Monthly Archives: December 2013

Sugar Challenge

Grand-niece Emmaline

Grand-niece Emmaline

My family finally got together for the holiday!  (And incidentally I got to meet the new baby!)

1 year old Charles.  Isn't that what Christmas is about?

1 year old Charles. Isn’t that what Christmas is about?

As promised there was a new challenge this year.  SUGAR.  This wasn’t as easy as it sounds and the competition was fierce.   My youngest sister and her family opted out.  They celebrated with my folks over the Solstice.  (I was not available.)  Andrea (the middle sister) and Butch hosted and friends of theirs stopped by.  We’ve known them for at least 25 years, they’re family!  In spite of every Besnett debating in their head if their dish would stretch there was plenty to go around.

Because of timing, scheduling, and all the comings and goings courses were not served individually this year.  Instead the feast was piled up for everyone to take some and find a seat.  So I’ll have to give you the plate by plate low down the way I saw it.

The "spread"

The “spread”

That soup in the corner was Darcy’s offering.  She’s the new Mom, the mother of the 1 yr. old and the mother of Adian who is maybe in 2nd grade?  Anyway, she’s got a lot on her plate and still managed to produce a very tasty offering in spite of all the obstacles in her path.  Admittedly I was one of them.

From the stove to the table, not much for presentation.  And it's such a pretty soup!

From the stove to the table. And it’s such a pretty soup!

The soup is a curry with sweet potatoes and peas.  Darcy figured she’d just grab some curry powder out of the cupboard at Andrea’s.  That’s when I got in her way.  Most commercial curry blends have cinnamon in them, and I’m deathly allergic.  Sorry Darcy.  In my defense I did mix her up a curry blend that I could eat.  I tried to make it better and many of us agreed it was a very tasty soup, but Darcy wasn’t happy with her offering and that’s probably mostly my fault.

Alyx wasn't giving up her turn with the new baby.

Alyx wasn’t giving up her turn with the new baby.

Alyx, my niece, is prepping her dish with her new niece tucked into her hoodie pockets.  She also did a sweet potato dish, but the main ingredient (all that green stuff) is minced brussel sprouts.  This is why the competition is so close.  Everyone manages to find a way to challenge their own abilities and up their game.   A lot of people who don’t usually like brussel sprouts thought it was great.  Alyx told me she got nervous and may have added a little too much pepper.  For a novice cook it was a great effort.  Unfortunately the judges ruled it didn’t place.

Dad's job is always taking things out of the oven

Dad’s job is always taking things out of the oven

Mom and Dad went all out with that duck.  It was beautifully cooked, nicely carved and pretty tasty.  The dipping sauce was genius.  It had a crushed raspberry base.  Between the honey in the marinate and the sugar in the dipping sauce it was a great presentation of sugar without being crazy sweet.

Presentation was pretty too.

Presentation was pretty too.

Karina and I thought they should have at least placed but the judges didn’t.  I suspect the judges like the notion of Mom and Dad continuing to take the main dish next year.  I know I do!

Aren't carrots sweet enough to count as sugar?

Carrots are sweet enough to count as sugar, extra with the glaze.

That’s Andrea, our hostess, with her carrots.  She did a flambé with brandy.  She got the judges involved, but most of the group missed that part of the presentation.  Her modest entry involved a lot of time and effort and  she could have raked in cheers if she’d made it a production.  They were perfectly cooked carrots, beautifully plated.  Her son Zac (last year’s winner and the other judge) knew one of the extra guests wouldn’t touch carrots.  The fact that he not only ate them, but liked them gave Andrea extra bonus points.   When they announced her second place the judges said that was the reason.

Karina plates with precision

Karina plates with precision

Karina has been swamped.  As a professional baker she’s working extra with catering orders this time of year.  Adding to her stress was her assistant quitting right before Christmas production started.  Bless her boss for gifting her the perfect solution to our secret ingredient.

Is this really a side dish?

Is this really a side dish?

The beans are steamed, the nuts are sugared but it’s the sauce on the wings that had the judges attention.  Made with pure sugar cane syrup – thank you Alex!

I know this post is getting long, but hey it was a BIG MEAL.  We still have to have dessert.  I coerced Dylan (Karina’s boyfriend) into being on my team rather than hers.   I needed the help!   He doesn’t have a lot of cooking experience, but he stepped up with flying colors.  With dessert we knew we had to take sugar seriously so we spent a day in my kitchen experimenting with pulled sugar.

Karina stood on the counter to take this for proof Dylan helped.

Karina stood on the counter to take this for proof Dylan helped.

In planning for dessert I knew by the time we got here everyone would be too stuffed to want anything too heavy.  I had the perfect solution.   We made both peppermint and cayenne pepper sticks.   I made handcrafted marshmallows.  At Andrea’s we made hot cocoa with organic sugar and high-end cocoa powder and to seal the deal spiked it with Bailey’s Irish Cream.

I thought it plated pretty too.

I thought it plated pretty too.

The peppermint and cayenne sticks stuck in the cocoa were perfect.  The great part was that dessert was adjustable to taste.   Everyone had control of the spices.   They could have alcohol or not.  I even offered good coffee as an alternative to the cocoa.  We got RAVES.   Of course Dylan and I thought we should have won.  We placed third.

