To nourish your mind as well as your body

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Friday, December 25, 2009


Light looked down and saw darkness. "I will go there," said Light. Peace looked down and saw war. "I will go there," said Peace. Love looked down and saw hatred. "I will go there," said Love.

Today, I welcome them all and invite them to sit by my fake fire with me and ask them very nicely to spend all of the coming year by my side.

Merry Christmas, friends. And happy new year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Thoughts

The thing that I love most about winter, I think, is that it makes me feel the same way I feel when I'm praying. I feel cold on the outside and warm on the inside, with just that tinge of shiver, and the knowledge that something larger than me is around me, pressing in on me, making me part of it.

I was raised Presbyterian. I'm not sure how other denominations handle their weekly ceremonies, but in the small, cozy churches I'm used to, we take time each Sunday to 'pass the peace' - a tradition that I've always enjoyed, though for different reasons over the years. As a child, it was fun to meet new people; older now, I always try to pass along a little of my inner joy to the people around me in those quick moments. Today, however, as we greeted our neighbors and introduced ourselves to strangers, listening to the hymn play in the background and saying 'peace be with you' and 'also with you', I had a whole new 'ta da' moment. Peace be with you.

It's a concept that's always been a talking point in the Christian faith, and has often been seen from the outside as a mockery and a hypocrisy. After all, looking at the history of Christianity, there isn't much peace-spreading to see. Wars against other creeds, wars between different denominations of Christians, religious persecution and torture - not very peaceful.

Of course, those aspects of what we consider 'religious fervor' are more representations of human nature than anything else. We fear what we don't understand; and then we seek to either eradicate or control that thing we fear.

Fear is something I deal with all the time, on many different levels. I fear the idea of being alone, I fear persecution and ridicule, I fear failure, I even fear certain individuals; and generally, I'm ashamed to admit, my first reaction when faced with those fears is a quick spurt of anger, lashing out against whoever brings it to my attention (and, my worst habit, lashing out at myself in an attempt to spare the people around me). But anger doesn't kill fear. Generally, it only adds fodder to the fire, placing me in situations when I learn greater fears and worse feelings.

So, peace be with you. Why not? When there's fear and anger lurking on the edges of me, making my shoulders tight and my stomach twist - why not succumb, take a breath, and offer peace to those who need it? I don't mean go up to a stranger and say 'peace be with you'. I mean, offer a helping hand to someone who needs it, give someone a part of yourself - time, a listening ear, a hug. As they say in Avenue Q, 'helping others brings you closer to God' - maybe it does. Have you ever helped someone out of generosity, without seeking something in return, and felt anything but wonderful?

As Christmas draws near (religious or non religious - your choice) and the hussle-bustle of shopping and wrapping, decorating and socializing, sweeps us all into a frenzy - take a breath. Slow down. Relax. Give some of yourself along with those brightly wrapped things. Breath in your own personal peace and breathe it out again, offering that moment of calm to those that need it. I will be trying to do the same.

Let us laugh at ourselves more freely, love each other more generously, and revel in the miracle of life and rebirth that is present in every heart during the winter season, whatever our religious persuasion. Peace be with you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

European Christmas Video

This is a great little video talking about European Christmas traditions and some of their roots in ancient paganism and Saturnalia. :)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Celebrating Winter Solstice and Yule

"Good Yule! Or, as they say in Iceland, Gleðileg Jól!"

The Winter Solstice, also called Yule, Jól, or Jul, has ancient origins as a holiday and even more ancient origins as a scientific event. Yule, or Yuletide, was a winter festival that originated as an Old Norse pagan religious festival and was later absorbed into the general celebration of Christmas. Some historians claim that Yuletide was influenced by such festivals as the Wild Hunt and Saturnalia.Still there are many specifically Yule traditions that have carried through into modern Christmas tradition.

The name Yule has no clearly traceable etymology. Some scholars believe it comes from one of the names of Óðinn, while others have theorized that it hails from a reference to Julius Caesar. It has also been suggested that Jól is derived from the Old-Nordic word for wheel: Hjól, the theory being that the wheel of the year has come full circle, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Scientifically, the Winter Solstice occurs when the earth's axial tilt is farthest from the sun. For people in high latitudes, this event is commonly considered the shortest day of the year. The seasonal significance of this astronomical event is the reversal of the gradual shortening of days. A coming of brighter, longer days. Hope for the season to come.

The Wiccan holiday of Winter Solstice is a time of celebration and rebirth - a time when the sun is once again reborn to the earth and the Goddess, in her aspect of the Crone, is reborn as the Maiden.

Several of the pagan symbols present in both the original Yuletide festival and the modern Wiccan Yule are also visible in the commonly celebrated non-religious version of Christmas.

The Yule tree, for instance, is traditionally considered an ancient Norse tradition celebrating life surviving in the darkest and coldest time of the year. Some scholars believe this tradition may have some roots in the custom of decorating of living trees during the Roman festival of Saturnalia, and that it later became the Christmas tree.

Did you know? Apparently the tradition of the Yule tree was very common in Germany and its neighboring countries due to their shared old Nordic ancestry, but it did not cross the sea to England - and thereby to America and Australia - until around 1830 when Prince Albert went to visit Germany with Queen Victoria. He became so enamored of their yule tree custom, that he insisted they replicate the tradition at court. And from there, the fun and tree-cutting spread like (dare I say it) wildfire.

Similarly, the Yule log was burned throughout the solstice night to provide a light in the darkest night and to symbolize hope and faith that the sun will soon return. In Scandinavia, great Yule logs were burned all throught the night, and people drank mead around the bonfires listening to minstrel-poets singing ancient legends. It was believed that the Yule log had the magical effect of helping the sun to shine more brightly in the coming year.
Another Yule tradition that has carried through to modern times is mistletoe. Mistletoe was sacred in the Yule festival because it mysteriously grew on the most sacred tree, the oak. It was ceremoniously cut and a spray of it was given to each family, to be hung in the doorways as good luck. The celtic Druids also regarded mistletoe as sacred. Druid priests cut it from the tree on which it grew with a golden sickle and handed it to the people, calling it All-Heal. To hang it over a doorway or in a room was to offer goodwill to visitors. Kissing under the mistletoe was a pledge of friendship. Mistletoe is still forbidden in most Christian churches because of its Pagan associations, but it has continued to have a special place in home and non-religious, public celebrations.

In Iceland, there's a Yule tale about the Jolasveinar, or the Yuletide lads, who begin arriving around December 12th. If you leave your shoe on the windowsill and you've been good, these lads will leave a small toy or piece of fruit for you. If you've been naughty, they will leave you something you will not like at all. Especially bad children, they steal and eat.

