Edible Book Report: “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”

I have been swimming in books.

Initiate year has been like being in school part-time, and with that comes lots and lots of books. Our Hive has a set of assigned titles that we all have to read and discuss through the years (the current one is… a bit of a slog), and in addition to that we have to complete an independent study of sorts, picked from a book list curated by current and former members of the CAYA clergy. I love this book list and all its diverse eclectic offerings– it was so hard to narrow down my choices! I will be returning to is over and over as I continue my studies, I’m sure.

The first book I picked was Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages and ages, so I was delighted to have a compelling reason to sit down with it. If you enjoy books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma, this is definitely the book for you. Kingsolver’s memoir of sorts chronicles her family’s year-long experiment to only eat what they themselves could grow or buy from other local farmers, eating only what was in season or had been preserved from earlier harvests. It’s a celebration of getting back to working the earth, to getting back in touch with the cycles of growing things, and of being mindful of where our food comes from and the impact that has on the environment. It’s also packed with lots of beautiful recipes!

At times it comes across as being a little too self-congratulatory, especially in earlier chapters, but as the family starts to settle in to this experiment so does Kingsolver’s writing. It’s a fairly easy read, and gentle in most places; I read nearly the whole thing while on a trip to the East Coast last month, and it’s a perfect vacation read. There are lots of resources, both in the book and on the book’s website, for helping readers get started on their own food journeys; I particularly liked this website on urban gardening. It left me with a hunger for more involvement in how my food gets to my pantry, and a renewed interest in starting to grow some of my own food.

Knowing my own tendency to jump into projects head-first, I’m trying to start small; while my mother is an incredibly accomplished gardener, I… did not inherit her talents (by which I mean I kill succulents). Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is packed full of recipes for all the growing seasons, and in particular a recipe for blackberry basil crumble caught my eye. I adore both of those things! Blackberries would be easy to forage, either from local wild spaces or from a kind friend or two, so knowing that I would want to make this dish for my beloved Hive at some point I bought a wee basil plant for my kitchen windowsill. As you can see, it didn’t stay wee for long:

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I’ve manage to keep my little green friend alive for nearly a month now, which I think might be a new record. I adore being able to grab a few leaves off it when I want a pop of something fresh and green, and the smell of fresh basil is one of my absolute most favorite scents in the world. If this continues to go well, I may even be brave enough to try growing something *gasp* outside.

And as for that crumble I mentioned, it was a huge hit. There were no leftovers, aside from some blackberry juice that got spilled on my passenger seat. I made a few modifications to the recipe, mostly due to the fact that I had to go gluten-free a few years ago; if you would like to try it for yourself, here you go!

Blackberry Basil Crumble (modified from Animal Vegetable Miracle’s recipe)

Filling
2-3 apples, chopped (I used a sweeter variety, to balance the tartness of the blackberries)
2 pints blackberries
2tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 large handful of basil leaves, chopped
1/4 honey, to taste (you may want to add a little more, depending on the sweetness of your berries and apples)
To make this recipe vegan, swap out the honey for another sweetener. I think this would be marvelous with maple syrup, for example.

Crumble Topping
2 cups gluten-free oats
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
4tbsp cooking fat of your choice– I’ve made this topping with both butter and coconut oil, and both have worked beautifully

Preheat your oven to 400ºF (~205ºC). Combine the filling ingredients in an oven-proof casserole dish, mix, and set aside. In a separate bowl, add your topping ingredients and gently mix until a loose, crumbly mixture forms. Spread the topping on the fruit mixture, bake for 30 minutes or until bubbly and brown and your whole house smells like summer.

As written, the recipe fed 8 hungry witches. We served it with big, gorgeous dollops of fresh whipped cream, and I suspect it would be phenomenal with really good vanilla ice cream too.

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In Joyful Service,
Kitsune

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Solstice Magic: Dyeing With the Sun!

The Summer Solstice has arrived here in the Northern Hemisphere. Today we celebrate the longest day and the bright heat of the sun as we start our long, slow transition to the dark half of the year. We will also have a full moon, which feels especially potent and auspicious!

