How Our Solstice Celebrations Went.

Seeing as I am happy to read all religious texts and can see a lot of spiritual and social truths in all of them, many people may be unaware I am not actually as religious as I am spiritual. I believe in a God. Especially the earliest version of the Abrahamic God concept, or that of Eastern Nirvana, where God is not one person or one identity, but the very life and energy that composes the entire universe, a living consciousness that is both the creator of the universe and the universe itself. However my own spiritual experiences have led me to doubt anything men say about God, about higher, lower or simply different beings, about alternate dimensions, split dimensions, parallel dimensions and the space-time continuum. Humans may be a small, cell-like unit of the universe. But that doesn’t mean we know anything about it. That doesn’t mean we can understand what anything else in it may be wanting to tell us, let alone what the entire universe may or may not be saying. And I’d rather experience existence than fret about what one man tells me to do and another tells me not to do. Philosophical debate aside, I’m pretty certain we won’t know about death until we die, about existence until we transcend it (if ever) about God until (if ever) we meet It.

That said, I celebrate the Solstice, Christmas, New Year, Epiphany and Imbolc. Festivals of birth, rebirth  and renewal are always welcome. However the Solstice is of particular importance because it follows the pulse of life in our little corner of the universe. Every year it’s held on the longest night of the year, almost as though everything stops for a little bit longer in the middle of the night before the gears start turning and everything begins to rewind.

But, without getting too poetic and frilly about it: the longest night of the year is often seen as a bridge between spiritual worlds and our world, or between dimensions, a time when the dark reigns for a short while and gives us a chance to wonder about everything. Whether, the wonder is at a specific God, at the universe itself, at science, at the spirits and life and energy in everything, there’s something quite eerie and beautiful about the Winter Solstice, the time when the light is reborn.

We were planning to spend the Solstice with a few friends, but sadly they couldn’t make it. Instead, we focused on enjoying the day and the night.

The food we prepared.

Just for eating, well, feasting.

Unshockingly, whilst all meat, eggs and greens makes me look awesome, adding overt carbs back in causes water retention and general lethargy. I look so much fatter for potatoes and fruit than I did on steak and salad. But for a day it won’t kill.

Elderberry and Brandy Pudding.

Ingredients:

-250g flour

-300g elderberry jam

-100g sugar

-300g dried fruit

-100ml brandy

-cold water as needed

Utensils:

-mixing bowl and fork

-greased loaf tin

Recipe:

1: Mix the dry ingredients.

2: Incorporate the jam.

3: Mix the brandy in.

4: Add water as needed.

5: Bake at 160C until spongy, but crisp on top.

6: Serve with custard or cream.

Quick Raw Custard.

Ingredients:

-5 egg yolks

-1/4-1/2 cup sugar

-200-300ml double cream

Utensils:

-jug

-fork/whisk/blender

Recipe:

1: Whisk the yolks and sugar together.

2: Stir in the cream.

3: Stir before pouring.

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BBQ Pulled Chicken.

Ingredients:

-1 roast chicken

-chicken fat

-browned onions and potatoes

-softened brussels sprouts and courgette

-4tbsp ketchup

-bbq mix

-chili powder

-salt

Utensils:

-fork

-scissors

-frying pan

Recipe:

1: Shred the chicken. Cut the skin up with the scissors.

2: Place in a pan with the vegetables and cook until the fat and water has been reduced.

3: Add the seasonings.

4: Fry until crisp.

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Curry.

Ingredients:

-brussels sprouts leaves

-cabbage leaves

-1 small courgette

-small handful chopped pumpkin

-200g chicken

-3tbsp curry mix

Utensils:

-chopping board and knife.

-pot

Recipe:

1: Chop all veg and chicken.

2: Roll in curry.

3: Seal in bottom of pot.

4: Add water and remaining curry. Boil until cooked.

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And we also had a roast chicken and veg from our garden.

Spiritual elements.

Things that help me reflect on the meanings and meaninglessness of existence.

I prepared basic cinnamon sugar cookies to leave out for the ancestors/spirits. Just sugar, flour, eggs and cinnamon. I hung them as garlands about the house.