Yuletide Lads

Another interesting bit of information for you! In 1647 in England, Parliament passed a law abolishing Christmas altogether. When Charles II came to the throne, many of the customs were revived, but the feasting and merrymaking were now more worldly than religious. Yep. The pagan traditions survived even when the religious celebrations were abolished. Interesting, eh?

As with my other holiday information posts, this is all from research. If you have more or more accurate information, I would love to get ahold of it and post it for others to learn from.

Madhupayasa - Bodhi Day Dish

When Siddhartha awakened from his seven days of fasting and meditation, he was emaciated and very weak. A girl named Sujata from a nearby town came to him and gave him a bowl of madhupayasa in offering, believing him to be a deva - a spirit of the Pipul tree. When he told her that he was not a deva, she still insisted that he eat and drink to recover his strength.

Madhupayasa comes from the sanskrit words madhu (honey) and payasa (milk rice).

Madhupayasa (Sweet Milk Rice)

Milk rice-
2 cups short grain white rice
2 cups thick coconut milk
2 tsp salt
3 cups water

Coconut treacle mix-
800g finely scraped coconut
2 cups treacle (coconut or kithul treacle)
4 cloves
pinch of salt

Prepare the Coconut Treacle Mix-
Pour the treacle into a pot and bring to a boil while stirring.
Add the Coconut and mix well.
Take off the heat.
Add pinch of salt and the cloves, mix well.

Prepare the Milk Rice-
Put rice and water into a pan and bring to a boil.
Cover and cook for 15 minutes.
Add coconut milk and Salt.
Stir with handle of wooden spoon, cover and cook on low heat for another 10-15 minutes (until the milk has been absorbed).

With both parts made, divide the slightly cooled milk rice into two portions.
On a flat dish, evenly spread out a layer of milk rice using one portion (should be at least 1cm thick).
Then evenly spread the coconut treacle mix on top.
Cover it completely (including from the sides) with the second portion of the milk rice. It is important to do all this before the milk rice cools down too much as it will become too sticky to handle. When it's cooled, cut the rice concoction into blocks. You can serve this with slices of banana, mango, or strawberry, or just eat it plain.

Celebrating Bodhi Day

Bodhi Day is a Buddhist winter holiday - traditionally occurring on the 8th day of the 12th lunar month - that commemorates the day that Siddhartha Gautama experienced enlightenment and found the roots of suffering after sitting and meditating under a Pipul tree (ficus religiosa, a kind of fig tree which attains great size and venerable age). When Siddhartha was enlightened, he became a Buddha ("Awakened One"), finally found the answers he sought, and experienced Nirvana. 

Enlightenment in Buddhist tradition means transcending suffering and awakening to one's true nature and the true nature of all being. In Sanskrit, the word for "enlightenment" is "bodhi", which is the basis for the term "Buddha" and means "awakened".

This holiday is not as popularly celebrated as other Buddhist holidays, but it is observed in many mainstream Mahayana traditions including Zen and Shin Buddhist schools. Bodhi Day is a day of remembrance and meditation - a time to focus not only on one's own path to enlightenment, but also to consider Siddhartha's achievement of enlightenment and what this means for Buddhism today. A celebration of a transformation and the beginning of a faith - not entirely unlike the ideas behind Christian Christmas.

Historically, Siddhartha Gautama, prince of the Shakya clan, left his home and all his earthly possessions at the age of 29 to search for the Meaning of Life and to search for the reasons why people born, why they die, and why they suffer. After seven years of discipline and asceticism under the tutelage of several spiritual teachers, he still felt as though he had learned nothing. On the 8th day of the 12th month in 596 BC, he woke enlightened after 7 days of meditation beneath a Pipul tree. 

A Bodhi Day celebration can come in many varieties, depending on the Buddhist school and the cultural background of the practitioner. 

Practitioners may hang up strings of multi-colored lights to represent the many paths to enlightenment. Beginning on December 8th, they will turn on these lights every evening for thirty days. In some homes, Buddhists will have a ficus tree strung with these lights, upon which they will hang three shiny ornaments to symbolize the Three Jewels - the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

A traditional meal of rice and milk is usually eaten on this holiday, with the significance that Sujata offered this meal to the Buddha when he awakened from his meditation to help him regain his strength. Though in recent years, some Buddhist families have made more modern amendments by making cookies in the shape of a tree to symbolize the Bodhi tree. Or they may make cookies in the shape of leaves - the leaves of the Bodhi tree are heart-shaped, so using a Valentine's Day cookie cutter works well for this.

However, the main theme of celebration comes in the form of meditation and self-reflection, and sharing Buddha's message of appreciation and compassion for others. If gifts are given, they're genuinely hand-made and given to one's teachers and spiritual influences. 

To watch a video about this  holiday, follow this link.

Note: The above information was researched for the sake of education and appreciation, in a hope to promote cross-cultural pollination, tolerance, and peaceful understanding. If I got anything wrong or missed anything, please feel free to comment. I love to learn and I'd like this to be as factual as possible.

Recipes for Yule and Winter Solstice

The food that was considered fit for a feast and/or festival in the last century would, for the most part, not be classed like that today. Fresh mutton was a delicacy, as was everything baked or fried of flour and sugar and anything made from grain. These items were rarities and the choice of holiday and festival foods reflects that. Usually a sheep was slaughtered on Þorláksmessa, and served as mutton soup on Yule eve, along with porridge, or Hangikjöt was served. The Hangikjöt was cooked on Þorláksmessa and the fragrance, which permeated the whole building, ushered in Yule.

Here are a few interesting, simple, traditional Yule meals for reading and tasting pleasure. :) Enjoy!