I do not enjoy the light half of the year. The sun’s warmth throws all of my shadowy corners into harsh relief, where I can’t tuck them safely into a dark corner and ignore them. I am happily at home in the dark, in the fall and the winter when everything is snuggled up tight and a quiet stillness takes over. I begin my day in the dark, and I return home in the dark. Now is the phase of the wheel of the year where I wrestle with my own demons the hardest; shadow work does not just take place in the shadows.

As I so often do when my emotions start to feel bigger than my body, I turn to making things. The power of the sun can be harnessed for all sorts of uses, both magical and mundane, and one of my favorite things to do on bright days is solar dyeing! Using solar energy to heat the water in a dye bath is a slow process, requiring patience and persistence, but when combined with botanical dyes it is one of the most ecologically sound ways of applying color to fiber around! Most of what you’ll need, you likely already have hanging around. For this activity, you’ll need to gather:

  • A container or vessel of some sort to hold the dye bath– large Mason jars work great for this
  • Water
  • Something to dye! Cotton is a great choice for this. Try an old t-shirt, a pair of socks, or some handkerchiefs. I often use plain white cotton handkerchiefs to do dye experiments with, as they are small and relatively inexpensive.
  • Dye material of some sort

And that’s basically it! This is a great time to rummage around in your kitchen and see what could be used as a dye material; I bet there is more in there than you think! Some ideas to get you started:

  • Onion skins
  • Black tea
  • Coffee
  • Blackberries
  • Turmeric
  • Mint

(A word of caution: botanical dyes are not terribly color-fast; in other words, the color will start to fade much faster than something dyed with synthetic dyes. There are a variety of methods you can use to treat your dye material to help it hold color; this process is called mordanting. Mordants can be somewhat irritating to your skin, so this step of the process should be done with adult supervision if dyeing is an activity you’d like to do with little witches– or, simply enjoy the ephemeral quality of nature’s hues! For more information on mordants, I highly recommend seeing about getting your paws on a copy of Sasha Duerr’s The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes.)

For this round, I decided to try out a tea blend that contains hibiscus. The tea bags produce such a lovely fuchsia shade in my tea cup, so I had hopes that it would transfer to my fabric!

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If you are dyeing something you plan to use for a magical working, now is a great time to start working some of that intention into your dye bath. As you start to fill your dye vat with water, think about what you are making and what plans you might have for it; if you don’t have a specific project in mind, take a moment to revel in all that untapped potential!

Add your dye material to the vessel, then prepare your goods (that is, the stuff you want to color!). There are all kinds of wild and wonderful ways you can manipulate fiber to create different patterns– I could write several more posts about those! I still owe you all a post about my indigo dyeing adventures from a few months ago, so I will save the shibori talk for another day. For now, I encourage you as always to play and try whatever seems like a cool idea. When you are ready, add the material to be dyed and place your dye bath in an area where it will get as much sun as possible.

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If your materials don’t start releasing pigment right away, don’t worry! Some materials can take a while to reveal their colorful secrets.

Remember when I said this was an exercise in patience? This is the part where you walk away and forget about your dye bath. Leave it out there soaking up all that solar goodness for as long as you can stand it (or until you finally remember it’s out there; it’s okay, I won’t judge). When you finally can’t wait any longer, fish out your dyed material and admire your handiwork!

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If you applied any kind of resist technique to your work, this is the big moment of truth when you get to see how it all unfolds (sometimes literally). This is my absolute favorite part! Rinse your material in cool water, until the water runs clear, then carefully remove any stitching, binding, folding, clamping, or anything else you’ve applied.

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Let your material dry fully, and it’s ready for use!

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I loosely pleated a length of white cotton left over from another sewing project, and secured it with a rubber band to create a soft tie-dye effect. I didn’t have any particular use in mind when I set it into the dye bath, but I’m thinking I’ll use it as a wrap for one of my tarot decks.

Go forth and soak up that powerful Solstice energy! May you be blessed with radiant clarity and warmth, and may you be filled with renewed energy to go and walk whatever Path you are on at present. I cannot wait to see what you will make!

In Joyful Service,
Kitsune

Locking Horns With Pan

First, a somewhat belated Beltane blessing to all! I hope those of you who observe the holiday had a great celebration, and that we’ve all recovered somewhat from whatever wildness we got up to.

