Category Archives: winter

pinon liqueur

How to catch the light.

(or, what to do with your Christmas tree)

I liken chasing time to hanging out with cats. You cat people out there will understand this scenario:

You want a cuddle, and you want it bad. Little fur ball is doing her thing, looking fluffy and cute. If you’re a normal, non-cat person, you pick her up and clutch her to your chest tightly. She might make a low mewing noise or she might go very still. Now you are happy because you have the kitteh, and this is good. Give it about 15 seconds before she starts wriggling. And then maybe if you’re lucky she can escape without scratching your face off. Every cat person knows that the best way to get a cat to cuddle you is to ignore it, or to develop a cat allergy, or to put on clean black clothes that are freshly ironed. In other words, to let go.

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plantmatterwater

The elegance of water.

Water both scares and excites me. Unlike my husband who can’t stay away from the stuff, I have a healthy respect for it due to a. being a not-so-strong swimmer and b. two almost drowning incidents on the sea shore. I grew up on the water, some of my earliest memories are of the smell of boat, of the sound of water lapping against the hull as I drift off to sleep, of the sounds of halyards tinking against masts and seagulls squawking as the wind picks up. Of sea spray, and of the terror that overwhelms me when land disappears from sight. Even now, when the depth radar goes to ‘too bloody deep’ and there’s no land, I start thinking about being swallowed. Of things like the Marianas Trench with its crushing darkness. Of what exactly is and could be down there, and of the crushing fluidity of it all. Out on the sea, one is truly and absolutely subject to the elements. Water and air, colliding on a surface, and us, tiny people, on the frontier.

Water is in us and water is outside of us. Water that seeps through our skin and water that we drink to quench thirst. Water, life provider, water as the primordial ooze that we emerged from billions of years ago. Water as our great ancestral mother and water as the soothing coolness that fills our bodies from the inside. Water heals. Water is sacred. Water is one primitive drive that we all have both towards and away from, in longing and in fear. Water is gentle, water can kill in no time at all, and water can heal. From the salt that dissolves in it to the blood in our veins, to the healing springs that bubble forth from deep below the earths crust, to a handful of herbs sprinkled over a hot pot and left to infuse as the water ekes out the goodness, and then there it is, the beauty of the elements: they are as powerful as the hand that wields them.

And water can be medicine. Alone, its hydrotherapy: the use of hot and cold water to draw circulation to and from places. Got an injury? Jump in the shower and blast the area with water as hot as you can bear for a couple of minutes, and follow that with 30 seconds of cold. Repeat, a couple of times, and you’ll stimulate circulation to the area. I’d almost guarantee swifter recovery (especially if you use Busted Joint Ointment at the same time ;)).

There’s the cold sock treatment, and the cold wet rag on throat treatment*. There’s hot springs and cold springs and plunging oneself into an ice cold lake after a hot sauna. And then there’s my favourite: the bath.

My old apartment lacked a bath tub. I would curl up on my side onto the floor of the shower, blasting the hot water, pretending. It didn’t work. One of the reasons I moved in with Jam was that he had a bathtub. True story. In our bathroom, we have a few big buckets: Epsom salt (available in bulk here); Mustard salt bath. And then we have a shelf with bath scrubs– I like to take a big scoop, scrub myself down and then let the oils float to the top of the bath. My all-time favourite, however, is the herbal bath. With a big pot of water on the stove and a handful of herbs simmered until the water is dark and fragrant. There is magic in these baths, deep and powerful.

Skin is absorbent, and its our biggest organ. Like a giant waterproof lung creating a permeable barrier between our bodies and the world. Everything you put on your skin is absorbed into your blood stream. Absolutely everything. Sitting back into a hot kava bath, for example, and within minutes the effects of the kava have penetrated your skin. You feel relaxed, you feel slightly woo-woo, and you feel, well, good. I add meadowsweet, and do the two in combination. The kava relaxes and unwinds your mimd, while the meadowsweet eases aches and pains, and the result is a pretty darn relaxed, social and all around good-feeling night.

Conifer baths are a glorious thing- simmer fir, spruce or pine needles until they’ve made a strong brew, and add to your bath for a fragrant, anti-inflammatory and somewhat expectorant bath (really, if there’s grunge in your lungs, after bathing in the stuff you’ll hack it up). Lavender baths relax the liver, until you’re so comfortable with the present moment that you don’t remember what you were worrying about in the first place. Ginger and mustard baths warm and stimulate the circulation making your fingers tingle and your toes feel on fire which, in the middle of the winter, can be a beautiful thing. Chapparal baths smell like the desert, especially with a sprinkling of desert lavender in there. Its anti-fungal and kills anything it comes into contact with (jock itch, athlete’s foot, you name it), and I’m not sure how it’d smell to a non-desert lover but to me its glorious. Rosemary stimulates circulation and smells good to boot (though careful if you tend towards high blood pressure because it can give you a nasty headache), Bladderwrack is pain-relieving, slimy, good for the skin and chock full of iodine (and bathing in it is a lot more pleasurable than drinking it, in my opinion). Eucalyptus for your respiratory tract, Arnica for joint pain, linden because its sweet, relaxing, heart-opening and beautiful, and mugwort, for the aromatics, for the blood-moving, for the crazy dreams you’ll have afterwards and for the ache-easing of both body and heart.