Jólagrautur - Yule Porridge

1/4 l (1/2 pint) water
1 1/2 l (3 pints) milk
150 g (6 oz) rice
1 teaspoon salt
70 g (2 1/2 oz) raisins
cinnamon and sugar
1 almond
When the water comes to a boil, stir in the rice and cook for 10 minutes. Add the milk to the pot and cook over a low heat for 1 hour. Add the raisins in the last 10 minutes. Add salt to taste. Add milk, sugar, and cinnamon to taste. The skinned almond is added and the porridge poured into a bowl. The housewife deals portions out and whoever finds the almond receives a small gift.
Hangikjöt - Smoked Mutton

1 kg (2 lbs) Hangikjöt (you may want to replace this with lamb as sheep can be a bit tough)
1 l (2 pints) Water
Put the Hangikjöt and water in a pot. Slowly, over a period of a half hour, heat to boiling. Boil the Hangikjöt for 45 minutes to 1 hour for each kg (2 lbs). Allow to cool in the broth. Hangikjöt is usually served cold with mashes potatoes, or potatoes in Bechamel (white sauce), and accompanied by green peas.
Rjúpa - Rock Ptarmigan

2-3 Rock Ptarmigan
50 g (1 1/2 oz) bacon
50 g (1 1/2 oz) butter
2 dl (1 cup) boiled water
30 g (1 oz) margarine
3 tablespoons flour
2 dl (1 cup) milk
Caramel coloring, salt
Redcurrant jelly
3-4 tablespoons whipped heavy cream
Clean the Ptarmigan as you would other fowl. Soak in half milk, half water for several hours. Pat dry and insert the bacon pieces into the breast of the Ptarmigan. Heat the margarine, then place the Ptarmigan into the pan and brown well. Remove from the saute pan and place them in a pot, breast side down. Add hot water and milk. Simmer for 60 to 90 minutes. Strain the stock, allowing enough to remain in the pot with the Ptarmigan to prevent drying. Melt the butter in the saute pan and add the flour to make a roux. Cook the roux until golden, then add enough of the Ptarmigan stock to make a rich veloute. Add caramel coloring to taste, then add the seasoning and redcurrant jelly. Fold the whipped cream into the sauce just before serving. Ladle over the Ptarmigan.

Serve with boiled or caramel potatoes, cooked, halved apples, and redcurrant jelly.
Cashew Nut Roast with Sage and Onion Stuffing (vegan)
1/6 cup vegan margarine
2 sticks celery, really finely chopped
1 medium leek, chopped
1.5 cups rich red wine
3 cups ground raw cashew nuts (or 2 cups cashews and 1 cup raw almonds)
2 tbsp flour (soya or barley or almond are all good options)
2 tsp fresh herbs (winter savoury, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, choose your favorites)
3 cups whole wheat bread crumbs (or use crumbs of sunflower bread for a gluten-free option)
sea salt and pepper to taste
Sage and Onion Stuffing:
6 slices wholegrain bread
1/2 cup vegan margarine
4 tsp dried sage (double for fresh sage)
1 finely chopped red onion 
salt to taste
Melt the margarine (in a large pan for mixing) and cook the celery and leek in it for a few minutes. Mix the yeast extract into the hot water (alternatively you could use any stock you like) and add this to the leek and celery. Stir in the soya flour, nuts, herbs, breadcrumbs and salt and pepper and mix well. Allow to cool slightly while you grease a loaf tin. Place half the nut roast mixture in the tin and press down well - then add the sage and onion stuffing (pressing down well again) and place the rest of the nut roast mixture on top. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes at 180/360 then turn out of the tin and slice. Nice served with all the traditional trimmings.
For the stuffing: melt the margarine in a saucepan and cook the chopped onion until soft. Break up the bread with your hands into small pieces (think croutons) and then mix into the onion and margarine with the sage and salt. Press this into an oven-proof bowl for baking.
For more recipes, check out this wonderful blog full of tasty recipes!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Celebrating Father Christmas

Father Christmas is the symbolic figure associated with the non-religious holiday of Christmas. He has many different names and guises depending on which culture you view him from, but he is typically a spirit of good cheer. Over time, he has merged with other folklore to become the character commonly known as Santa Claus. But we'll get there.

It is generally agreed that the first incarnation of Father Christmas was a real man, a Turkish man named Nicholas, who was the Bishop of Myra. Nicholas was apparently a very wealthy, very generous man, who used the whole of his very large inheritance to help the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He was exiled and imprisoned by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, died December 6th, 343 AD, and was buried in his cathedral church; he was later made a saint because of his goodness and kindness. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children and sailors.

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, St. Nicholas' image shifted from a rather serious man who gave in secret the things which the suffering needed the most to a compassionate children's friend. Nuns in France began the practice of leaving gifts for small children of poor families on St. Nicholas Day (December 5) - usually these gifts were something to eat (e.g. apples, oranges, nuts, cookies, or sweets). This custom caught on very quickly and spread throughout Europe. The Vikings dedicated their cathedral in Greenland to St. Nicholas; Christopher Columbus named a Haitian port after him in 1492; and the Spaniards named a city in Florida St. Nicholas' Ferry (it's now Jacksonville). Everything seemed to be going quite well.

However, in the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation was in full swing in England and did not look kindly on any holiday that revered a saint. In Europe, people continued to celebrate St. Nicholas Day, leaving nuts, apples, and sweets in shoes left beside beds, on windowsills, and in front of the fireplace. Needless to say, this quite frustrated the merry-makers trapped under the Protestant thumb in England. In the 17th century, the symbolic personification of Father Christmas as a merry old figure was invented as a form of resistance to the Protestant criticism of the festival.

The earliest recorded version of Father Christmas as a rambunctious, jolly old man occurs in Ben Jonson's Christmas, his Masque, first performed at court in December 1616 and published in 1640.

"Enter Christmas, with two or three of the Guard.
He is attir'd in round Hose, long Stockings, a close Doublet, a high crownd Hat
with a Broach, a long thin beard, a Truncheon, little Ruffes, white Shoes, his
Scarffes, and Garters tyed crosse, and his Drum beaten before him.

Why Gentlemen, doe you know what you doe? ha!
would you ha'kept me out? Christmas, old Christmas?
Christmas of London, and Captaine Christmas?
Pray you let me be brought before my
Lord Chamberlaine, i'le not be answer'd else:
'tis merrie in hall when beards wag all: I ha'seene
the time you ha'wish'd for me, for a merry Christmas,
and now you ha'me; they would not let me
in: I must come another time! a good jeast, as if I could come more then
once a yeare; why, I am no dangerous person, and so I told my friends,
o'the Guard. I am old Gregorie Christmas still, and though I come out of
Popes-head-alley as good a Protestant, as any i'my Parish."

In 1638, Thomas Nabbes added to the character in his masque The Springs Glorie, in which "Christmas" appears as a revered gentleman wearing a furred gown and cap, not unlike the modern representations of Santa Claus. For the next 250 years, Father Christmas continued to appear around December as a well-nourished bearded man wearing a long, green, fur-lined robe and bursting with the spirit of good cheer.

In 1843, Charles Dickens published his novella, A Christmas Carol, with illustrations by John Leech. The above green-gowned, cheerful soul was the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Speaking of presents. It was during the Victorian Era (1837-1901) that Father Christmas, spirit of happy cheer, merged once more with St. Nicholas the gift-giver and became the Father Christmas that is synonymous with Santa Claus.