In CAYA’s liturigcal year our Beltane celebration is called the Festival of Bliss and Blessings, which is a title I love (I love all our names for moons and sabbats/esbats). I had not originally signed up to be on the ritual committee for this year’s event, but when a last-minute call for warders went out I happily stepped up (I enjoy warding a lot. That’s another post for another time).

Warding for an ecstatic trance ritual that was, in a sense, a Bacchanalia of sorts was a really interesting experience. I had mentally braced myself for a serious challenge, especially since I knew there would be lots of terrific drumming through the ritual (I came to CAYA after having received initiation in an Afro-Diasporic tradition; drumming is a major trance cue for me), but found it surprisingly easy to ride that razor’s edge of keeping vigilant and helping to maintain a safer ritual space, while still sampling a little of that wild ecstatic energy for myself. Finding myself in a place where warding comes easily is a really good feeling; it feels like not very long ago, I was someone who got caught up in the ritual energy and needed a lot of help to come down and ground again. Hooray, personal growth!

For our ritual this year we chose to call in Pan and Cybele, which I thought was a really fascinating choice. I know very little about Cybele, but from what little I know She would not have been an obvious choice to pair up with such a wild, free-spirited power like Pan. The ritual committee sure knew what they were doing there, though, because they played off each other incredibly. Cybele is the strong walls of the city or the temple, and by calling Her in we helped make our circle a strong, safe place to let down our inhibitions for a while and give ourselves over to our wilder natures. It was a joy and a privilege to look out over the sea of dancing bodies, to see the ecstasy on the faces of the attendees, and to know that I was one of the pillars holding up our temporary temple.

The most interesting and powerful moments of the ritual for me was watching how my own masculine energy interacted with Pan. I found myself feeling extremely protective of the participants in the ritual, in particular the attendees but also the ritual committee too; I felt myself doing the animalistic “I’m going to stand up really straight and puff out my chest to make myself look REALLY BIG!” behavior, as if responding to a challenge from Another Male In My Territory™. I was fully ready, metaphorically and physically, to lock horns with Him if I felt that He was acting out of line or enticing anyone into behavior they would not feel comfortable with (He can be, very persuasive). We take consent, enthusiastic consent, seriously in the CAYAverse; I had been charged with the duty of keeping the revelers safe, and by gods I was going to do it.

Thankfully, He behaved Himself (well, mostly), but there were a few intense moments where we locked eyes and held eye contact with each other for a few beats. Feeling the pull of His magic, but standing firm against it, was an experience I’ll not forget any time soon (also, really fucking hot. Ahem.). I learned some important things about myself, and about my particular flavor of warding. A very blissful blessing, indeed!

In Joyful Service,
Kitsune

Swords, First Dates, and Freeway Overpasses

(I promise these things are related. Stay with me here.)

Two weeks ago, at our April Initiate meeting, our initiator asked us, “what can you tell me about Air?”.

An array of answers tumbled out of our mouths. The element we invoke when we invoke East. Clarity. Strength. Flexibility. Decisiveness. The suite of Swords, in the Rider-Waite tarot (my favorite of the four suites, but that’s another post for another day).

Then, an even more interesting question. What were some deities we associated with air?

This was where our answers started to diverge. We spanned many pantheons, and many cultures. Oya. Skaði. The Morríghan. Hermes. Brigid. Hecate. Some names sprang to the tongue immediately, while others came later.

As we were thinking, our initiator told us that for the next few months we would be exploring a relationship with one of these deities through the connection of this element. My Hivemates and I all froze, and locked wide eyes with each other. This was the first real bit of Serious Working we had been asked to do as part of our training year. Some of us have established devotional relationships with various deities, while some of us direct our magical workings toward a larger concept (“Goddess” versus a particular goddess, for example). None of us really had any experience with directly courting a deity to see if they were interested in pursuing a relationship; as is often the case, Deity found us rather than the other way around.

Once our initial moment of panic subsided, we talked about it. We might have an idea for who we want to learn more about, but while casting around for a particular power it’s important not to miss any signs that might already be in your life. Look for confirmations or clues; there might be Someone or Something already knocking on your magical front door. Exploring this new relationship is like any other first date: if you don’t like what you’re seeing or hearing, you are totally within your rights to get up and leave. You can say “no”. This is not an ordination or a marriage contract; we’re not swearing any kinds of vows here.

