21 January 2011

Memories and Meatloaf

Food is a curious thing. My first memories of food are fleeting, full of the foot stomping and whining about what I didn't like (lima beans, kidney beans, wax beans, beans in general, tomato soup, fish, soup in general, the list was extensive) and the smells from the kitchen of the things I did love: pastas, roast beasts, cookies - this list really was more extensive than the dislikes.

My relationship with food is in some ways a story of my relationship with my family. Memories of my fathers mother, Margaret - or as she was known to us on better days, Nonie - are often unpleasant (such is the joy of alcoholism) but the few memories I have of her that are good I keep close. 

Nonie was the kind of cook who was more battle-proven in the kitchen than she was neat. Every pot and pan, every spoon (every spoon), all the little tea towels and pot holders would be used in the process of making one pot of homemade spaghetti sauce. Splatters coated the cabinets and counters, cooking on to the stove top while the day long simmering went on. She was a walking disaster, but her sauce was pretty damn good just the same. 

The first memory I have of really helping with dinner is making meatloaf. It was one of the grossest things I had done at that point in my short life because it involved getting my hands into the dish and squishing every thing around with my fingers. As an eight year old with texture issues? Massive Ick. 

Yet the memory remains. The recipe remains. Nonie passed away several years ago and it feels like only just in the last few months that enough time has elapsed that the sting of what life was like with her is not so biting and the lessons that were buried in the dark are coming to light. It's never about forgetting the things that hurt, but instead about taking all of the things that make up who we are - who I am - and honoring those pieces as they make the whole. 

So in honor of that, I give you my version of my grandmother's meatloaf. 

Ingredients - all portions are ... eyed and not necessarily exact.
Ground Beef - one good sized package. 2lbs ish.
Sausage - I use spicy Italian sausage, poultry if I can find it because it's leaner meat. Pork works in a pinch though. 5-6 normal links.
1 egg
1/4-1/2 cup of breadcrumbs. (if you have stale bread, or almost not usable bread, you can make your own)
1 medium yellow onion
garlic - I use approx 2 tablespoons of the pre-diced garlic
salt - to taste. 4 cranks of a salt mill, 2 tsps
pepper - as above
red pepper flakes 
Worcester sauce - 1 tablespoon
bacon strips - approximately one package.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9x5 bread loaf pan. Add all the ingredients to a large mixing bowl. For the sausage, you'll need to extract the meat from the casing... There is really no neat way to do this. Just grab an end with one hand and squeeze down the casing with the other. Don't use my onion chopping as an example of what your onions should look like. My grandmother is tsking right now, I chop poorly.

And then you mix. Hands in, squish it all around. I've tried to make this before using a spoon - several in fact - and it doesn't mix the sausage and beef like you need to to make the texture consistent. I recommend removing all rings and things before this procedure - and obviously, wash your hands. See my onions? not so fabulous with the chopping. I should note Nonie used a food processor. She was really amazing at using all the dishes and things in the kitchen. Really.

Some people add ketchup to their meatloaf, but I'm of the opinion that particular condiment is disgusting. If you feel that your meatloaf needs to be moist, I suggest adding spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, or even a can of diced tomatoes - approximately 1/4 - 1/2 a cup should keep it nice and moist.

Once everything is mixed and you're satisfied with the consistency, shape the meat into a ball and put it in your loaf pan. If you have a lot more than the pan, just pile it up on top like a muffin. I usually have enough so that it is a bit more than just level with the pan.

My grandmother would then slather ketchup on the top of the meatloaf unless I protested, in which case she'd put some more spaghetti sauce on it. This layer helps keep the meatloaf moist because after cooking for an hour, a lot of the moisture will bake out. My particular addition to this loaf of meat is bacon - because everything is better with some oink in it. I also think she would have approved of this like she approved of my eventually stuffing the meatloaf with cheese and spinach. (FYI - cheese stuffed meatloaf is not stuffed, it melts out but leaves a fantastic flavor. Someday I'll try this after freezing the cheese and rolling it in something.)