Note: The above information was researched for the sake of education and appreciation, in a hope to promote cross-cultural pollination, tolerance, and peaceful understanding. If I got anything wrong or missed anything, please feel free to comment. I love to learn and I'd like this to be as factual as possible.

Celebrating Christmas

(I am going to focus here on the religious Christian holiday of Christmas and will have another blog relating to the less religious version.)

Christmas is the Christian celebration of the Nativity (birth) of Jesus Christ, who is considered the Son of God, the savior of all people, according to the Old Testament's prophecies of a Messiah (savior). Without Christ, there would be no Christianity, so Christmas is, in effect, the celebration of the beginning of Christianity as well. "Christmas" derives from "Christ" (Anointed One) and "Mass" (a religious festival). Christians have celebrated this holy day since about 400 AD. [Interesting note: Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, and many of the mental images of 'traditional' Christmas involve shepherds and the terrible cold of a winter night; however, since the events of the story take place during the census and tax collection, it is far more likely that the historical figure Jesus was actually born in March.]

The story of Christmas is based on the biblical accounts of Jesus' birth given in Matthew 1:18-Matthew 2:12 and Luke 1:26-Luke 2:40 [*Matthew 1:18 would translate to the "gospel of Matthew, chapter 1, verse 18"]. According to these gospels, Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she would give birth to the son of God. But when the child was due, Mary and her husband Joseph had to travel to the city of David (Bethlehem) to have their census taken and pay their taxes. The city was crowded with people and there was no place for them in any of the inns. According to popular tradition, Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable, though there is no specific reference to this in any of the bible verses. [When I went to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, they claimed to have proof that Jesus had in fact been born within a small cave which traditionally sheltered sheep from the weather, but was a naturally occurring shelter. The Church of the Nativity was built atop the specific cave they believe he was born in and visiting it was a fascinating experience.] Regardless, the bible does say in Luke 2:7 that Mary "wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger"(a manger is a trough used to hold food for animals). Shepherds from the fields around Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel and were the first to see the child.

The idea that Jesus's birth occurred on December 25th is believed to have been theorized by Sextus Julius Africanus, a third century Christian missionary [*the earliest reference to Christmas occurring on this date is found in the Chronographai, a reference book which this missionary wrote in 221 AD]. Whether it was his intention or not, this theory allowed for the Romans to tie the Christian holiday in with their own pagan winter rituals (including Saturnalia), which made conversion to Christianity far more palatable. In 303 AD, the Christian writer Arnobius of Sicca wrote his Adversus Nationes, which belittled the idea of celebrating the birthdays of gods, suggesting that Christmas at this time was a holy day but not a feast day. The earliest reference to Christmas as a feasting day occurs in the Chronography of 354, an illuminated manuscript compiled in Rome in 354 AD - so somewhere between 303 and 354, a change occurred in the way Christians celebrated the holiday.

You only need to consider how many branches of Christianity there are in the world to imagine the variety of ways Christians celebrate Christmas: according to the World Christian Encyclopedia of 2000, global Christianity includes 33,820 denominations with 3,445,000 congregations/churches composed of 1,888 million affiliated Christians.

Eastern Christianity (the Christian churches and traditions that developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Northeastern Africa, and southern India - e.g. the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the Eastern Catholic Churches) traditionally combines the Nativity holiday with the Epiphany - which is a Christian feast day that occurs on January 6. Western Christianity (including the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican and Protestant churches) instead celebrates the two holy days separately. The Epiphany in Eastern tradition celebrates the revelation of God in human form in the person of Jesus Christ, while in Western tradition, the feast day focuses more on the visit of the magi (i.e. the "Three Wise Men" who are said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh - extra points to anyone who knows what frankincense and myrrh are and more points to anyone who knows what the significance of those three gifts is without looking them up).

In the Early Middle Ages, the forty days leading up to Christmas were celebrated as the "Feast of St. Martin of Tours", which later became known as Advent. Advent is a Western Christian traditional season of preparation for the celebration of the Nativity and involves the reading of scriptures related to the first coming of Jesus as savior and the second coming as judge; many churches make advent wreaths during this season, which have one candle representing each of the four Sundays of the season. Eastern Christian tradition has their own traditional equivalent called the Nativity Fast, which begins on September 1 and differs in its observances.

Note: The above information was researched for the sake of education and appreciation, in a hope to promote cross-cultural pollination, tolerance, and peaceful understanding. If I got anything wrong or missed anything, please feel free to comment. I love to learn and I'd like this to be as factual as possible.

Finding Your Holiday Harmony

While the winter holiday season fills me with the happy, cozy comfort of being wrapped in a big fuzzy waterproof blanket in the middle of a field of snow, it can also be a very stressful time. Every year, I hear stories about people picketing stores for their use of 'Merry Christmas' rather than something more generic, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, people ridiculing the season because of its 'over-commercialization'.

Folks, please. Can't we all just get along? As I've stated previously, every winter festival and holiday that I have seen shares one common theme - togetherness. Every culture, every religion, bans together to celebrate what they, as a separate cultural group, have in common with each other. Why can't we simply expand this generous theme to include people of other backgrounds and creeds? We are all of us humans, all with the same muscles, organs, blood, and bone. We are all mortal. We are all people. Instead of trying to ban one religion or another from the mix, why not embrace (or at the very least tolerate) all of them?

Without any religious bent, the winter season is traditionally a time when we, as mortal animals, have to ban together against the dangers of a growth-less season, sharing our food, our shelter, and our company so that we all survive to the planting time. Now, today, we have supermarkets and home delivery, but I don't think there's any harm in embracing that original instinct that fueled the creation of all these festivals for all these different cultures. Love. Embrace. Welcome. Share.

Another stressor of the holiday season is shopping. Oh, gracious, going to a store in December is liable to make anyone's hair turn gray. So if you're out there with your arms full of stuff, hyperventilating and getting a pressure headache right between your eyes- Stop. Relax. What you are getting and how fast you get it are not the point. Remember what the meaning of the season is. Togetherness. This does not only apply to your togetherness with others. It means your togetherness with yourself as well. Don't fall apart.

One thing that I do not think can be denied about the human race is this: we are empathetic creatures. If we are faced with anger, we get angry; if we're faced with frustration, we get frustrated. (And we wonder why so many belief systems have ideas like 'turn the other cheek'?) Be brave! Rise against the tide of seasonal stress. Someone may shove you or yell at you because they haven't given themselves those special, solitary moments in the bustle to center and calm, but you don't have to respond in kind.

Keep yourself together so that you can be together with the people you love. They will be much happier with you as a whole than they could be with anything you might give them with your hair on end - no one wants a present from the Bride of Frankenstein.