Favourite combinations include kava+meadowsweet for either joint pain or stress relief or both (and if the pain is really bad a dropper of arnica tincture); Eucalptus+Rosemary for feeling like you’re full of grunge; Douglas fir + pine for inflamed and sluggish and desperately in need of some fresh air; Chapparal + Desert lavender for missing the desert so much my heart hurts; Bladderwrack for sore joints and wanting to play Siren for the night (it is, however, required to lie in the bath and sing); Ginger + mustard for the kind of cold that seeps to your bones and makes you think that you’re never going to be able to move properly again; Linden + lavender, for the kind of sweet relaxation that makes you smile dreamily all evening; and mugwort + motherwort for achy moon time when you just want to sink into the earth and close your eyes and bite the head off anybody who tries to disturb you.

Simmer the herbs in a big pot on the stove for at least 20 minutes. I do about 2 cups of herbs per 2 gallons of water; you can find your own amount as you might like more or less. Then strain through a sieve and add to the bath.

Candles and a dark room are, of course, a must.

Almost all the above are available from Mountain Rose Herbs; I recommend buying equal quantities of whatever you’re using, putting them all together with big labels in big jars in whatever blends you so desire.

And in April, for my Monthly Herbal Surprise Box I’ll be sending out a herbal bath infusion, so if you’d like to receive a special bath, you can sign up.

And if you’ve made it this far, tell me please, what are your favourite herbal baths?

*For flu: wet socks, covered with dry wool socks, to stimulate fever. For sore throat: cold wet rag over the throat until it warms: stimulates circulation to the area; works wonders.

apple conifer tart

Happy happy.

(Spiced conifer infused apple tart with a bonus tea recipe to boot!)

As I write this, Los Angeles is [relatively] quiet, the afternoon winter sunlight is streaming through the windows, through the incense smoke that clouds the air, onto my legs which are half covered by a very fat cat (actual fat cat, not metaphoric rich person fat cat). As I write this there is a tart in the oven, which will be left to cool and sliced up and wrapped in foil and hiked deep into the mountains early tomorrow morning, while Jam and I hunt for mushrooms and picnic.

In my morning stoop sessions, lately I’ve been thinking about arbitrary dates, and what an arbitrary date our ‘new year’ is. As we were falling asleep last night Jam and I decided that in future our new year will fall on the solstice, as that makes the most sense. A [sweet, lovely, beautiful and insightful] friend pointed out to me this morning that the fiscal new year starts in January and so between the solstice and the fiscal new year is a kind of free-fall; a timeless zone, where presents are given and puddings are eaten and wine is drunk and merry is made. And I like it that way. The last couple of weeks have been timeless in a good way. I’ve taken long walks in the desert. I’ve watched storms round the top my favourite mountain, and snow coat the peak over a couple of hours. I’ve gone searching for chanterelles on an almost daily basis, climbing and resting in my favourite tree, wandering out in the now green rolling hills, following deer tracks, picking up hawk feathers and animal bones and other earthly treasures. I’ve woken up before dawn and done yoga practice in a cold living room as the light slowly creeps back into the world, and I leave  you with that picture: of the world waking up from a dream. Freefall is about to end. Happy arbitrary fiscal new year even though the real new year (as I’ve decided) actually happened on the solstice. More importantly, thank you. For existing. Thank you for reading and commenting on this little corner of the interweb. For providing constant conversation and inspiration and support. I hope the next year is bigger, better, more nourishing, more exciting, more adventurous, more prosperous and more restful than ever before. I’ll be back with recipes and adventures in a few days. Until then, here’s a tart.


Spiced conifer infused apple tart

**edit** Have recently remade this putting half a bag of frozen blackberries over the middle of the tart before drizzling the caramel. Inspired decision; you must. try. it.

Spiced conifer brew: 

1 cup conifer needles (I use a combination of white fir, pinyon pine and jeffrey pine. You can use what you have around, which might even be a Christmas tree)

1/4 cup juniper berries

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cardamom

pinch clove

pinch mace

pinch ground ginger

Mix all the ingredients together. To serve as tea, for a tablespoon of tea, pour over 1 1/2 cups boiling water and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and add honey and cream. Serve hot.

 

 

Spiced conifer caramel: 

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

2 tb conifer tea

5 tb butter

5 tb heavy cream

big pinch salt

Bring all the ingredients to a slow simmer for 30 minutes. Strain out the plant matter and return to the stove. Bring to a boil and reduce to a thick syrup- about 20 minutes. Add the salt. It’ll be a rolling boil and quite thick at this point. Throw in the butter, let it melt, then remove from the heat and stir in the cream.

