait until they have cooled down to remove them from the tin. You might need to run a butter knife along the outer edge of the muffins to loosen them from the pan. Enjoy as they are, or with a spread of butter.
     (Recipe from Cookie and Kate)

References:

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A Pagan Do Not Labor Day Picnic

I've always strongly felt that "Labor Day" should read, "Do Not Labor Day," on the calendar. In fact, I usually mark it as such on my own and in my planner. Besides celebrating the hard-earned rights of workers, that is what this holiday is all about, right? We all need some relaxation time – to give ourselves permission to do nothing except decompress. This weekend, besides a small birthday lunch for my brother, I plan on celebrating the season finale of "Twin Peaks: The Return." I will do this with a bottle of, as Gordon Cole would exclaim, "fine Bordeaux!" Aside from that, what else can we Pagan-minded folk partake in, that is both relaxing and none-too-taxing? Well –

There's nothing quite like the simple joy of a picnic on a pretty day that brings your breathing rate right back to normal. Go on a short hike first and by all means, enjoy the last hurrah of summertime. A romantic picnic for two could make it all the less stressful. If you should start feeling frisky in a secluded spot in the woods, who am I to stop you (wink).

You can always pack the easy go-tos, such as fresh fruit, veggies, and various sandwiches. If you feel like upping your picnic game though, one of my favorite French chefs, Daniel Boulud, has some great suggestions for doing just that. If you must have your sandwiches, try his take on this staple, referred to as, "pain surprise." This would be a loaf of hollowed out wheat bread, stuffed with cream cheese and smoked salmon – what's not to love about that? Or how about Boulud's idea of dessert: An apricot puff pastry tart with three cheeses to choose from! For more Chef Boulud inspirations, follow the links listed at the end of this article.

Most importantly, bring plenty of hydrating liquids, "con gas or sin gas." A little mineral water always makes a simple occasion feel more festive to me – also more in touch with my European roots. If it floats your boat too, by all means, go for it. So chillax, already. Times like these are rare indeed. Set aside one day not to do work of any kind. No housework, no homework, no take home office projects. We should seize these rare excuses not to labor away. We should soak them up to savor while we can, in low-key style.

References:

http://www.bonappetit.com/people/chefs/slideshow/daniel-boulud-perfect-french-picnic
http://www.bonappetit.com/people/chefs/article/daniel-boulud-picnic
Photo by nenetus at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

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Hunting the Green Man

All too often, summers slip away from us, like a will-o'-the-wisp, gone with the morning dew. Especially for those of us in the Midwest, we wait for the better part of the year. When it is finally upon us, we all too often jam-pack our calendar full of social events and family obligations. In this way, we inadvertently deter ourselves from slowing down and actually breathing in time with the summer. Do you multi-task, even while lounging in your hammock? Wrong approach! Truth be told, I myself am all too guilty. Let's examine some of the ways we can stretch out the season for enjoying, and perhaps bend time in the process.

Lounge in a hammock
Acceptable behavior 101: staring at the sky above and/or bird and cloud formation watching. Reading a good book. Napping. Going barefoot. Petting a cat. Not acceptable: any social media or a cell phone. Banish them from your sacred hammock space, please.

Camp in the woods or in farm country
Acceptable: strolling. Meditating. Breathing deep in the fresh air. Listening to trees and wildlife. Feeling the wind on your face, the sun on your skin, the sprinkle of raindrops, the fresh earth as it runs through your fingertips or a collectible stone. Building fires. Dancing in a rain storm, preferably naked. Dancing around the aforementioned fire. Taking a canoe out at night among the moon and stars. Laying down in the grass and staring up at the sky. Unacceptable: TVs, cell phones, social media selfies.

Watch a sunset, preferably near a body of water, in nature
The rules would be that you watch it from start to finish. You take it in, watch the colors that light up and change the skyline and the landscape. You take the time to notice all the songbirds that have a routine at this magical time of day. Like the swifts, who just seem to go nuts, like clockwork, swooping around in their quick little aerodynamic patterns. Guess what you don't need to do? Take a digital photo – they never do it justice, anyway. Notice all of the little changes that occur as day slips quietly into night.

Take a lunch break outside
Either sit under a shaded umbrella, go walk in a nearby park. Again, you don't need to share every moment with everyone you know. You can learn to truly take stock of your surroundings more, if you go solo. Kick off your shoes and let the grass tickle your toes. Watch the birdies, squirrelies, chipmunks, bunnies, and butterflies. Marvel at the greenery and flowers that surround you, everything perfectly at their peak. Eat slowly, savor every bite, and be thankful for these simple pleasures. Oftentimes, they are the things that make life worth living.

I realize that the Holly King rules for now, but he is still that shadow side of the Oak King. They are both the Green Man, and while we can appreciate him in his outdoor glory, we certainly should.