African Spinach and Peanut Butter Stew - Kwanzaa dish

There is no specific menu for a Kwanzaa meal, but according to my research Kwanzaa means "first fruit", and an important symbol of the festival is Mazao (crops), so it seems one should strive to include a healthy selection of vegetables and fruits in their meal plan. The following recipe is one I've actually made a couple times because it's easy and delicious, and it's very similar to several that came up in my research.

African Spinach and Peanut Butter Stew

2 medium onions (I prefer red, but I've used white ones before too)
410g canned tomato
2 lb spinach
4 tbsp peanut butter
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying (I use olive oil, but you can use whatever you prefer)

Slice the onions and fry them in oil until soft. (You're going to want to do this either in a pot or a pan with high sides, because you're adding everything else into this.)
Slice the canned tomatoes and add them to the onions.
Wash, trim, and chop the spinach coarsely. (Don't skimp on the spinach. First, it shrinks when it's cooked; and second, it's your main veggie in this dish. If you're not a huge fan of spinach, you don't need to worry. You can hardly taste it in this dish.)
Add the spinach to the stew and cook, covered, over medium heat for five minutes, stirring to keep it from burning or sticking.
Thin the peanut butter with hot water (1 Tbsp at a time) until you've made a smooth paste; add that to the stew.
Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, stirring and adding water as necessary to prevent it getting too sticky or glutinous.

You can serve this stew over steamed rice, vegetables, mashed potatoes, polenta, quinoa, er.... anything you want to, really. If you want to add more vegetables to the stew itself, you're welcome to. Just make sure to keep your ratio of peanut butter and water right to keep that "stew" feeling.


Celebrating Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday that focuses on the traditional African values of family, community, and culture, and is celebrated from December 26 - January 1. It is neither political nor religious, and is not meant as a substitute for any political or religious holiday.

"Kwanzaa" is derived from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits" in Swahili.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, as way to bring African Americans together as a community after the Watts riots in Los Angeles. Karenga founded US, a cultural organization, and began to research African harvest celebrations. In the end, he combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations.

Since it's founding, Kwanzaa has come to be celebrated by more than 18 million people worldwide. As with most holiday traditions, every family celebrates Kwanzaa in their own way. However, there are some common forms of celebration, including songs, music, dancing, storytelling, and a large traditional meal. Some celebrations also include African drums, poetry, and unity circles.

The seven days of Kwanzaa each relate to a different principle, or Nguzo Saba:
Unity (Umoja) - To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
Self-determination (Kujichagulia) - To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima) - To build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and to solve them together.
Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa) - To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Purpose (Nia) - To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Creativity (Kuumba) - To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Faith (Imani) - To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles of the Kinara (candleholder), then one of the seven principles is discussed.

The Kinara is the center of the Kwanzaa setting and represents the original stalk of African American and Pan-African ancestry. It can be any shape, size, or material as long as the seven candles are separate and distinct. The seven candles that are put in the kinara are called the Mishumaa Saba.

The candles are ceremonial objects used to recreate symbolically the sun's power and to provide light. The celebration of fire through candle burning occurs everywhere, in several cultures (we've already seen it in the Hanukkah post and we will see it when I get to Advent in Christianity). In the celebration of Kwanzaa, the mishumaa saba consist of three red, three green, and one black candle(s). The candles' symbolic colors come from the red, black, and green flag (bendara) that was created by Marcus Garvey. The colors also represent African gods:
Red is the color of Shango, the Yoruba god of fire, lightning, and thunder, and represents the struggle for self-determination and freedom by people of color.
Black is the people, the earth, the source of life, representing hope, creativity, and faith, and denoting a message of opening and closing doors.
Green represents the earth that sustains our lives and provides hope, divination, employment, and the fruits of the harvest.

The first night, December 26th, the black candle in the center is lit and the principle of umoja/unity is discussed. The three green candles, representing Nia, Ujima, and Imani, are placed to the right of center, and the three red candles, representing Kujichagulia, Ujamaa, and Kuumba, are placed to the left.

As with the seven days and the seven principles of Kwanzaa, there are also seven symbols. I have already mentioned the kinara and the mishumaa saba. There are also Mazao (crops such as fruit, nuts, and vegetables), Mkeka (place mat), Vibunzi (ears of corn that reflect the number of children in the household), Kikombe Cha Umoja (the unity cup), and Zawadi (gifts that are enriching).

The Zawadi gifts are meant to be made, not bought. They are symbols of creativity (kuumba) and the making of these gifts (usually exchanged between parents and children) is meant to bring as much satisfaction as the receiving of them.

The Kwanzaa Feast (Karamu) is traditionally held on December 31st and usually revolves around the seven symbols and principles of Kwanzaa.

Note: The above information was researched for the sake of education and appreciation, in a hope to promote cross-cultural pollination, tolerance, and peaceful understanding. If I got anything wrong or missed anything, please feel free to comment. I love to learn and I'd like this to be as factual as possible.

Healthy Potato Latkes : Hanukkah Dish

Latkes are a traditional food of Hanukkah; the use of the oil relates to the miracle of the oil, which the festival celebrates. The following recipe is from the December '05/January '06 issue of EatingWell:

Crispy Potato Latkes
It is a holiday tradition to fry latkes in hot oil, but here shredded potato-and-onion pancakes get a coating of matzo crumbs, are pan-fried in a small amount of oil and finished in a hot oven for a few minutes. The golden-crisp results have only 4 grams of fat and 100 calories per serving—truly a miracle.

1.5 lbs russet potatoes (about 2), shredded
1 medium white onion, shredded
2 medium shallots, minced (about 1/4 cup)
1 tsp salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 pieces whole-wheat matzo (6x6 in), broken into pieces
1/2 tsp white pepper
3 tbsp peanut oil, or extra-virgin olive oil, divided


  1. Toss shredded potato, onion, shallots and salt in a medium bowl. Transfer to a sieve set over a large bowl; let drain for about 15 minutes. Squeeze the potato mixture, a handful at a time, over the bowl to release excess moisture (don’t oversqueeze"some moisture should remain). Transfer the squeezed potato mixture to another large bowl. Carefully pour off the liquid, leaving a pasty white sediment"potato starch"in the bottom of the bowl. Add the starch to the potato mixture. Stir in egg.
  2. Put matzo pieces in a sealable plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin into coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the crumbs and pepper over the potato mixture and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate until the matzo is softened, 20 to 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 425°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir the potato mixture. Cook 4 latkes per batch: place 1/4 cup potato mixture in a little of the oil and press with the back of a spatula to flatten into a 3 1/2-inch cake. Cook until crispy and golden, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the latkes to the prepared baking sheet. Continue with 2 more batches, using 1 tablespoon oil per batch and reducing the heat as needed to prevent scorching. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until heated through, about 10 minutes.
Makes 12.
Nutrition Per latke: 100 calories; 4 g fat (1 g sat, 2 g mono); 18 mg cholesterol; 15 g carbohydrates; 2 g protein; 2 g fiber; 204 mg sodium; 278 mg potassium.