 

 

Conifer-spiced apple tart. 

1 portion sweet tart crust 

apples. Forgive me I don’t know how many you’ll need. Let’s say 3 big granny smiths to start; that’s about what it took for my 9-inch tart pan.

Conifer-spiced caramel

Peel the apples, and cut the flesh into thin half-moon slices. Roll out the tart crust and lay it over a 9-inch tart pan, and prick the bottom with a fork. Lay out the apple pieces in a pretty pattern, I do concentric circles. Pour about 3/4 cup of the caramel sauce over the top, then put the whole thing in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350, and bake the tart for 30 minutes, or until the apples are golden and soft and the tart crust has taken on a golden brown colour. Serve hot or cold, drizzled with heavy cream.

 

rainyfeet

Stress, sleeplessness, and stolen moments

(what’s been happening lately, plus a very brief motivational speech)

Stress tolerance is not my forte. Between work, home and running a business in the lead-up to holiday season, I’m turning into a frayed knot. Prioritizing, to-do lists, more to-do lists, priority to-do lists, and putting the rest off till January are all my friends. As are relaxing nervines. My current favourites are kava kava and passionflower (to calm the eff down), with some ashwagandha to help maintain my energy levels, and oatstraw for my fried little nerves. Occasionally I throw in some rose, and sometimes I’ll use peach leaf when the stress affects my tummy too. Nourishment is key. Breakfast, no matter how little I want to eat it, sleep, no matter how much my brain wants to keep me awake, and little moments of devotion and peace-making, even if its just standing on the doorstep in the pouring rain for a few minutes.

Little moments of devotion are what I have to offer this week. Here are some snapshots from recent happenings.

It rained:

I chopped up pounds upon pounds of fresh solomon’s seal, for Busted Joint Ointment and an upcoming injury tincture:

Emily and I went on a long autumnal walk, in which we kicked leaves around, picked through pine cones, and had a birthday picnic in our favourite picnic spot. Also, she looked at every spot of lichen along the way and I chattered incessantly. This is how our walks go.

Jam and I hopped on a ferry:

And we saw these guys, lounging:

I made some sparkly rose-tinted lip salves:

I hawked my wares at a wonderful holiday show at Platform:

Um, and I met the cookie monster. At a nightclub, even. You can see by my face that I was ridiculously happy and excited about this and didn’t notice till afterwards that he had human hands and therefore was most likely not real. Which then makes me wonder who the hell had his hand on my arm and I’m slightly creeped out. Also, I went to a nightclub (that was interesting).

And amid all the madness, there’s been cooking, dreaming, dancing and very little sleep. If you’re in LA, I will be at Unique LA on the weekend of December 1 and 2. It’ll be busy and most excellent, and you should definitely come by to get all of your Christmas/Chanukah/whateveryoucelebrate presents in one place. While I’m officially sold out of Christmas puddings and Surprise Boxes for December, I will have some cool specials and stocking stuffers coming up in the next few weeks, and if you’d like first dibs on them (I won’t make many) I recommend following Cauldrons and Crockpots on Facebook, or signing up for the Kings Road Apothecary newsletter.

Coming up in the next few weeks: a small gift guide, fire cider, and fruitcake. You know, because its that time of year.

To all of you feeling the stress: stick it out, man. We can all sleep in a big old fox-pile come January.

smoked hot chocolate

Crying over smoked milk

This post is being submitted to the Wild Things roundup over at Hunger and Thirst. If you [still] haven’t checked it out, please do!

Few things are as evocative as smoke. It’s primal. We humans have been using smoke since we started using fire. Which, if you think about it, was a long long time ago. It’s magic stuff– stuff that gets into your lungs and into your hair, and imparts its flavour to anything it touches. Smoke can be therapeutic (kills germies and such) or it can be magical (alters minds and such) or it can be comforting (hot fire on a cold day, and such). It can also fling you into memories, unawares, as if time exists so fluidly as to not really exist at all. One minute you can be standing in your kitchen attempting to light some branches on fire, and the next you are standing on a sea wall on the west coast of Scotland, with frozen fingers and a frozen red nose.