The fire was lit around 7pm. It was a large fire in the hearth, involving two large split halves of a log as our Yuletide log. It was still hot in the morning when the sun came up.

We offered some red wine to the gear spirits of Jon’s Renault 5. We concluded it had to have spirits as that hunk-o-rust go-kart can’t possibly be running mechanically and, therefore, must be kept alive by either Jon’s or its own willpower.

Dreams were intense as usual, even though we only slept from 1am to 6.30am.

Gifts.

Jon got me new pajamas which I needed and really liked. He was under no obligation to get me anything (although he didn’t want anything for his birthday, for mine he got me a brilliant genuine Bandai post-timeskip Zoro figurine, or, for you non-animetards, a nice dolly of my favourite cartoon character in his latest getup), but he felt he had to get me something else once he heard I was getting him a surprise on top of the backpack I’m making him for his security work.

And the surprise? I prepared Jon a traditional Christmas stocking, which he’d never had before.

 

Hand-made the stocking, too!

Hand-made the stocking, too!

This is how I decided to fill it.

Things he likes to eat. Treats and snacks he really enjoys. Winter is a time of cold and scarcity. That’s why feasts were so important to our forefathers. Therefore, giving him a small supply of treats to last him through the cold nights was important.

-10 Rocky bars. A favourite of his from his childhood.

-4 Nakd bars from my stash. His stash is oat-bars, which I can’t eat. This usually means he only eats the oat bars and leaves me with my Paleo-approved raw fruit and nut bars. It’s only fair to give him some of his own.

-Chocolate orange segments. When we lived apart, he used to love snacking on orange-flavoured chocolate in the car on his way from my place. Sometimes he would be collecting me and we’d have them together, sometimes he would be returning from a weekend together.

-White chocolate bar. Used to be his favourite sort of chocolate.

-Leibniz biscuits. Another childhood favourite.

-Relentless cherry drink. We used to get through so many of these together. Now, due to cleaner eating and cutting back on costs, he usually has one or two a week. But I know he still loves them, especially the cherry flavoured ones, which are lower in sugar and make a difference from the plain ones.

Things he could use for his security work. Rebirth, new move, new identity. It felt relevant to celebrate the changes in Jon as the Seasons changed.

-Hand-held crystal heat water bottle. You break it, get 30 minutes of intense heat and then need to boil it to dissolve the crystals. But he has damaged nerve endings in his fingers and sometimes needs something to kick-start blood flow when they get so cold they go white, as they may do when he’s out in the cold.

-Thermal gripper socks. Again, poor blood flow. Not as bad as in his hands, but having thermal socks that stick to the soles of his work boots may be welcome.

-Quality tie. For non-uniformed work and interviews. Solid, heavy silk.

-High-viz leg and arm bands. For situations where being invisible may be dangerous.

-Under-clothes belt. To keep his emergency money, his phone and other personals in.

– 2015 agenda. For notes on jobs, incidents, tax returns, interviews, etc.

Assorted things he would appreciate. Things that make life that little bit nicer, that you don’t just eat or use up, that may continue to bring him happiness until they are completely destroyed from use.

-Sticker for his laptop. It has a snake-print pattern and he loves snakes.

-Scented aftershave for delicate skin. For a nice finish after his hot-lather shaves.

-South Park videos. We have a video playing TV now, so I’m starting to buy us any fun videos we may want to watch.

-A little book of quotes. Hand-written poems, song lyrics, excerpts and quotes he would enjoy in a nicely designed notebook.

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The day in general went well. We rose late having exchanged gifts at midnight the night before, had a nice big lunch at Jon’s mother’s house, got home, had some hot drinks and relaxed. At sundown we feasted some more and at 7pm I lit the fire. Jon was away with his security work, so we’re making up for the loss of drinking and cake a little tonight.

WWW. Curried Roast Chicken and Carrot Cake.

There have been a few issues with photographing stuff today, so there isn’t a photo of our actual lunch and we lost the one of the carrot-cake before it was cut. However we do have photos of our dinner and of the carrot cake’s intense orangeness.

Recipe 1: Curried Roast Chicken or Madras Roast Dinner.