Celebrating Hanukkah

Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is an eight-day long festival of light that begins on Kisev 25 in the Jewish calendar.

Symbolically, the festival celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, purity over adulteration, and spirituality over materiality.

Historically, the festival commemorates the victory in 165 BCE of a small Jewish rebel army (consisting of two groups - a nationalist group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee, and a religious group known as the Chasidim) over the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks) who had been seeking to Hellenize them. This was a really big deal considering the Seleucid had one of the biggest, strongest armies on earth at the time and the Jews were severely outnumbered. After their success, they went to rededicate the holy Temple in Jerusalem to G_d. When they sought to light the Temple's menorah, they could only find one uncontaminated flask of oil. Even though the flask only contained enough oil for one day, the menorah miraculously burned for eight days. [Note that the festival commemorates the military victory, but celebrates the miracle of the oil: it is not a festival that glorifies war.]

At the heart of the Hanukkah festival is the nightly menorah lighting. The menorah (sometimes called chanukkiah) is a candelabra that holds nine candles: one for each night of the miracle of the oil, plus another candle called a shammus (alt. shamash), a servant or attendant candle, which is a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. The shammus candle is lit and three berakhot (blessings) are recited. After reciting the blessings, the first candle is then lit using the shammus candle and the shammus candle is placed back in its holder. Each night, another candle is added, from left to right until, on the eighth night, all nine candles are lit (the nine plus the shammus).

Another Hanukkah tradition is the dreidel, a four sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter inscribed on each side. In Israel the letters mean "A Great Miracle Happened Here"; dreidels in other places have letters meaning "A Great Miracle Happened There". The dreidel game was made popular during the rule of Antiochus, before the Maccabees revolt - a time when soldiers could execute any Jews who were caught practicing their religion. When Jews gathered to study the Torah (the entire body of Jewish teachings consisting of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), they would conceal the intent of their activity by playing "gambling games" with the dreidel whenever an official, soldier, or inspector was in sight.

Customarily, dishes for the Hanukkah festival are foods that have been fried in oil. The oil once again hearkens back to the miracle of the oil. The two most common dishes are latkes, crispy fried potato pancakes, and sufganiyot (alt. sufganiot), jelly doughnuts without the hole.

Note: The above information was researched for the sake of education and appreciation, in a hope to promote cross-cultural pollination, tolerance, and peaceful understanding. If I got anything wrong or missed anything, please feel free to comment. I love to learn and I'd like this to be as factual as possible.

In Ovis Apalis (Boiled Eggs) : A Saturnalian Dish

Yep. I went looking for Roman grub recipes. I am writing in a recipe taken from this website, which houses a collection of "antique roman dishes". Another source for Roman recipes is Patrick Faas's "Around the Roman Table: Food and Feating in Ancient Rome", which is an awesome book that you should definitely get if you're interested in more traditional Ancient Roman eats, but I'm not writing any of his recipes here because I fear the terrors of copyright infringement. 

In Ovis Apalis (Boiled Eggs) 

8 hard-boiled eggs (not too well done)
50g stone-pine kernels
honey, pepper, vinegar, Liebstoeckl*, Liquamen** or salt, to taste (*Liebstoeckl. In Latin, it's called 'levisticum officinale'. It's an umbelliferous plant with yellowish flowers and it's roots, when dried, are used as a spice. It seems to be a kind of celery.) (**Liquamen is a salty fish sauce. I think it's either the same or similar to the traditional "garum" of Mediterranean cuisine. Most of the time you can replace it with salt.)

Dressing for the boiled eggs- mix together pepper, Liebstoeckl, soaked pine kernels. Add honey and vinegar and season with Liquamen. Serve together with the eggs.

Note: I have not made this dish, so I don't know how it tastes or turns out. But it looks to be similar to deviled eggs, just with different seasonings, and you dress the whole hardboiled egg rather than filling the boiled whites with a yolk mash.

Celebrating Saturnalia

"Io, Saturnalia!"

In the Roman calendar, Saturnalia was a holy day (Dec 17) on which religious rites were performed to honor Saturnus (or Saturn), the god of seed and sowing. Saturn's consort Ops, who personified abundance and fruits of the earth, was also celebrated at this time; since together they represented the produce of both the fields and the orchards, they were thought to also represent heaven and earth. Good food and good wine. Sound like any holidays you're familiar with?

Saturnalia was, in addition to a holy day, also a festival day. The Romans called it Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. After the sacrifices at the Temple of Saturn, and the prayers, there would be a public banquet and the celebrants, according Macrobius' Saturnalia, would shout "Io, Saturnalia!" riotously. The halls of houses were decked with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees. Lamps were kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. Schools were closed, the army rested, and no criminals were executed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewellery, and incense. Temples were decorated with evergreens symbolizing life's continuity, and processions of people with masked faces danced through the streets.
Saturnalia was the most popular holiday of the Roman year, and traditionally went on for three to seventeen days (depending on the politicians in charge at the time). It was a time for celebration, visiting friends, and presenting gifts such as wax candles (cerei) and small earthenware figurines (sigillaria). They also had a tradition of decorating an outdoor tree (they did not bring the tree indoors, that was a German innovation) with symbols of stars and the sun, gilded cakes, and fertility symbols (baby shapes, and herd animal shapes such as goats and deer). They also decorated indoors with swaths, garlands, and wreaths of greenery over the windows and doors.

Restrictions were relaxed and social order inverted. Each family elected a "Lord of Misrule", a custom which was appropriated and survived through to English Christmas traditions. Slaves did not have to work and were treated as equals, allowed to wear their masters clothing and be waited on at meal time. Public gambling was allowed. Even the socially accepted standards of clothing were relaxed and people traded in their more formal togas for the more relaxed synthesis (kind of like an uncomplicated dressing gown). They also donned a hat called a pileus, a peaked woolen hat which was normally reserved for emancipated slaves, perhaps to symbolize the sense of freedom generated by the holiday.