More reading:

https://www.thoughtco.com/the-green-man-spirit-of-the-forest-2561659

https://salemsmoon.wordpress.com/gods/the-horned-god-oak-king-holly-king-and-green-man/

http://www.earthwitchery.com/oak-holly.html


Photo, "Natural Bridge Waterfall," by Rob D. from freedigitalphotos.net

 

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Summer Camp Solstice

The Summer Solstice is nearly in full bloom, and that means camping opportunities. If you haven't already booked a hot spot this year to frolic with fellow Pagans and Wiccans at one of these memorable social events, there is still time to partake in the merriment. Here is a sampling of some of the midwest celebrations available. For more to choose from, see the additional resources listed at the end of this blog. If you're looking for a more mellow and smaller outing, just grab your own merry band of pranksters, and get out in the wilderness for a few days. Worship the sunrise and the sunset, and listen to what those oak trees may be whispering to you…

PAGAN SPIRIT GATHERING
June 18-25, 2017
One of the longest-running and best-loved, Pagan Spirit Gathering, or PSG, as it is more affectionately known, has changed venues over the years. When I attended back in 2000, it was in Wisteria, Ohio. Now held at Tall Tree Lake, in Vienna, IL, it has grown in leaps and bounds. There is still a community service shift program, a village cafe, sweat lodge, musicians, drum circles, vendors, classes, workshops, rituals, and camaraderie galore. The clothing optional dress code is mighty fun, too. Make no mistake, this can be a game-changer if you have not yet experienced the experience that is PSG. Sponsored by Circle Sanctuary, this year's registration is currently closed. But if you peek at their website, it could inspire you to jump on board for next year's celebration.

https://www.circlesanctuary.org/index.php/pagan-spirit-gathering/pagan-spirit-gathering

MIDSUMMER GATHER
June 18-25, 2017
On a somewhat smaller scale, there's still time to register for the Earth House annual Midsummer Gather. You can also opt to just stay the weekend, rather than commit to a full week. There are so many rituals, classes and activities, it will make your cauldron spin. Located at the Eagle Cave Campground in Blue River, Wisconsin, "Celestial Fire" is this year's camp theme. This is one I've definitely been wanting to check out:

http://www.earthhousemn.org/gather/

SUMMER SOLSTICE
June 19-25, 2017
There are still goings-on at the Wisteria Event Site, near Athens OH. This lovely nature preserve and special event site is tucked away in the scenic Appalachian foothills. Work barter slots are available with an early application. One nice perk is that purchasing tickets in advance for their events is not mandatory. Famed author Starhawk will even be in attendance this year.

https://www.wisteria.org/

Other resources:

https://www.circlesanctuary.org/

http://www.faeriefaith.net/festival.list.html

Photo, "Camping Site," by Wiangya at freeditalphotos.net

 

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Honoring Mothers

Besides honoring our own moms this Sunday, there’s a mother goddess who could use a nod from us as well. Holding an "afternoon tea” for all of the beloved mothers in your life: friends whose parenting skills you admire, grandmothers, yourself – could be just the appropriate way to embrace the feminine energies flowing full-force right about now.

Since most consider it a luxury to sleep in, honor that too and shoot for a mid-day brunch. Hosting it yourself skips over-priced restaurants with long wait lines and gives your highly-regarded female friends a break with having to lift a finger. Have a variety of teas available to choose from, caffeinated and herbal. Make it a fancy affair with a tea service, if you have access to one, cream, honey, sugar cubes, and lemon slices. I would stop short of requiring people to dress up, however. In fact, encouraging slouchy sweats, comfy yoga pants, and hide-in hoodies should really be the order of the day.

If you do have some British blood in your family tree, by all means, embrace that. Set out a collection of small plates filled with cucumber finger sandwiches, assorted cookies and mini scones, and seasonal and organic fresh fruit. Play some Mozart in the background to set the mood and create a stimulating backdrop for intriguing conversation.

If weather permits, take it out to the patio. Regardless, have several vases of colorful fresh-picked flowers set out to welcome your guests. Gift everyone with a sachet of real lavender to take home and put in a dresser drawer or under a pillow. Before departing, let everyone there know how much they mean to you and how blessed you are to have them in your life. This is a feel-good day that should be about nurturing – for yourself and for others. Even if you are not a mother in this lifetime, that doesn’t mean you can’t practice some of those caring skills on your long-neglected you.

CUCUMBER WATERCRESS SANDWICHES
32 thin slices peeled English (hothouse) cucumber
4 tablespoons Neufchâtel cheese, at room temperature
8 thin slices white sandwich bread
1/2 cup watercress leaves (or assorted fresh local microgreens)
1/2 cup radishes, sliced thin
coarse salt
     To make the cucumber-watercress sandwiches, using paper towels, pat the cut surfaces of the cucumber slices to remove any excess   
moisture. Lightly spread cheese on one side of bread slice. Scatter the watercress leaves evenly over all of the spread bread slices. Layer the cucumber slices over the watercress leaves on 4 of the bread slices. Top the cucumber with some of the radishes and a pinch of salt. Top with the remaining 4 bread slices, cheese side down.
     (Recipe adapted from Steve Siegelman, "Williams-Sonoma Entertaining"

Photo by Stuart Miles from freedigitalphotos.net

 

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It's the Pagan Easter Bunny

Colorful eggs, hopping bunnies, fuzzy yellow chicks – these are inherent Pagan symbols. Just because Christians conveniently borrowed (OK, out and out stold) one of our unique seasonal special days does not mean that we have to step aside. Have a Pagan Easter Bunny Day, instead.