Lattice work looks amazingly complicated but it is very very easy to do. Take four strips of bacon and place them longways across the pan. Then take one strip of bacon, cut it in half, and place it on top of one end of the bacon. Slip it under every other piece of longways bacon. This begins your pattern. I find it is easier to take the pieces that are then going to be on top of the next piece of short bacon and flip them back so they're out of the way and then just laying the bacon down and repeating until you're done.

Tuck the edges of the bacon into the pan so it's all nice and neat.

Bake at 350 degrees until a thermometer reaches 160 degrees internal - about an hour and a half in my oven. The meatloaf is done (or very close to) when it pulls away from the sides of the pan (like bread! hence loaf!) The bacon doesn't keep it as moist as sauce on top and does add to the fat content, but it is very, very yummy anyway.


As I go through the year more stories of Nonie will find their way in - I hope for the better. She was basically the only grandparent I had in my life until I married into a family that had grandparents alive and kicking - which is a whole other story for another day.

14 January 2011

Hearth and Heart

The word “hearth” never fails to conjure up images of large stone fireplaces smelling of ashes, fresh wood and peat. In my travels, I was lucky to stay in homes that were built around a central fireplace that was very literally the beating heart of the home. Often times it was where we made weekly breads and treats, and on our very cold evenings I could often be found curled up on the seat formed from the hearth materials, enjoying the heat and a book. It was the focal point of parties and laughter as well as being the practical source of our hot bath water. It was both creature comfort and necessity.

It’s only recently that I started to understand that Hearth and Home are not transient things. I was never particularly fond of the saying that home is where one lays their head, but the reasons why that saying never set well eluded me. In much the same way that the physical hearth has defining characteristics, the spiritual hearth has the same. In essence, Hearth is the combination of Memory, Stability, and Trust.

The memories we create in the space that is Home are often the memories we return to throughout our lives, measuring the space between where (and who) we were then to where (and who) we are now. The brightest and the darkest of those memories are part of the homes we make later. And just as we have memories that we create and carry, the space we inhabit also has memory. The way a space is treated physically is an obvious indication of the memory of place, but the memory is deeper than that and one of the many reasons people moving to a new home will have their own rituals to make the space their own.

A hearth is not transient. Our ancestors didn’t move their fireplace from room to room – the house was built around the hearth. The stability of the hearth was the stability of the home which was in turn the stability of the family, and so on. I try not to get too wistful for the “good ol’ days” but I do think that there is some immeasurable loss by our modern ability to dispose of everything and move. For better or worse, the stability that one had in knowing that the home had been in the family for several generations is mostly gone from our culture. Stability is in one part the physical manifestation of Memory.

Trust involves the patterns and Wyrd of the people who live in that environment. It is both acceptance of the people who live there as they are and acceptance of self. This is key: you cannot have trust in a hearth if you wish desperately so-and-so would change. This particular element is perhaps the most difficult of the three to measure because it relies so heavily on the personalities of the people involved.

As I mentioned in my first post, there is a sacredness that comes from the mundane caring of one’s own – our parents, our children, our partners in life – and to that end, caring for the space that nurtures those who nurture us becomes a natural extension. A stove is only a stove until we put our attention and foods together, and then it becomes a way of feeding and sustaining those hearts – physically and emotionally.

So if stability, trust, and memory make a Hearth, how does that relate to Hearth magic? Hearth magic is folkish in that it is often passed down generation to generation, sometimes without the understanding of why things are done a certain way, but it is also intuitive in that it relies heavily on the person doing the work to feel the presence of the space use their instincts accordingly. It is protective and defensive magic, it is magics for fertility of body and environment, it is the magics for dreams and prosperity and good health, but it is also the preparation of a simple meal, the mending of wares, and the listening done around the table. Hearth magic takes the mundane and, through practice and patience, makes the common sacred through love and compassion. 

08 January 2011

(two of) The Best Chicken Recipes Ever.

While I'm exploring all things Hearth and Home related, I thought I'd put down recipes and things like this in smatterings. The blog itself will be updated on Friday - Frigg's day in fact - but the recipes and tips that I've come across along my blunderings will be a bit less... organized in their timing. 

On Facebook the other day, a friend asked if someone could give her the recipe to make a good stock. Only last year did I make my first chicken stock and I was hooked as soon as it was on the stove, simmering. No more of that store bought box stuff in this house! There is very little that is yummier than rice that has been boiled and simmered to velvety lushness in one part homemade stock, one part water. I melt just thinking about it. 