Feasting, drunkenness, and merrymaking were all encouraged - it was a festival of fertility after all, and those three things in conjunction often lead to conception. As to the contents of the feast, here is the "Bill of Fare of a Great Roman Banquet, 63 BCE" from Macrobius' Saturnalia:
"Before the dinner proper came sea hedgehogs; fresh oysters, as many as the guests wished; large mussels; sphondyli [this Latin word has multiple meanings in the work of Apicius (a classical glutton who wrote two cookbooks before his addiction to colossal banquets drove him to bankruptcy and suicide)- sometimes it means carrots or artichokes, other times it means mussels]; field fares with asparagus; fattened fowls; oysters and mussel pasties; black and white sea acorns; sphondyli again; glycimarides; sea nettles; becaficoes [a small bird, the Black Cap; usually "pickled or marinated", according to John Locke - yes, the tradition continued]; roe ribs; boar's ribs; fowls dressed with flour; becaficoes [again]; purple shellfish of two sorts. The dinner itself consisted of sow's udder; boar's head; fish-pasties; boar-pasties; ducks; boiled teals; hares; roasted fowls; starch pastry; Pontic pastry."

Some folks have theorized that Santa's pointy red hat might have its roots in the pileus. I'd like to add this idea to the similarity discussion: they wore a dressing gown and cap ("And I in my dressing gown and cap had just settled down for a long winter's nap.")

Note: The above information was researched for the sake of education and appreciation, in a hope to promote cross-cultural pollination, tolerance, and peaceful understanding. If I got anything wrong or missed anything, please feel free to comment. I love to learn and I'd like this to be as factual as possible.

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

Cold + family + a season full of wanting to provide for those you love = lots of food. We all know this, we luxuriate in the the holiday season as an excuse to toss our diets out the window and enjoy all the splendors we usually deny our taste buds. Which is great, in small doses. But being surrounded by piles of delectable, high sugar/fat/cholesterol treats can also be very dangerous. I like to try to make sure that everything I offer to my friends and family on these festive occasions is something that I won't feel guilty about giving to them. If it's not something I would eat, I don't think I should be offering it to someone I care about. Here is a delicious recipe for muffins that are utterly sin-free for this celebratory season. They are vegan, fat-free, and have just enough cinnamon to let your taste buds snuggle together with holiday feeling on your tongue.

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tbsp sugar* (You can also use Splenda baking sugar or another sugar substitute. Just follow the instructions on the package. I've made this recipe with three different white sugar substitutes and it always turns out yummy.)
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt, or less to taste
1 tsp cinnamon, or more to taste (I like more, but use your personal discretion)
1.25 cups water
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (I like the chunky kind, but again, its up to you)
1 large apple or 2 small apples*, chopped** (*I adore granny smith apples in general, but especially for this muffin recipe. The tartness really jives very nicely with the cinnamon. If you like things sweeter, use red apples.) (**Again, personal discretion time. The apples are going to get nice and soft when baked. I like to chop them rather fine, but you can leave them in bigger chunks if you want to.)

Set oven to 425F.

Combine flour, salt, baking powder, sugar (or substitute), and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Add in chopped apples and mix to coat the apples thoroughly. Combine water and applesauce and stir them together before adding to the dry ingredients bowl. Fold together until thoroughly combined. The batter will be sort of thick and goopy when it's good and ready.

Spray muffin tray with something so the muffins don't stick (I use Baker's Joy, but you can use Pam, Pam with Butter Flavoring, vegetable oil spray...whatever you want.) Bake for about 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool and enjoy.

Makes 12 delectable muffins for breakfasting or snacking.

If you want them to be a little more "cupcakey," you can sprinkle a little cinnamon sugar or brown sugar on them when they first come out of the oven. The sugar will melt a bit and give them an extra sweetness and a little crunch.
I've also mashed up walnuts and tossed them on to the tops of the batter before baking, which turned out delectable as well.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

My favorite season

It's that time of year again. The air has that delicious bite of chill that sends a shiver down my spine and a spurt of warmth into my heart. It makes me want to wear three sweaters, hunker down in my kitchen, and cook like there's no tomorrow. Everywhere I look, I am reminded of just how wonderful people can be. I am so very blessed to have good friends, old and new, and a fountain full of love to splash around in this holiday season.

Whatever your religious beliefs, is there anything more energizing and exciting than this time of year? Nature is reminding us that another year has come to a close. Now is the time to think back on everything that has passed since the last time we shivered this much; to be thankful for what we have loved and to change what has hurt us.

This is the season of Giving. Can you imagine? An entire month, from November 25th to December 25th, specifically devoted to being grateful for the gifts in our lives and repaying them by giving to others? An entire season of celebrating togetherness? How fantastic is that?

There have been several traditions at work around the winter season. To name a few:
Christmas, a story of new birth and new hope; Hanukkah, a tale of victory and faith; Bodhi Day, a celebration of enlightenment; Kwanzaa, a tribute to harvest and cultural identity; and Saturnalia, a festival of joy, gift giving, and playfulness. All positive, hopeful festivals of light and community. In a time of year that is darker and colder than any other, humans come together to celebrate the strength they have when they all work together.

Let us be kinder, let love be contagious, let forgiveness abound, let giving be a yearlong philosophy, and let dreams be immeasurable.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Broccoli Salad

Here’s a delicious recipe for broccoli salad that appears every year at family gatherings. It’s good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and is a nice chilled addition to predominantly warm meals. If you're veggie, simply leave out the bacon or use a bacon substitute. Either works.

Broccoli Salad 

3 cups fresh broccoli, broken into small pieces
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1 cup sunflower seeds
8 slices cooked turkey bacon
1 cup raisins
1 cup fat free mayo (or miracle whip light)
1/2 cup sugar (or splenda baking sugar)
2 tbsp white vinegar

Mix together and allow to set in refrigerator about 1 hour for better flavor. Serve chilled.

See how easy that was? Enjoy.

Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are a yummy, healthy snack. My Gram makes addictive ones. She claims, as many of my kitchen-talented relatives do, that they’re easy and there really ‘is no recipe’. Which is true, in a way. You have to do it to your own taste. But here’s a base to start from:

Deviled Eggs 

10 eggs
4 yolks
Miracle Whip Light
Organic Yellow Mustard
Salt and pepper.
Optional- paprika and/or olives

Hard boil your eggs.* (Gram says the peel comes off easier if you use an egg cooker to hard boil them. The steam helps. But either way works fine.) Put them in the refrigerator until cool.

Peel the eggs and slice them lengthwise. Drop the yolks in a mixing bowl. Set the egg halves to the side on a plate or in a tupperware container.

Mash the yolks with a fork until there are no large lumps. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Scoop 1 large spoonful (~1 tbsp) mustard into the mixing bowl and mash it around with the fork until well mixed.