We’d spend our summers in a cottage in a little village called Craobh Haven. My days were spent scouring the rocky beaches (looking for treasure), and roaming the fields (looking for adventure). Such is the life of someone who grows up reading Enid Blyton books. On days when I didn’t get to roam, we’d go off on adventures, on boats to explore the Hebrides, out to see real live whirlpools, to explore old caves with stone formations that stretch all the way to Ireland. They were the best summers of my life. I’m sure at the time, in the way that kids do, I was jealous of those friends who got to go to Disney World, eat big hamburgers and get flourescent clothes to bring back to school. Florida was glamorous, where staying in rainy Scotland, well, wasn’t. However, until those comparisons arose (much like one can love ones outfit until one sees someone with a nicer outfit and then all of a sudden one begins to notice a frayed hem and a rubbed away elbow– as if for some reason we are built to compare), I was ecstatically happy. The first time I saw the Atlantic ocean was during one of those summers. We’d just emerged from a glass blowing workshop, and I had a little glass statue in the pocket of my wax jacket, flecked with pink and yellow, as if the artist had captured a nebula in a little glass ball. On the other side of the road was the Atlantic. I stood up on a wall with my fingers clenched tight around the cold metal railing, in the rain, trying to wrap my head around the vastness of it all. This might not feel abnormal to you if you are used to seeing ocean. But to a nine year old mind that had only ever sailed in a sea, this was an ineffable experience. One that shaped my life to such a degree that I still go to the ocean to get that feeling, even though its only 6 miles away now, and to this day my insides still dance with excitement at all that lies out there just beyond my reach.

After these long cold days, often roaming in the rain and cold (because lets face it, summer in Scotland doesn’t mean summer like it does in other places where the sun shines), we’d go back to the cottage and make hot chocolate. Mum often had a lively bunch of friends visiting. We’d light a fire, and the smell of smoke interlaced itself with the smell of sea and of happiness. The smell of smoke indoors, from a fire, on a cold day, is forever entangled with these memories. Not even like it happened yesterday, but like it’s happening simultaneously.

Of course the whole purpose for the smoke filled kitchen was hot chocolate. Smoky, sweet, evocative hot chocolate. With a hint of whiskey. And old leather. And tobacco. You smoke the milk, then pop the whole lot on the stove with chocolate and sugar and vanilla, then add a good splosh of whisky at the end. It’s perfect for these remaining cold wintery nights. A grown up, old fashioned, sexy hot chocolate. The kind of thing that you’d see served in Silverlake in a bar with fake old wood floors and waiters with heavy mustaches and waistcoats on. The kind of thing you’d pay $15 for and wonder how they made it, and wonder if you’re pretentious by osmosis for liking it. It’s a variation of a recipe that I saw on Tim Ferris’ site. His looked awfully labour intensive, and used a cigar. I don’t want cigar smoke hanging in my house for weeks on end, plus, I’m kinda fond of the smell of conifer. This, my friends, is crazy delicious– please give it a try.

Ponderosa smoked hot chocolate

serves 2

For the smoking: 

1 charcoal brickette

about 1/2 tsp conifer wood (preferably ponderosa pine, but anything delicious smelling will do), broken into little pieces

2 cups whole milk

1/4 cup heavy cream

tin foil

For the rest:  

3.5oz dark chocolate, chopped into small bits

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 tb nice whisky

To smoke the milk:

Place the milk, cream and sugar in a bowl, in a shallow dish of some kind. Place this shallow dish in a larger, deeper dish. Light the charcoal brickette, place it on a piece of tin foil, and set that alongside the shallow dish in the larger dish. Then place the bits of conifer atop the charcoal. It should start smoking. When it does, cover the whole thing with tin foil, tightly, and leave it for 20 minutes, checking periodically to see that the wood is still smoking (if not, re-light the charcoal or rearrange the wood).

Taste it. It should be smoky.

Put this milk mixture, plus the rest of the ingredients except the whisky in a saucepan over low heat. Heat gently until the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat, stir in the whisky (more or less to your taste) and serve. Preferably with a good book and a fireplace and a cold winter’s evening.

 

IMG_3473

Moroccan mallow salad

If I were to have a robot self, I would describe it something like this:

A satellite dish, with roots, and a nuclear reactor in the middle, plus two hands and a body with which to express the product of said reaction. And when it comes to writing, I feel like one has to have a satellite dish. If I’m not out there, wide open, taking in new stuff every day, then everything I create takes on a stagnancy that feels like a shrunken sweater. Like a record on repeat. During times when I don’t feel like going out into the world, I find that my creativity grinds to a halt too. It’s this strange balance of having to experience and give as much energy as possible in order to receive. To empty the vessel before it can be filled.

The past week I’ve been over tired, slightly grouchy, achy, fighting off this respiratory infection that’s been circulating around (and had hit everyone BUT me) and not really in the mood to go out and do anything. Even more than that, I’ll admit, I’m envious of all you folks who have a winter. Butter emailed me photos of her truck blanketed in snow and I felt a twinge of despair that we don’t really have that here. Last week it was eighty degrees, and while, come March I’ll be out hiking and  y’all snow-dwellers will be cursing me, right now, it’s Winter, and I want it to feel like it. Winter is the time to rest, relax, recharge, and curl up on the couch with hot chocolate and a good book, and when it’s 80 degrees and sunny, it really doesn’t feel like you’re supposed to be resting much.