The victor for the day, and judge (along with Butch our host) for next year is our baker: Karina.  I’m happy for her.  She can use the break over the holidays given her busy work schedule.  It also means next year the judging will be at a whole new level.  Those two can really talk about food!  Watch out family – I’m playing to win!

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Holidays

The Yule log is ready to light.

The Yule log is ready to light.

Here I am smack in the middle of holiday celebrations.  The solstice last weekend rang in a whirlwind of festivities.  I took a small part in a public Yule ritual put on by Harmony Tribe.

What's a Yule without flying reindeer?

What’s a Yule without flying reindeer?

This was an afternoon event and very kid friendly.  I think there were almost as many children present as adults.  There was storytelling about the traditions of the holiday, including flying reindeer.  It was a short and simple ritual with lots of laughter and singing.  I like the public events for the post ritual food.  It’s an opportunity to catch up with folks I don’t see regularly.   Lots of hugs and sharing.

That same evening the small coven I belong to gathered for their Solstice Rite.  The Deities we were working with are travelers, migratory and so the space was filled with carpets and pillows to make a wayside rest, a caravanserai.  The God in particular has a role as guardian for the shamans.   Think about the neolithic caves, the walls painted with stories of shamanic travels.   This God sits before the cave entrance to guard and protect those who enter to journey.  So we started the rite with drumming and guided meditation seeking help to fulfill our visions for the coming year.

Our altar set in the center of the Caravanserai.

Our altar set in the center of the Caravanserai.

Feasting is a big deal in our group and we did well this year.  We had smoked salmon and apples and hard cheese and fig whip.  We had pork roast and venison with gravy.  We had brussel sprouts and garden salad and wild rice.  Desert included baklava, stollen, and sugar cookies with a poppy-seed frosting.  Since I can’t find the cord that lets my camera talk to my computer I didn’t take many photos.  I’m not nearly as good with the camera on my phone.  I promise I’ll try to do better along the way.

Sunday was another Solstice celebration.  This time with the community at Walker church.  I wrote about them when the old building burned in a fire.  The new church is built and just opened so we got to celebrate at the new hearth fire.   Solstice is the celebration of the returning light after the longest night of the year.  For this ritual start in darkness and light candles representing the blessings that have shone for us that they may light us into the new year.  It’s a pretty ritual and it was a delight to celebrate with this community in a beautiful new space.

Being one of those folks who values spirituality in whatever form it’s offered I still have Christmas celebrations to come.  There is cooking to do this week in anticipation of the holiday.  Next Monday’s blog will give you the play-by-play of my family’s Christmas “Chopped” challenge.  I even have plans for a pajama party for New Years eve!

Hope your holidays a full of love and laughter.  May your travels be smooth and safe.  May your holiday wishes come true.  I’ll light a candle in thanks for all the warm comments you’ve left over the year.  Thank you for reading!  Blessed Be.

Review

1216131020It seems early to consider things like New Years resolutions.  (I don’t really work well with those anyway.)  Still I seem to be getting lots of push from the Universe to review the past year and think about dreams, wishes and goals for the next.  My women’s business group is working on creating our vision statements for 2014.  Our Yule ritual planners have asked us to consider where we’ve been in this past year and what our hopes are for the next.  Even visiting with old friends at the funeral last week and digging through the holiday ornaments put me in that reminiscent state of mind.

Luckily having a blog gives me a handy record of the past year.  My first post in 2013 was about the family egg nog challenge.   This year our “secret ingredient” is sugar.   I have desert, which seems easy at first until you start thinking about having an impact after a full meal where every course features sugar in some form.  All I’ll say is that this year I’m playing to win.

Zac won last year with a spinach and orange salad and egg nog dressing.

Zac won last year with a spinach and orange salad and egg nog dressing.

Then in February I took a trip to sunny California.  Given our early sub-zero temperatures I’m looking forward to giving a workshop presentation at Pantheacon this year.   March was Paganicon where Orion and I hosted the con suite.  This year I’m seriously considering proposing a new workshop (that will likely cause much controversy – my middle name.)  It’s good that I’m planning so many presentations since I’m really hoping my second book “When Gods Come Knocking: A Continuing Exploration of Relationship with the Divine” will be released (through Immanion Press) early in the year.

April and May were all about welcoming spring.  I didn’t garden last year and I really hope to do at least a little in 2014.  I also hope I’ll manage to get my taxes in early for a change.  In June this year we had that big storm.  I expect a little (metaphorical) storminess about that time in 2014 as well.  Karina is turning 21 (my baby is all grown up!) and I’m planning to have bariatric surgery.  My big wish for 2014 is to get my health back on track and that surgery will go a long way towards making it happen.   My weight is aggravating my back problems to the point where some kind of surgery seems necessary.  This one will potentially address more than one problem.

I may need help to reclaim the garden!

I may need help to reclaim the garden!