Scoop 4 large spoonfuls (~4 tbsp) light miracle whip into the mixing bowl and mash it around with the fork until the mixture is smooth, but not too thin.

Taste. If you want more of anything so far, now’s the time to add it. As Gram says, “You can always add more, but you can’t take away.”

When you’re satisfied, fill the half eggs with a generous spoonful of the yolk mixture.

Gram says you can use a melon scooper or a small ice cream scooper if you want them to be ‘fancy’, but if you do that, you need to make the mixture a little thinner.

Optional- Slice pimento filled olives for decoration and/or sprinkle (carefully) a tiny amount of paprika over the tops of the eggs.

Set in refrigerator at least 1 hour. Eggs keep in the fridge up to 4 days without spoiling.


Gram's Banana Pudding

Nothing brings to mind memories of childhood comfort for me quite like my grandmother’s banana pudding. It’s simple, delicious, addictive, and (shock of shocks!) mostly healthy. Unfortunately, it’s also always been unreasonably difficult to replicate for some reason. Try as I might, given her list of instructions and ingredients, I still could not achieve the level of ambrosia that occurs in her version of this “easy” dish.

So this time, we did it together, and I wrote down everything she did. It came out wonderfully and disappeared within seconds.

Gram's Banana Pudding (sometimes called Nanner Puddin’) 

What you need:

2.5 qt Corningware bowl* (It doesn’t have to be this brand. But it does have to be this big and it needs to have a flat bottom.)
hand mixer
mixing bowl


Sugar Free JELLO Vanilla Pudding mix (1.5oz/42g)
2 cups cold, fat-free milk* (If making a larger portion or using a larger pudding mix box, always use 1 less cup of milk than the package instructions direct.)
4-6 bananas, barely spotted* (For the tested recipe we used 4, but they differ in size and some folks like more than others.)
1 box Reduced Fat Nilla Wafers* (Gram says if you don’t mind the extra calories and sugar, you should replace these with Pepperidge Farm Chessmen and use the same as instructed.)
1 14 oz can fat free sweetened condensed milk
1 8 oz container of Cool Whip Free

Pour milk into a mixing bowl and sprinkle in the package of pudding mix. Stir with a hand mixer until well blended, then add the whole can of sweetened condensed milk. 

Mix until “just a little thick”.

Fold the cool whip in with a spatula until you can no longer see any dark yellow streaks in the mix.

Now, for the prep. In the corningware bowl (or whatever appropriately sized serving bowl you’ve chosen), put down a layer of nilla wafers.

Slice bananas into ~1/2 in thick slices. 1 layer of those on top of the wafers.

Now pour 1/3 of the pudding mix on top of that.

Repeat, for two more layers, with nilla wafers first, then banana slices, then the next third of pudding.

Repeat again. 

You’re done! Now simply place the lid of the corningware bowl (or cover with clingwrap) and put into your refrigerator.

Allow the pudding to set for at least 2 hours and a max of 2 days. How long you let it set depends on how much you like the pudding set, and also has an effect on how much the flavors will have blended and ripened together. I prefer 8-12 hours for the perfect mouth-feel and comfort-taste.

Serve generously.

Thanks, Gram.

The philosophy of HG.

I will make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
I will hope that someday you might want to make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as well.
But I will not make the peanut butter and jelly sandwich for you because I expect you to make me one.
I will not make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for money.
I will not make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if you do not want me to make you one.
If you are allergic to peanuts, I will make you a non-peanut product peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
I will not tell you that you are going to hell for not eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
If you like just jelly, that’s fine. If you like just peanut butter, more power to you!
Jam, marmalade, almond butter, sunflower seed butter. Choose your variety and I will endeavor to oblige. Your preference may teach me a whole new tasty facet of sandwich making.
I will not combine either jelly or peanut butter with the state.
I will use organic peanut butter without complaint.
I will have an indefinite amount of both peanut butter and jelly and if you ever want either or both, know that I am always willing to share them with you.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I recently had a moment when I felt afraid to speak my mind. This edge of the abyss ‘should I speak or should I go’ sensation is uncomfortable. These moments happen all the time, to everyone, on a variety of subjects. But I think the worst is when it happens with someone you love - and you don’t feel secure enough in your relationship with them to open up. Not even about something that worries you deeply.
I was taught from the time I was very young that people are people - regardless of their race, gender, religion, or whatever other discriminatory marker people choose to employ. I believe this with all of my heart. Unfortunately, these days, due to all of the media hooplah and political teeth gnashing, some of the people who instilled this magnanimous belief system in me in my boot up days have begun to make audible exceptions to this otherwise all encompassing rule. Now I hear that discriminating against people with alternate sexual preferences is considered ‘okay’ because 'people have a right to their opinion’. 
I’m sorry, but no. It’s not okay. 

I don't disagree that everyone has a right to their own opinion; of course they do. And I would never claim to know absolutely what’s right for someone else, or what they should and should not believe. But there is a very large difference between voicing an opinion and spitting poison. Whether or not you agree with a gay person’s right to marry (or even admit their own personal preferences aloud), it still does not give you the right to be verbally abusive towards them. 
People should be treated with respect and love. 
I don’t consider this a ‘liberal’ belief. I believe that it's a human one. I hope it is, anyway. I would hate to think a person’s politics have that big of an influence over the depth of their compassion.
When you’re following a recipe, one wrong ingredient can throw the whole dish. Too much salt, an under-ripe avocado, a timer off by ten minutes - there’s a balance and a necessity for at least semi-conscious attention to be paid.
Why is it so difficult, then, for us to take that extra moment to make sure we aren’t burning our relationships? Love and respect can shrink behind worry and fear with just a few words of hate, leaving behind a pile of shriveled carbon on the ruined baking dish of a previously rewarding and inspiring personal relationship. 
And the person who uses the hateful language isn’t the only one to blame in these situations. The rest of us, who sit idly by, letting the words be said without doing anything are equally as culpable. And it is our shame at our own lack of courage to speak up against such things that truly closes the deal. 

That's the case, anyway, for me.

I feel shamed for not raising my hand and saying 'please do not use that language around me, it's offensive'. I feel sad because I felt so adrift and alone that I couldn't say that to people I should have been fearless and welcomed with. I never want to feel that way again.

I'll close this up, because I realize it's just emotional yakking and no one's probably read this far anyway. I just want to put this out into the world, so that it exists somewhere other than the inside of my head: I've forgiven the people who spoke so caustically. I have yet to forgive myself. I'm not sure when I will.

We are all on this earth together, walking the road to death together, breathing each breath and creating each life, giving and teaching love. Why is it so very hard for some people to let love be their guide rather than hate? What's the point?

Anyway. I'm done.