We all left class with a lot to chew on. One of my Hivemates knew immediately who she wanted to work with, and got right to it. Another thought she knew too, but wound up taking a different direction. I left with a tentative idea that pursuing a deeper relationship with Guanyin (or Quan Yin, as it’s often spelled) might be to my benefit; I can certainly use more compassion in my life, and I have been struggling fiercely with my anxiety these past few weeks.

Within a few days of this assignment, I found myself feeling… hmm, somewhat desaturated? I do not mean this in a negative light, but rather like the volume of everything has been turned down to a more manageable level. Like I had been surrounded by eye-searing neons, but now found myself wrapped in softer, more dusky colors (which have long been some of my favorites, being the hues easiest to achieve with botanical dyes). My sleep has started to improve– I’m falling asleep faster, and I’m sleeping more deeply. I found some new clarity in a particular kata sequence I had been struggling with in my Shotokan practice.

I was thinking about all these things while I was walking to my car earlier this week. The building where I work doesn’t have enough parking for everyone, so I park my car in an offsite lot and walk a few blocks to and from the office, a practice I have really come to enjoy. Along this route I have to walk along an overpass spanning a very busy freeway, and I often stop for a minute to look down at all the cars whizzing past and to enjoy the rush of air that comes from all that motion.

Finding a moment of stillness and centering while all that air rushes over me, tugging at my jacket, my hair, a little piece of my soul.

…all that Air.

Okay, I think I can recognize an omen when I see one. I don’t yet know what form this work will take, or where it’s going, but I’m certainly interested in continuing to pursue this teaching if I’m already feeling calmer and more centered.

Guanshiyin, She Who Hears the Cries of the World,  I’m listening.

In Joyful Service,
Kitsune

Our Hands Remember

I’ve been thinking about my hands a lot.

The process of learning to sew has left my fingers stiff and aching, the skin at the edges of my thumb and index fingers (where my needle rests) raw and peeling. My hands don’t know these movements yet, and they ache with the pain of learning.

But they know other motions. They have other memories.

I’m a student of the martial arts. My knuckles are scarred and calloused from bag work and conditioning drills. My fingernails are trimmed short and filed down, with at most a new moon sliver of new growth. My right middle finger is slightly crooked from the time it got partially dislocated a few years ago.

I’m a dyer. The beds of my nails are still stained a faint blue from the indigo dyeing I did over Easter weekend. My skin is dry from repeated dunks into dye baths and mordanting solutions. I have dirt under my fingernails from foraging for dye materials, and from tending to my budding dye garden.

I’m a knitter. My hands know the motions of knit and purl as easily as I know how to draw breath. They are calloused and grooved from hours of knitting needles resting against my fingers, of wool slipping through them, of making warm things to keep those I love cozy.

I’m a kitchen witch. My hands always seem to smell faintly herbal, no matter how much I wash them. My wrists and my forearms are strong from chopping, mixing, kneading, lifting heavy roasting pans.

Our hobbies shape our hands. They tell our stories– of where we’ve been, what’s important to us, where we’re going.

Our hands remember.

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On Blank Pages, and Fear of Failure

Has it really been almost a month since my last post? Seems like March really got away from me! We’ve been having some technical difficulties here at Chez Kitsune that means my laptop is in the capable hands of the folks at my local Apple Store, so I’m borrowing a cup of internet at work to write this. I hope to be back to a more regular posting schedule soon! I’ve been on some fun adventures that I’m looking forward to writing about.

My Hivemates and I have been collectively thinking a lot about fear of failure, as we begin our Initiate years in earnest. We’ve been tackling new things and developing skills we thought we could not master. My Hive sister Ravensong wrote beautifully about discovering a newfound love of gardening, and transforming the lies we tell ourselves about “I can’t” and “I’m not good at” into more positive intentions.

I’ve been thinking a lot about clothes lately, both where they come from and how they’re made. I went to a really wonderful discussion on the idea of “slow fashion” at A Verb For Keeping Warm, one of my very favorite places in the Bay Area, and it really lit a fire under me in terms of trying to make some of my own clothes.