Invite some of your closest over this Sunday to boil and hand-dye eggs. Beets, carrots, and the skin of red onions make some great all-natural dyes. Boil the veggies in separate pots and save the water to dip the hard-boiled eggs in, once they've cooled. You can always add to the decoration with colored pencils, crayons, and stickers, if you like (again after they're good and dry). The key to all of this is the perfect hard-boiled egg, of course. Here is a recipe for success:

     HOW TO MAKE PERFECT HARD BOILED EGGS
     Place the eggs in a single layer at the bottom of a saucepan. Cover with at least an inch or two of cold water. The more eggs that are crowding the pan the more water you should have over the eggs.
     Heat the pot on high heat and bring the water to a full rolling boil.
     Adding a teaspoon of vinegar to the water may help keep egg whites from running out if an egg does crack while cooking. Also some people find adding 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the water helps prevent cracking as well as making the eggs easier to peel.
     Turn off the heat, keep the pan on the hot burner, cover, and let sit for 10-12 minutes.
     If you have the type of stove burner that doesn't retain any heat when turned off, you might want to lower the temp to low, simmer for a minute, and then turn it off.
     Depending on how cooked you like your hard boiled eggs, the eggs should be done perfectly in 10-12 minutes. That said, depending on your altitude, the shape of the pan, the size of the eggs, the ratio of water to eggs, it can take a few minutes more. Or, if you like your eggs not fully hard cooked, it can take a few minutes less. When you find a time that works for you, given your preferences, the types of eggs you buy, your pots, stove, and cooking environment, stick with it.
     If I'm cooking a large batch of eggs, after 10 minutes I'll sacrifice one to check for doneness, by removing it with a spoon, running it under cold water, and cutting it open. If it's not done enough for my taste, I'll cook the other eggs a minute or two longer.
     I also find that it is very hard to overcook eggs using this method. I can let the eggs sit, covered, for up to 15-18 minutes without the eggs getting overcooked.
     Strain the water from the pan and run cold water over the eggs to cool them quickly and stop them from cooking further. Or, if you are cooking a large batch of eggs, remove them with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice water.
     I find it easiest to peel the eggs under a bit of running water.
     The best way to store hard boiled eggs is in a covered container in the refrigerator. Eggs can release odors in the fridge which is why it helps to keep them covered. They should be eaten within 5 days.
     (Recipe from Elise Bauer)
   
Hide them in the backyard and have a hunt. The one who finds the most eggs wins a dark chocolate bunny. Heck, deck out a whole festive basket for them: they now have organic jellybeans, believe it or not. Remember those chocolate "nests" made with coconut and jelly beans in the middle, from your local small-town specialty chocolate shop? Yummy!

Throw together a simple brunch to share of hot ham and rolls and mimosas on the side. If weather allows, chow down outdoors. Remember what it was to be a child at this time of year, pondering all the possibilities of a fresh new start to spring. Pay attention to the especially chirpy birds and notice everything beginning to bud. Wonder at the concept of one little bunny (or one giant one, kind of Stephen King-ish) assembling and hiding all those baskets in your house when you were a kid.


References:
http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_make_perfect_hard_boiled_eggs/

Photo by Stuart Miles from freedigitalphotos.net

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A Hopeful Spring

There’s something about that first whiff of spring in the air that makes one hopeful. Even if you don’t normally consider yourself an optimist, it’s hard not to smile more often or sing to yourself when the sun shines a bit brighter and the birds sound a bit chirpier. This is the optimum time to start either a new project, exercise plan, or go for a new job. Here is a simple but effective ritual to assist in welcoming spring:

Decorate your altar with some fresh bright yellow daffodils. Fill your chalice with a sunny beverage offering such as orange juice or lemonade. Set out some eggs or images of eggs. In fact, get one boiling on the stove. An optimum hard-boiled egg should be brought to a rolling bowl, submerged in a small pot of water. Once the boil is full, turn off the heat but leave on the burner, cover and let sit for 12-15 minutes. Eventually drain out the hot water, rinse the egg in cold h2o, dry and set aside.

If you don’t already own some runic stones, I highly recommend "The Healing Runes," by Ralph H. Blum and Susan Loughan. Any set will do – however this one specifically for healing is apropos for new beginnings and the like. Light some incense and draw five runic stones from the bag and lay them out in a row vertically, going toward you. This is also fun because the stones are shaped like little eggs.

The first stone runic symbol that you draw symbolizes “heart in the past (overview),” and how that can be influencing your current situation. The second will represent the present, and what you will most likely be grappling with right now. The third stone represents “surrender” or an obstacle for you to overcome. And much like a tarot reading, the last rune will be the future, if you continue on this current path.

Decorate your now boiled egg with the symbol of the last rune of your reading. Peel, eat, and meditate on what you have learned. When you are done, toss the remainders of the shell into a planter outside that should bloom when spring gets fully underway.

Photo credits:

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