But, to make stock, one needs bones. 

And oh, the bones. 

If you've never made stock before, I really recommend you try this recipe for "Engagement Roast Chicken" by the Barefoot Contessa. Ina Garten is a food goddess and this chicken never fails to come out of the oven moist and divine. (The name "Engagement Chicken" stems from the tales that women make this for their boyfriends and they propose. I boggle at these stories, but I know this is a very lovely recipe so perhaps there's some kernel of truth there. For myself, I think I offered to marry the chicken after the first two bites the first time I made this... so there you go)
melting succulent fabulousness

·         Ingredients for the roast: 
·         1 (4 to 5 pound) roasting chicken
·         Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
·         2 lemons
·         1 whole head garlic, cut in 1/2 crosswise
·         Good olive oil
·         2 Spanish onions, peeled and thickly sliced
·         1/2 cup dry white wine
·         1/2 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade**
·         1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
** Ok. So first problem with this recipe is that you need to have homemade chicken stock. Clearly, you may not if you're reading this and wanting to make your own. It's okay. Go get a box of the Swanson or whathaveyou. I won't tell anyone. You need it for the sauce at the end which is Also Deliciousness Incarnate. 

Ingredients for the Stock:

the giblets.
the roast.
celery - one decent sized bunch cleaned and cut into finger length segments is fine
carrots - about as many as you have celery. Tip the ends and chop into the same sized segments
onions - 2-3 large or 4-5 small to medium yellow onions, peeled and halved are fine. 
garlic - cloves peeled, to taste.
good herbs - bay leaves are excellent for stock making - one or two for this. You probably have enough salt and pepper from the roast and can always add more after you're done. I tend to err on the side of less salt than more, though I know cooks who oppose that tendency. 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. - a decent oven thermometer is an infinitely good investment. if you overheat the oven, the chicken will *look* done far before it actually *is* done. Believe me. It took me several chickens coming out with their juices running clear but their thigh meat being very decidedly Not Cooked before I got this through my head. Learn from my stupidity, please. 
The first part of the recipe at the food networks site is just flat out wrong. It says to remove and discard the giblets - the funny little paper package tucked away inside the cavity of the roasting bird? Don't do that. I mean, yes, remove the giblets, but do not discard them. Tuck them in a tupperware or covered bowl and put them in the fridge until you go to make the stock. They should definitely go in the stock because they're full of nutrients and goodness, and we really ought not to waste the bits and bobs if we can use them. Don't worry - if the thought of eating chicken livers squeebs you out, you're not actually popping the little morsels into your mouth - all the solids of the stock are discarded at the end of the simmering process (which does make me a little sad, truth be told). 
Pat the outside dry. According to all my Julia Child cookbooks, leaving water on meat and trying to roast it is pretty much offering up your meat for a steam bath - which means it won't give up the golden, roasted color. It will instead look sickly and pale and very unappetizing. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Cut the lemons in quarters, place 2 quarters in the chicken along with the garlic and reserve the rest of the lemons. Brush the outside of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in a small (11 by 14-inch) roasting pan. (If the pan is too large, the onions will burn - I typically cram the bird and bits into my lovely dutch oven which is useful when I go to make the sauce at the end.) Place the reserved lemons and the sliced onions in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Pour the mixture around the chicken in the pan.
Roast the chicken for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and a thigh. Remove the chicken to a platter, cover with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the sauce, leaving the lemons and onions in the pan.
Place the pan on top of the stove and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the wine and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits. Add the stock and sprinkle on the flour, stirring constantly for a minute, until the sauce thickens. Add any juices that collect under the chicken. Carve the chicken onto a platter and serve with the lemons, onions, and warm sauce.
How awesome is that? 
And then it gets better. So you've had your mouth watering chicken and just melted over the sauce and all that good stuff, and now you have a chicken carcass. I do recommend carving up all the meat stuff that you want from the bird and leaving the things that you don't eat or want either on the bird or with it. Do Not Throw Away Anything. If you don't eat chicken skin, don't get rid of it! If you ate the drumstick, do not toss the bone! If you don't eat dark meat, don't despair! 
All those things - the whole carcass - goes into a large stock pot. I believe the pot I use is an 8 quart size. I literally take the plate that the bird is on and slide everything off into the pot - including any onions or lemons that have been left behind. Once you've done that, add the giblets, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, the bay leaves and enough water that it covers all the yummies in the pot. Bring this to a boil and then cover, turn the heat down and let it simmer for approximately three hours. If the water drops below the level of the carcass and noms, add more. You can let it simmer for longer and it will be a very rich stock, I usually have enough patience for three hours before I pull it so it can start to cool. 
The stock needs to cool enough that you can strain it. This might require another set of hands depending on how your upper body is. I am a bit of a t-rex with the arm strength - feeble at best - but I still manage to pour portions out into the strainer which has a large bowl below it to catch the stock. Those portions are divided into tupperware and put in the fridge - good for a week - or into the freezer - good for six months or so. 
Another bonus is that if you put it in the fridge and leave it for 24 hours, you can skim off the fat from the top and then store it – voila, you have a very healthy stock!
Sadly, all the bits from the stock making have to cool and then are discarded. If anyone has ideas for what I can use them for, I am all ears. 
Happy Stocking! Let me know if you try these recipes and how they turn out! 