The only problem? Years ago, I had managed to convince myself that I Could Not Sew. I’ve been slightly afraid of my sewing machine for a long time, and while I have some basic sewing skills and can read patterns okay, I had built the whole process up in my mind to be this scary, incomprehensible thing that I was Not Good At and Could Not Be Good At. The idea of cutting into a blank piece of fabric, where there’s no turning back once the scissors bite into the threads, is unbelievably intimidating.

Sonya Philip, one of the panelists at Verb and the brilliant mind behind 100 Acts of Sewing, said some very wise things on this exact topic that really got through to me. She talked about failures not being failures, rather a documentation of the learning process. She talked about getting out of one’s own head, and just making something. I am the sort of person who reads obsessively when they get an interest in something. I have a fair pile of books on sewing, both technique and pattern, which I’ve read cover to cover multiple times, but there comes a point where I have to pull my nose out of the book and actually try. Making that leap is hard, and very scary.

I decided to start with hand-sewing, which felt friendlier and more approachable to me. I’ve been a big fan of Natalie Chanin’s work since I heard her speak on The Moth a few months back, so I sat myself down with one of her Alabama Chanin books and a pattern for a basic sleeveless t-shirt. I had been holding onto this shirt with a beautiful Green Tara design on it for a long time, so I thought cutting it down into a more fitted design would be a good place to start.

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The raw materials.

I read the size charts and the fit notes, selected a size I thought would work, and traced the pattern pieces.

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I cut them out, transferred them to the t-shirt (which required a little creative arranging, a process that had not occurred to me when I decided to work from a pre-sewn garment), and with no small degree of terror, applied scissors to fabric.

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Good tools really do make a difference here! I splurged on a pair of nice dressmakers shears, and I now understand the fuss people make about fabric shears being used only for fabric.
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Cutting away the excess.

This part of the process definitely did not go flawlessly. I made some minor tracing errors that meant the pattern pieces didn’t line up perfectly. I had to get a little creative with the back neckline. The curved edges aren’t as smoothly-curved as is ideal. I made mistakes– and that’s okay. I was still doing it!

The rest of the afternoon flew by much the same. I am without a doubt a novice, and I made a few mistakes. My seams are crooked, my stitches a little wobbly. My fingers ached something fierce by the time I took a break to make dinner. But after I finished sewing my first shoulder seam, I was hooked without a doubt. To my delight, I find hand-sewing to be really calming and meditative, much the same as knitting has been for most of my life. It was as if my scissors had cut away not just the excess fabric, but the excess fear and self-doubt I had been holding onto. I was embracing my wonky lines and clumsy seams. I was doing it!

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In a surprisingly short amount of time, I was done. With some trepidation, I turned the finished garment right-side out and examined it.

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It looked like a t-shirt! It was vaguely human-shaped! And now the real question: would it fit? Would my seams hold?

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And lo! They did! It fit! It fit, and it didn’t fall apart when I tried to put it on!

I’m not embarrassed to tell you, dear readers, that I may have cried a little at the end of all this. This first foray into sewing has taught me a lot, not just about the craft of making clothing but about trusting myself. Trusting that my work has structure and value, that my hands can make strong seams, that I can make mistakes and not be a complete failure. I have discovered what might be a new love, and I am already looking forward to what my next project will teach me.

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That blue fabric my scissors are resting on will be the subject of another post. I dyed it with indigo!

In Joyful Service,
Kitsune

Rainy Day Magic

Puttering around in the kitchen on a rainy Sunday is one of life’s little pleasures.

A lazy brunch for my love and I, bacon and eggs and greens wilted in the bacon fat.

Grain-free almond cookies in the oven for Witch Class with my beloved Hive. Sweet and salty and chewy, perfect with a cup of tea.

My grandmother’s mixing bowls. A tea towel from my mother. A beautiful hard-bound cookbook bought with scraped-together college student funds. Tools and tips and skills passed from hand to hand in crowded, bustling kitchens full of love and laughter.

It’s warm and cozy in here, full of the smells of good food made with love for those I care most about.

Surely, this must be what magic feels like.

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