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Ingredients:

-1 chicken

-5tsp madras curry mix

-2tsp salt

-1/2 onion

-6 cloves garlic

-50ml lemon juice

Utensils:

-chopping board and knife

-baking tray

Recipe:

1: Chop4 cloves of garlic very finely. Insert slivers under the skin around the chicken. Make sure the chicken’s skin is bound tightly back up.

2: Slice the onion in half. Crush the other two cloves. Place in the chicken’s cavity.

3: Pour the lemon into the cavity.

4: Rub the chicken all over in salt and madras.

5: Roast at 180C for 2h.

Recipe 2: Chicken and Butterbean Bake.

Ingredients:

-4 pieces of chicken

-400g chopped tomatoes

-200-300g butterbeans

-200g courgette

-1tsp salt

-1tsp pepper

Utensils:

-chopping board and knife

-vegetable peeler or shredder

-large pan

-baking tray

Recipe:

1: Rub the chicken with salt and pepper.

2: Pan-fry the chicken in a little butter or oil. Make sure to crisp all round. This is best achieved by first dislocating the joints in legs and wings.

3: Shred the courgette using a vegetable peeler or shredder.

4: Add the tomato, courgette and beans with a little water to the pan.

5: Simmer, frequently turning the chicken.

6: Move to a baking tray and bake at 160C for 1h, or until everything crisps up and the tomatoes smell slightly caramelized.

Recipe 3: Super-Carroty Carrot Cake.

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Ingredients:

-4 large carrots

-250g self-raising flour or flour with raising agents

-20g walnuts

-20g pumpkin seeds

-4 walnut halves and a handful of seeds for decorating (optional)

-marzipan carrots (optional)

-2tbsp sugar

-200g butter

-3tbsp palm sugar or sugar with molasses

-2tsp honey

-3tsp ginger

-5tsp cinnamon

-1tsp cayenne pepper

-1/4 tsp cloves

Utensils:

-mixing bowl and for for the cake

-mixing bowl and fork for the icing

-vegetable peeler or shredder

-blender or food processor

-greased or non-stick baking tray

-large knife

-cookie-cutters (optional)

Recipe:

The cake.

1: Grate the carrots as finely as possible.

2: Add a little water and blend into a sort of carrot smoothie.

3: Mix in the plain sugar, 1tsp ginger and 3tsp cinnamon.

4: Mix in the walnuts and pumpkin seeds.

5: Slowly add the flour and raising agents. Leave to rise.

6: Pour into the tray and bake at 160C for 1.5h or until a fork comes out clean.

7: Turn upside down on a cooking tray and leave.

The icing:

1: Mash the butter, honey and palm sugar together until homogenous.

2: Fold in the remaining spices.

3: When the cake is cool, scoop the icing onto the flat side of the cake. If the cake is very fluffy, then scoop it onto the upside of the cake.

4: Use the knife to spread the icing. Start in the centre and spread towards the edges, turning the cake between spreads like you’re rolling out dough.

5: Use the cookie-cutters to leave marks in the icing. Arrange the walnuts, pumpkin seeds and marzipan carrot on the top of the icing.

Wonderful Wednesday Wok. On Smoked Paprika and Veg Pots.

First of all, I know I haven’t been putting up my daily paintings lately, even though this week’s plan is nothing BUT painting (all in all I think I owe you four). But you’ll see what I’m doing later. It’s a secret.

Also, I DO owe a book review (“The Picture of Dorian Gray”), which I forgot due to the paintings, so I’ll do that tomorrow.

 

For now: WWW! 🙂

This week was a bit simpler, but for the sake of extolling the virtues of simplicity. [Disclaimer: Not wholly true. Also because of painting.]

I made roast chicken, a fresh vegetable mix and, although I’ll be making some rice pudding later on in the week, for today I gave him a cookie and his usual morning bananas, squash and coffee.

 

Now, please give me a few minutes to praise three marvelous, yet underrated spices.

1: Smoked Paprika.