LA is dry at the best of times. We’re on the edge between a big desert and a big salty ocean, and on my side of town it gets hot and dusty quite quickly. Respiratory infections that come around will lodge deep in the lungs but never really graduate past a dry splutter. We don’t get thick wet cold mucus here, we get green and yellow and bright eyes and red tongues and hard to hack up. Everything gets dried up. Like the cogs in my robot mechanics aren’t working properly. Last night I was staring forlornly at a blinking cursor on a blank screen, and then I made this sad little dry cough. I thought it was just a bit of dust or something but a minute later it happened again. And then another one. And then the sneezing started. And before I knew it, within the space of a couple of hours, I had graduated from grouchy and tired to sick.

To be honest, I was relieved. There’s nothing worse than being a creative robot and feeling like your cogs and mechanics aren’t working properly. To have hands that are supposed to be weaving and creating that just barely splutter to life and then die down. To be sick, after all the horrible terrible thoughts of it being gone forever (melodrama is my middle name) was a welcome relief. I’ll take achy coughy dried out stuck sinuses over gone forever any day.

When I first moved into this house, I did a few things that my neighbours found strange. The first was that I pulled out all the ornamental plants beside my kitchen door. The second was that I scattered the plot with seeds and forgot about it. The third was that, when the seeds started sprouting into weeds, I refused to do anything about it except eat them from time to time. One of the weeds that proliferates out back is hollyhock. Pretty big purple flowers in the summer, and pretty big leaves the rest of the year, you can’t pick plants in the mallow family without knowing immediately how they work in the body, because they’re slimy. Seriously slimy. They moisten things like nobody’s business, from dried out lungs to dried out intestines to burning urinary tracts. I went out last night, under the rising moon, and started picking mallow leaves, and as I did, I realised that they, too, have big satellite dishes that wave around in the night sky like they’re searching for transmission of some kind.

I thought about these big satellite leaves with their faces turned to the stars and I looked up to see this big moon rising into the sky. Funny, you know, that in such a yang-y city, here are these little plants with their faces turned up, soaking in the night and it occurred to me that this moment was as yin as it might get in LA. Yin of the darkness and contraction and moistness and death. Yin of the feminine figure and the earthy texture and the hand that gives life and the other hand that takes it. Yin of the stillness that gives birth to movement and the deep dark forests that have been there for thousands of years. In the middle of a city that is focused on youth and movement, and where (to mirror this) we don’t even have a proper winter (our plants don’t even get old- they just keep flowering and producing) I’ll take my yin moments as I can get them, especially when it’s sitting in the mud surrounded by big hollyhock leaves with the full moon shining down onto our big satellite dish faces. Smiles reflecting the sunlight, absorbing all that we can.

I bring in my haul of leaves and set about to making a dish I read about in Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco. If you’re ever going to get a Moroccan cookery book, let it be this one. The pictures alone will make you want to sell your children in exchange for plane tickets to Tangiers. The moistening effect of mallow plants is immediately noticeable. Within a few minutes of eating it everything feels looser, less painful and dried out. Within a few minutes of eating it, hot, achy restlessness is replaced by cool moon-struck rest. I had the same again for lunch today.

A note on this dish: it’s not attractive. You’ll have to pawn it off on people at first, insisting that they try it and then because of good manners they will feel forced to do so even though words like ‘weed’ and ‘wild’ might scare them a bit. But it’s ok because after that first bite they won’t be able to stop eating it and you will be happy.

A note on mallows: I don’t think you can find them in grocery stores, but come spring, you can find them in gardens and along roadsides. You can use hollyhock (alcea), or mallow (malva). They’re all used pretty much interchangeably in herbalism, so I don’t see why they’d be different in cooking.

Moroccan mallow salad

Adapted from The Food of Morocco

1lb wild greens

1 cup parsley

3 garlic cloves (peeled, but not chopped)

1/2 cup cilantro

1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp ground cumin

juice of 1 lemon

1 blender

Steam the greens, garlic, parsley and cilantro for ten minutes, until they’re definitely cooked but still bright green. Then, put them in the blender with the rest of the ingredients, and blend on high until they’re a thick green paste similar to the texture of ‘whipped potatoes’ as Paula says. Taste, add more salt if necessary. Refrigerate until cool and serve.

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A New Day’s resolution, and abhyanga.

As I said, these last couple of posts went up the wrong way around. Nonetheless, Happy New Year, lovely readers. Here are some photos from our Christmas week out in the desert.