07 January 2011

The Key Holder

About a year ago, I had a dream about a ceremony in my future where I was given a key. The dream was sweet and full of hope, something I needed right then, but I was fascinated with the symbolism of the key as it was slipped around my neck on a fine golden chain and laid gently between my breasts. The key was symbolic of home and hearth, of responsibility to those living in the household, and commitment.

Norse and Heathen culture have vague, passing references to the Key Holder in lore. She was the woman who literally ran the household – in tarot decks, one might associate her with the Empress, full of knowledge and the weight of knowing what was in their larder and how to judiciously use all things and be hospitable to the home, the host, the guests and not least importantly, the Gods. In runes, Othala would make the most sense being the rune of homeland, hold and ancestral knowledge - all the things that are passed down in knowledge and physical wealth. The French had their Chatelaine, the northern tribes had Fulla, Frigga's handmaiden who cared for the household casket, and on and on. It seems that the stories of these people and gods are written quietly into the fabric of larger stories. 

Long before coming to Heathenry, I balked at the idea that ‘my place’ was in the home. I bristled at the thought of learning to cook or cleaning or chores and preferred instead to think of myself as a liberated female who was (eventually) going to get herself a very professional job. Cleaning was a chore. Laundry was a trial. Making dinner was something that could be done well, sometimes, but really only for company. I married and moved to Fort Drum NY, the stay-at-home-because-there-were-no-jobs-to-be-had-wife of an Army combat medic, and discovered that my sudden (and very depressing) lack of anything to do (or any money to do it with) could be channeled into making our spacious apartment a home. My inability to do anything suddenly became a testing ground for baking and cooking, for budgeting, for making do with very, very little.

It was an eye opening experience.

And yet, even though that marriage didn't last the decade, the many lessons I learned at the hands of opportunity did. It is only in the last year that I’ve started to discover how much this idea of Home and The Sacred complement each other and build on the basic blocks that came from my poor proving ground.  All the things I do that give rise to song and power and sustaining of me and mine, are done with a sense of the Sacred. To take care of one’s home is to not just respect the space and spirit of the place, but to honor those who are nurtured by that space. It has become less about proving myself better than those women who stayed in the home as I believed in my younger years, and more about proving myself worthy of my ancestors many sacrifices to make me a Whole and Hale woman. 

This next year then, I’ll be building on that idea of the Sacred and Home and documenting the journey. This will end up involving more than just my household as at the end of the year, myself and a dear friend will be hosting a Very Heathen Jul/Yule for a local community. The building of a Hearth is a long process that can be very intense and likely very humbling. I am still learning and building on the lessons of before, but I feel very strongly that I am set on a path of strength and for the better, I will be able to take the things I've learned and use them to the advantage of my Hearth. I have not yet earned that key I dreamt of, but I am a willing apprentice to these lessons. 

Through the hands of my Mothers I will learn and unlock the larder of their wealth.