Paprika, using the Western European definition*, is a powder made from ground dried peppers. Sweet paprika is made from bell peppers. Spicy paprika is either made from chili peppers or from a combination or bell peppers and chili peppers. Paprika is usually red, but you could make paprika from green peppers if you wished to. [*In some Eastern European languages, like Polish, “papryka” is a bell pepper, so that’s why I mention it!]

Many people are familiar with the taste of normal paprika, as it’s commonly used in a variety of traditional European, American, African and Middle-Eastern cuisine and used globally in some form or another. In fact, it’s been incorporated into the traditional cuisines of most countries, even in recipes where it didn’t initially exist. It adds a sweet, slightly piquant flavour to most food. Sweet paprika is often used when a bit of spice is desired, but without the heat or burn of fully chilies. Spicy paprika is used where heat is called for, and it carries the flavour more evenly through a broth, gravy, stew or paste than fresh or dried chilies can. Both also offer the advantage of keeping longer than even dried chilies.

However, smoked paprika adds another dimension entirely. It is usually made out of bell peppers and, on top of the sweetness and slight spiciness, there is a smokey, barbequey flavour. It’s hard to describe beyond that, but it’s marvelous (if I haven’t said so already).

Smoked paprika is best used on:

-all red and white meats

-fried protein dishes

-making sausages, pates, meatloaves or burgers (meat and veggie)

-grilled dishes

-anything involving cheese

2: Powdered Onion and Onion Salt.

Dried onion that has been powdered and maybe mixed with salt.

This is also brilliant. Basically, depending on how much you put in it will add the flavour of French onion soup or the je-ne-sais-quoi of junk Chinese food (besides the MSG). That is pretty much all you need to know.

Powdered onion is best used on:

-savory dishes where you would ordinarily use onion

-anything baked or roasted

-combining with breadcrumbs and savory batter

-most fried things

-anything sort-of-Asian

3: Ground Cloves.

It seems everyone but bakers and ham-makers underestimates the power of the mighty clove. It has an acrid taste, like concentrated real ales with a touch of earthy or nuttiness. Something to be used in very small quantities, usually to impart flavour before being discarded. Cloves are the other thing you find in an Indian dish (alongside cardamoms and bay leaves) that you bite into and have to spit out, confused that this strange piece of wood was intentionally put into your meal. But cloves are brilliant. They can intensify spicy or savoury flavours, contrast with sweet ones and take the edge off salty ones.

Ground cloves are to be used very sparingly. But they are preferable over whole cloves in two aspects:

1, Whole cloves stay whole in your food, and that’s just gross.

2, Ground cloves don’t take as long for their flavour to impart. Being a powder, it just dissolves into the fluid or paste you’re making.

Ground cloves are best used on:

-pepper crusts for meat

-in curries and rich stews

-in jams and preserves

-baked goods

 

Now, that out of the way, you will now understand why the main recipes were so simple. When you use ingredients and spices artfully, the tastes do all the talking.

 

Recipe 1: Spiced Roast Chicken.

(for one)

Ingredients:

-1 chicken thigh

-1/8tsp pepper

-1/4tsp salt

-1/2tsp smoked paprika

-1/4tsp onion powder

-1/16tsp ground cloves

Utensils:

-baking tray

-knife for slicing

Recipe:

1: Coat your chicken, over and under the skin, in the spices.

2: Cook in an oven at 160C for 45min.

3: Slice and serve.

 

Recipe 2: Seasoned Vegetables.

(big pot)

Ingredients:

-150g courgette

-5 large carrots

-500g potato

-300g celeriac

-2tbsp onion powder

-2tbsp pepper

-1tbsp salt

-1tbsp smoked paprika

Utensils:

-chopping board and knife

-large pot, stirring spoon

Recipe:

1: Slice the celeriac, potato and carrots and put on to boil for about 15min.

2: Slice the courgette. Add alongside the seasonings.

3: Simmer for 1.5h. Top up water as needed.

4: Serve with some form of flavoured fat stirred in (gammon lard, goat’s butter, salted coconut oil, etc).

 

And that’s what I served Jon today. What did he think of the seasoning? 4/5, but could have been a 4.5/5 if I’d put more of the stock in with the veg. Live and learn. 🙂

 

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