I’m not really one for New Years resolutions- for the past year or so I’ve been practicing something I’ve come to dub ‘New Day’s resolutions’. As in, why the hell wait until January 1st to start something you’ve always wanted to start, or change something you’ve always wanted to change. Also, there’s the overwhelming-ness of having a list of things to start doing. New Day’s resolutions (NDR from here on, because typing it repeatedly gets annoying) are only allowed to be implemented one at a time, and only when the previous one is such a part of daily life that you don’t need to berate yourself into doing it, can you start a new one. As you can see, I’ve gotten pretty specific with the rules of these things…

As it so happens, I started a NDR that happened to coincide with the end of the year, and it has to do with nourishment. In brief, I am going to sleep more, worry about things less, and eat more fatty nourishing things (those of you who know me are going ‘what the hell? Rebecca needs to sleep MORE and eat MORE fatty things?’). I think it’s just something that we nurturing healing folks forget quite often- to rest, recharge, and make sure you are nourished before putting all your energy into helping others. Selfish? I don’t think so. A burned out, stressed out healer isn’t really worth much…

One of the things I’ve been doing lately to nourish myself better is a hot oil bath. It’s an ayurvedic thing that I first heard about while I was in India. Oil baths are reported to heal or ease a number of ailments, including stress issues, inflammation, joint pain, dry skin, and sleep disturbances. I’ve done it on occasion in the past, and have been doing it regularly for a few weeks now, and so far I’ve noticed a significant difference in my sore joints (a number of injuries), dry skin (it’s Winter), and sleep issues (the more stressed I am, the less deeply I sleep- I think this is common for most of us, no?).

You can do it with castor oil. This is my favourite, but I don’t recommend this to be honest- the first (and last) time I did it, it took me about 3 weeks to get the oil off the bath, let alone out of my hair. If you’ve got a drainage system that can handle using soap nut powder, then that’s the best way to get it out. But I live in a house that was built in the 20′s, and soap nuts ain’t going down my drain. I’ve tried using Dr. Bronner’s to wash it out, but it didn’t work. I was greasy for days. And don’t get me started on the shower. But sesame oil works really nicely, as does coconut oil. Both of which come out with regular old castille soap. You can also use infused oils- I love the ones from Banyan Botanicals, though they do get a little pricey, and regular oil works really well on its own.

Here’s what you do:

Abhyanga: Oil bath

You’ll need

1 old towel that you don’t mind being greasy and gross forever

about 16oz oil of your choice- I recommend castor (see above warning) or sesame

(optional: candles to light in the bathroom, you know, to make it more relaxing and pretty and stuff)

 

1. Warm the bottle of oil by submerging it in a pan of very hot (not boiling) water, for about 15 minutes.

2. Lay out a towel, remove all bath mats that you actually like from immediate area.

3. Starting at your head (and making sure that the oil is quite warm but not too hot), pour some of the oil onto the top of your head and hair. Massage it in, over your face and scalp, concentrating on sore, tense areas. Do this for about five minutes.

4. Add more oil, and brush it down over your body. Spend a few minutes massaging it into each area, then add more warm oil, and repeat. Eventually your entire body will be covered with oil (including the soles of your feet and in between your toes).

5. Lie down on your towel, relax for 15 minutes.

6. Shower it all off. I recommend Dr. Bronner’s soap.

7. Make a hot cup of tea, and relax for the rest of the evening. You’ll FEEL super relaxed, so it won’t be hard.

 

DISCLAIMER: If you have a physical practice of some kind, please take it easy the next day. I blew out my LCL the morning after an oil bath because I was so much more flexible than before!

Also, this process can be addictive.

 

So. Here’s to a New Year, a new day, and taking better care of ourselves. How about you guys? Any resolutions for the New Year? Any for the new day? Please share!

 

 

black tea white fir cake

Black [tea] and white [fir] cake

Today marks the shortest day of the year, where the sun, our source of warmth and light, is furthest from us. Living in a city, in the modern world, with electricity and lights and all kinds of noises blocking out the silence, it’s easy to forget that we still live in bodies that have cycles, on a planet that has cycles. Years ago, before all of that stuff existed, as the nights grew longer, and the cold grew deeper, imagine what a blessing that marker would have been: a turning point! The beginning of winter!! I imagine how, even though the coldest months are still to come, that little bit of light that’s growing in the sky is not just a marker of the passing of time but a beacon urging us forward when the darkness and cold might cause us to despair.

Winter is a time for nourishment. For relaxing and sleeping and taking care of yourself. For walks in the cold with a hot drink in our hands and for the smells of things baking to fill our houses. Winter is time to get back to our roots. Literally. To feel our feet on the earth and follow them underground and maybe even curl up for a nap, right there, wherever we are.

This morning I went for a walk before dawn. The poplar trees across the street are shedding their leaves- every minute one does its little death dance, falling to the concrete. I pressed my face against their bark, and inhaled a deep breath, and felt like I was being pulled into the earth by their roots, and the falling of leaves. It was intensely nourishing, like my body was drinking in the earth, and by the time I was ready to leave, the sun had emerged, casting orange light over the world around me. I wandered back inside and made myself a coffee, then leafed through cook books for a while, trying to decide what to make today.

Which brings me to fir. Kiva had sent me some of her white fir needles, and I had a bunch of Douglas fir branches sitting around being lovely and delicious, and I was desperate to bake something with the two combined. Since today is the most dense day of the year, and marks the first day of winter, I figured something dense and coniferous tasting would be perfect. A sweet stodgy elf bread that one could wrap up and take on a long hike if needed. I’m happy to say that it turned out just as I’d hoped. Dense, not too sweet, with a coniferous flavour that isn’t entirely overpowering, but is most definitely pronounced.