July and August were about adventures in camping.  I’ll be recovering so it’s hard to say what will be possible in 2014, but I remember doing a lot of similar post-surgery travels in my 30’s so anything is possible.  As we moved into the fall I got caught up in a rush of busy.  I can hope for more of the same in 2014.  Hopefully I’ll find some time out amidst the crazy.  Maybe I’ll be editing my third book by then.

That will pretty much bring us around again to the holiday season.  My wishes for next year are that my family will stay happy and healthy – and that I will myself on that bandwagon.  I hope my writing influence expands out into the world and finds its audience.  I also hope that my readers will find my work inspirational and affirming.  I hope that I can do my part to make the world I live in a kind place and that we can live in beauty and bounty.

Thank you all for being with me this year.  I hope you will continue to read, comment and share in the next.

Circles

Births and deaths.   It seems the older I get the more these things mark the passages of my life.  The graduations and weddings come in clusters and I’m at an ebb for those.  Births and deaths on the other hand seem constant, a little here a little there but always something to count on in the course of a year.  This last week there were, of course, several of these that touched my life briefly.  Two, however, make a personal impact.

Final dress rehearsal for Man of LaMancha 1988.(David built a beautiful staircase that raised and lowered)

Final dress rehearsal for Man of LaMancha 1988.(David built a beautiful staircase that raised and lowered)

David Groska was the tech director for the theater department when I was in high school.  He was barely older than us students and we loved him for that, his talent, and his sense of humor.  He also had an explosive temper, which we found amusing as well.  In retrospect I don’t think I would have appreciated being stapled to the set either.

He dated one of my classmates and they married shortly after.  Not because they had to, but because they were meant to be together.  So why wait?   Teresa is now his widow and grateful for every moment they had together.

It wasn’t easy for them.  They started out young and poor.  Their eldest son had CP and some mobility issues.  Their second added all the complications of a sibling to a child with special needs.  Familiar as I am with this dynamic I can say Teresa and David handled it brilliantly.

The boys enjoyed being outdoors with their Dad.  They built forts and camped out and hunted.  Even though those boys are well on their way to being independent productive adults they’ll never stop missing their Dad.

David had been fighting with cancer for several years.  Teresa and the boys were by his side every step of the way.  The disease finally caught up with him.  He’s free of pain and we are all left with memories.

My sister Andrea with her new grand baby.

My sister Andrea with her new grand baby.

On the other side of things my nephew Zac and his partner Darcy had their new baby on Friday: Emmaline Rae McMahon.  This is their third, and the first girl.  Adian is older, the High School boyfriend’s son.  He’s such a proud big brother – as long as he doesn’t have to share his room with the babies.  Babies is plural because Charles is just a year and a half old.  He’s not quite sure what to make of the new baby, but we know he’ll be great too.

Andrea, my sister, is glowing.  She’s been driving back and forth from her house in Northern Minnesota to the kids in Mankato in crazy weather and nasty traffic conditions.  We placed bets on whether she’d make it to Thanksgiving dinner.  In my household the money was on her sitting down to eat and the call coming in.  Finally the wait is over.

Karina texted me, “The pic of Andrea and Emmaline makes me want to have a baby for you.”   Me too, but I told her not to rush on my account.  I’ve been ready to be a Grandma for years, I can wait a few more.  My “little” sister’s been a Grandma for 4 years now.  Owen got to go meet his cousin over the weekend and he was enchanted.  Orion and I will probably hold out until the family gets together for the holidays.  You may get another post about Emmaline yet….

The world turns in circles: wins and losses, plusses and minuses, births and deaths and the turn of the seasons.  It’s hard to find gratitude with some of those turns, and much easier with others.  I keep looking for it in small ways even when I can’t find it in the larger more obvious places.

Here’s hoping your life changes this week are slightly distant (it’s easier that it’s neither my husband nor my grandchild) or at least not quite so dramatic as life and death.

Reading

Some of you know that I write a second blog.  lisaspiralreads.

My author photo heads up the front page on lisaspiralreads.wordpress.com

My author photo heads up the front page on lisaspiralreads.wordpress.com

I set up a challenge for myself to do book reviews on 50 books over the course of the year.  There is no particular consistency to that blog.  I post when I feel like it on the books I feel like reviewing.  I read books I don’t review.  I review books from a wide variety of genre’s.

The book reviews I write are the kind I like to read.  I don’t rate books.  I’ll tell you a little bit about them and why I did or didn’t enjoy them.  Sometimes I like the information.  Sometimes I like the writing style.  Sometimes I like the theme.  Sometimes I like to disappear into a pulp romance.

I haven’t been to the library in a month.  They keep sending me nasty notes about all the books I have that are now long over due.  I’ve been piling them up waiting to write reviews.  Followers of this blog know that my October lasted well into November and I barely caught up with myself before the holiday season started.  I’ve been biting my fingernails hoping that I’ll be able to get those last few weeks worth of book reviews written.

This book was the topic of my 50th review

This book was the topic of my 50th review

When I actually looked today I realized I only needed to write one more to make my goal of 50 reviews for the year.  The other 5 books sitting on the floor waiting to be reviewed could go back whether I wrote about them or not!  I’ve been avoiding, and worrying and waiting for nothing.

How often do you get yourself all worked up over a “deadline” that you’ve actually already met?

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