Where can you get your own fir needles? Look around you. Check on the internet to see what grows in your area. If you don’t have white and Douglas fir, try spruce (also delicious!) or pine. Taste the needles: each tree has a different flavour, and this flavour varies throughout the year too. Not only that, but if you gather extra, you can grind them up to make tea, which is one of my favourite things to sip on all winter. It’s really high in vitamin C, as bright and beautiful as (and even better tasting than) green tea, and each citrusy sip connects you to a forest out there. With each sip, you’re drinking in the nourishment that you get from resting your weary bones against a tree for a while, or curling up against a big gnarled root to take a nap. With each sip, and each deep breath, you’re connecting to a cycle that is older than we can possibly fathom. The darkest of days can be lit by the brightness in each cup. And that, to me (and you?), is a comforting thought to take into my wintery slumber.

Black (tea) and White (fir) Cake

Adapted from Home Made

4 tb butter

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/3 cups flour

1/4 cup really super finely chopped conifers (I dry them first, then give em a whiz in the blender or coffee grinder)

1 1/2 cups strong black tea

1 1/2 cups dried fruit (I used half sultanas, and half candied citrus peel)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 egg

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

 

Icing drizzle:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/8 cup finely chopped conifer needles

1/4 cup water

 

In a saucepan, heat up the black tea. Add the dried fruit, and half of the chopped conifers. Simmer on the stove until most of the tea is absorbed, and the fruit is nice and plump (about 1 hour). Remove from the heat, strain the raisins, and set aside the tea.

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a bowl, beat the butter, then add the sugar, then the egg, plus about 1/4 cup of the remaining cooking liquid. Stir in the raisins, then add the rest of the chopped conifers, the baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Then add the flour. It should be quite a thick batter.

Pour into a greased loaf pan, and bake for 1 1/4 hours, until a knife inserted comes out clean.

While the loaf is cooling, prepare the drizzle. Mix the ingredients together in a saucepan, and heat until the sugar is melted. Remove from heat, and allow to cool for a few minutes, then, using a spoon, drizzle it over the cake.

Can be served slightly warm, in slices, with a pat of butter. Can also be wrapped up and taken on long winter walks, to be eaten under a tree.

eggnog

Eggnog. In a mug.

(on the warming magic & merits of cinnamon)

For a week we experimented with keeping the heating on all the time. It was nearing 40 degrees in Los Angeles and living in Southern California for any length of time does something to your temperature tolerance. That is, it destroys it. But having the heating on all the time didn’t work. Not one bit. We’d both wake up every morning with dry skin and sore throats and stuffy noses. So after that week, we went back to putting it on for a few hours in the morning. While the rest of the world is still asleep, I’ll wake up, and shiver my way downstairs to throw the heating on then run back upstairs and jump under the covers until the house is a little warmer. When it’s an acceptable temperature I’ll resume my morning activities which include hot drinks, fluffy blankets and cold doorsteps.

At times like these, spices comes in really handy. Because having something bubbling away on the stove sending the scent of cinnamon and spice and sweetness into the air is a really nice way to warm up a space without getting dried out. Not only that, but it makes it feel like winter when it’s sunny outside and doesn’t look like winter at all.

I was chatting on Skype with my teenage sister in law the other day. She was asking about cinnamon and what it does medicinally, as it’s her favorite smell. I told her about how cinnamon warms the body. How it helps with circulation issues like cold fingers and toes. How it helps with the ups and downs of too much caffeine and too much sugar. And how it’s astringent– it stops bleeding, stops leaking, balances out imbalance. She laughed and said that it sounded like exactly what she needed, and I pointed out that people often gravitate towards what they need…

Sometimes with cinnamon, I feel like having it in the air, it works this way on spaces too. Mulled wine bubbling away on the stove warms up the cold corners, and halts the cool breeze from sneaking in under the door. A dash of cinnamon in your coffee in the morning both helps you respond to the caffeine better, and also helps with the mucus-y feeling people often get from too much dairy. A sprinkle of cinnamon on your blueberries and cream help to balance out your blood sugar. Considering the big creamy lattes I like to drink and my nervy-body, I’m really grateful for cinnamon most mornings…

And in the evenings lately, I’ve been making a quick-nog. Admittedly, until about a week ago, I’d never had eggnog before. I didn’t know until a few days later that most people drink it cold. I can’t fathom the idea of drinking something creamy and iced when it’s so cold outside, so I carried on making mine warm. Eggnog, my friends, is my new favourite thing. Between the creaminess and the spices and that dash of rum, it feels like sipping on a thick milky delicious cloud. I said ‘dash’ of rum, because my alcohol tolerance is like that of a child, and I don’t like being drunk, I just like the taste of it. The first night I added what was more like a glug, and I woke up with a headache the next morning. Now, I remind myself that it might LOOK like a warm milkshake but it is an alcoholic drink and that if I keep drinking them with a glug every night people might start getting worried, especially if I end up on Facebook telling everyone how much I love them (this happens, pretty much every time).

One more thing. It’s very nutritious. If this information will ruin it for you, stop reading here and just go make it (or wait till 5pm and make it?). But between the milk and cream, the egg yolks and the spices, you’ve got yourself a nutritional powerhouse, made from superfoods that you don’t need to import from Brazil or a small Pacific Island. Considering how worn out, stressed and exhausted most of us are at this time of year, I’d even go so far as to say that it’s medicinal :). So go and take your medicine please, and then get on Facebook and tell me how much you love it.

Eggnog. 

Serves 1. Multiply quantities for more.

1 egg yolk

1 cup milk

1/2 cup cream

1/4 tsp of grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp cinnamon and cardamom combined

1 tb sugar (I use sucanat- it adds more flavour I think, but you can use regular sugar in a pinch)

2 tb spiced rum (if you’re like me make it 1-2 tsp)- see below, or just buy it

Warm the milk and cream on the stove. Don’t bring it to a boil or anything, just very hot. Remove from the stove, add the spices, the sugar and the booze. With a whisk, whipping it steadily, add the egg yolk, then put it back on low heat until it thickens just a tiny bit.

Serve in a big mug with a fluffy blanket and maybe even an elf hat.

 

Make your own spiced rum: 

1 bottle of golden rum

1 cinnamon stick

2 vanilla beans

1 tsp black pepper corns

2 tsp cardamom

peel of 1/2 orange

Throw the lot together in a jar of some kind. Leave it for 2-5 days, shaking when you remember. Strain. Easy peasy!!!

 

IMG_9224

The loveliest sprout

I can’t believe I’m doing this to you. I mean, I hate sprouts. Really truly think they smell like socks and dirt and they make you fart to boot.

It’s all Jamie’s fault. We were getting our weekly shopping and he saw brussels sprouts and started jumping up and down with excitement. Anybody who gets that excited about something that most people hate really deserves to be given a chance, don’t you think?

Well it turns out that he has a special way of cooking them. Which means that it’s not his fault at all, it’s his step-dad’s fault. Gary, who taught Jamie how to work hard and to wash dishes and to cook brussels sprouts. Gary’s dish-washing technique, by the way, is one that Jamie has tried to teach me repeatedly. I am unteachable. I leave streaks on my dishes, and sometimes there’s still food there. This is because I learned to wash dishes from my dad, who was on a boat most of the time. Washing dishes on a boat is not about getting them as clean as possible, it’s about using as little water as possible, thus our cleaning routine went something like “run under water, rub with hand, turn off water and dry”. The look of horror on Jamie’s face when he first saw me doing this (granted, he’d been eating off my dishes for a while) was almost funny. Funny because I am pretty much forbidden to do the dishes in our house now. But not quite funny because I really had no idea I was doing it wrong in the first place.

So anyway, after hearing about Gary’s great dish-washing technique for so long (and never quite being able to master it; I think impatience plays a role here), Gary came to visit us for a couple of days. And he asked for a glass of water, and then I went to get it and there were no clean glasses. And with Gary standing right there I had to wash a glass.

Let me tell you, I actually broke a sweat. I mean, here was Gary who knows how to wash dishes so well that he actually has a technique, and me who knows how to wash dishes so badly that she’s not allowed to do them very often, and Gary wants to drink out of a glass that I will be washing. My hands were shaking as I tried to remember the fold-cloth-over-lip-and-press-hard thing. He didn’t look horrified. Good sign. Then he actually accepted water and drank it. Double good sign. I think he probably wondered why this weird girl was shaking while doing dishes.

I was chatting to my friend Mark last week when he mentioned that he was force fed brussels sprouts as a kid. He hates them so much that BS to him does not mean bull poo. Nope, it means brussels sprouts. I thought this kind of funny. My hatred really didn’t run that deep, I just found them kinda pongy. But I have been converted. And it’s not just me. My 13 year old sister who HATES anything cabbagey, who told me dubiously that she’d try it but only because she’ll try anything once, actually loved it so much that she made it herself the next day. Yes, I converted a teenager to brussels sprouts land. If that’s not enough to convince you then you’re obviously too hard a sell.

Sprouts, the good way

1 lb brussels sprouts

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

2 tb butter

2 tb olive oil

 

Slice the brussels sprouts into thin strips, about 1/8″ wide. Get a skillet nice and hot, then reduce to medium, add the oil and butter, and throw in the sprouts. Sprinkle over the salt and pepper, and then let them sit there for about 2 minutes. With a spatula, start to move them around a little– they should be golden brown in places. Then let them sit another minute or so. Then move them around again. They should be browning in some places, and bright green in others. After about 5 minutes total, remove from heat and serve.