Lemon Pie for Beltane

Bright and sunny--and sinfully easy--lemon pie

Bright and sunny–and sinfully easy–lemon pie. Image Credit: Cook’s Country

I don’t know about anyone else, but I had a positively smashing Beltane full of flower crowns and maypoles and lots of fun with covenmates.  I can’t get over how green the world has become over the past week.  The grass in the field behind my home is positively verdant and so thick that the Canadian geese that alight in it are practically swallowed whole.  The trees that stand just beyond now have full-fledged leaves rather than the wan green mist that had been deepening throughout April.  There’s a new hope and optimism in it, and it’s infectious.

For a while, my go-to dessert for a Beltane Feast has been Key Lime Pie–an absolute favorite of mine.  It tastes like the start of summer, and gives me the same pleasant feeling as watching the greening of the earth.  But my standard recipe for that is straight off the back of a “Nellie and Joe’s Key Lime Juice” bottle, and I typically use a store bought crust for it–and frankly, I wanted to do something a bit more special for a holiday.

Recently, Katie Workman’s 2013 write up of Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie has made the rounds on my social media, and I’ve given it a try.  It’s a lovely pie–very much like my favorite Key Lime–and the saltiness of the crust is a nice touch.  But I thought Workman’s description of “Oh My God” pie was a bit of a stretch.  The crust crumbled if you looked at it wonky, and I thought the filling was too acidic and competed too much with the crust.  Last year Cook’s Country came out with a similar recipe, North Carolina Lemon Pie, and that was what I chose to use for my Beltane dessert.  The extra pinch of salt, extra butter, and addition of corn syrup to the crust makes it far more manageable and delicious.  Adding lemon zest to the filling gives nice textural contrast and more lemon flavor, and adding 1/4 cup of heavy cream cuts down the acidity and makes the filling even more luscious.  I did, however, omit the vanilla extract in the whipped cream topping–there’s nothing better than barely sweetened whipped cream!

lemon-pie1

It doesn’t get much better than this. Image Credit: BlessThisMessPlease.com

North Carolina Lemon Pie

For the Crust:
6 ounces Saltine crackers (about 1-1 1/2 sleeves)
1/8 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup light corn syrup
For the Filling:
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup juice (about 3 lemons)
1/4 cup heavy cream
For the Topping:
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Add the saltines and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until you have coarse crumbs (about 15 pulses). Add the melted butter and corn syrup and pulse until the crumbs are about the size of oatmeal (another 15 pulses).

Add the cracker mixture to a greased 9-inch pie plate. Use the bottom of a dry measuring cup or glass and press the crumbs into an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the dish.  Place the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake until light golden brown, 17 to 19 minutes.

To make the filling, whisk the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, cream (if using), and lemon zest together in a bowl, add the lemon juice and whisk until well combined.

With the pie plate on the baking sheet still, remove it from the oven and pour in the filling (the crust does not need to be cooled) and place it back in the hot oven. Bake until the edges of the pie are set but the center still jiggles, 15 to 17 minutes. Place the pie on a wire rack and let it cool completely. Refrigerate the pie until completely chilled.

For the topping, use a stand mixer fitted with a whisk and whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla on medium low until foamy (about a minute). Increase the mixer speed to high and whip until stiff peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Spread the whipped cream over the top of the pie and serve cold.

What Kind of Witch Snaps a Broomstick?

It’s been only a million years since I last updated.  Life has me so busy!  I knew transitioning to teaching school would be a lot of work, but I was vastly unprepared for the hours I’m putting into this job.  Twelve hour days at the school alone are now a norm, and most of my weekend hours are devoted to grading and planning.  I’m in an exceptionally demanding period of the year right now, both with teaching and with my graduate classes, and I’ve only been getting 3-4 hours of sleep a night since Spring Break let out.  Long story short…if you have kids, let their teachers know you appreciate them.

I don’t anticipate updating much here until the end of May, when things will start to lighten up with work and school.  At the moment, I plan to start plodding through the second Roderick book around then, but I’m still on the fence about that decision.  Frankly, I’d rather put my energies into finessing coven things, and I feel that needs to be a priority now.  There’s also other book things that I’m a bit more interested in at the moment…so I guess we will see what the summer holds when summer rolls around.

broken_broom_by_birvan

Well don’t I feel a fool.

In other news…I did a bone-head thing in circle last night.  I’m battling a cold, which always makes me a foggy delight.  There was a moment in circle where I was cracking a joke, but started to cough.  The cough knocked my balance out a bit, so I took a half-step backward to correct it…and promptly trod on the coven broomstick and snapped it in half!

I felt awful about it, and of course will replace it.  In fact, I just placed the order with Broomcorn Johnny’s in southern Indiana.  My coven leaders are pretty much the most kind and gracious people you’ll ever meet, so I probably could have waited a bit.  However, since “a broom bought in May sweeps the family away” and we’re now in the second half of April…I sure didn’t want to wait too long!

Recalling that bit of superstition made me wonder if there was any lore pertaining to breaking a broomstick.  I searched the Internet from top to bottom, though, and the only thing I found was a snippet from Henry M. Hyatt’s Folklore of Adams County, Illinois saying that “whoever breaks a broom handle will soon break someone’s heart.”  I guess I better tend to my relationships!

I was certainly quite surprised at how much broom lore I found, though.  Perhaps someday soon I’ll study it as a magical tool a bit more and see what else I find.

Guest Post: Niki Whiting Reviews Witches of America

A friend of mine, former Patheos blogger Niki Whiting, recently wrote a review of Alex Mar’s book Witches in America, and posted it to her Facebook account.  The book has been fairly popular among the general population, but received poorly among most Pagans.  Several reviews have already been written, notably from  John Beckett, Segomâros Widugeni, David Salisbury, Jason Mankey, and perhaps most famously by Rhyd Wildermuth, who rocked his ten ways to Sunday.

Witches is a book that I’ve been struggling to finish myself ever since it was published.  For me, Mar’s hypocrisy makes it almost impossible for me to engage with the book.  It is a similar phenomenon I feel when watching the antics of Steve Carell’s Michael Scott on The Office:  that character makes me feel so embarrassed for him that the embarrassment carries over into how I actually feel.  Like Scott, Mar’s antics are so over the top, the embarrassment I feel for her ends up making me feel embarrassed to be a Pagan seeker.  Especially one who writes of the journeys on my own path for all to see.

Niki’s review is one of the cleanest, most succinct accounts I’ve read of the hypocrisy that I react to most strongly and so, with her permission, I have re-posted it here.

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9780374291372_custom-999258ada9215870892413b0928b340bd9ff75a1-s400-c85So, I finished Alex Mar’s Witches of America. For those not in the loop, this is a mainstream book about a woman’s spiritual “journey,” involving traditions I am involved with and people I know personally. It has been favorably reviewed in mainstream publications, including NPR, and reviled among those in the actual Pagan world.

I don’t need to rehash the questionable ethics Mar displayed to the communities involved, but for those unfamiliar with this kerfuffle, please note that she did not change any names or details, including those of minors, with the exception of one person, who the wider community suspects scammed her.

I admit I expected much more from this book, seeing as how it is published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, a quality publisher. What we get is a series of undergraduate reports from a college level “Intro to 20th Century Paganism” mashed together with what could be her LiveJournal. Except…. Mar is an accomplished writer in her 30s.

(I should say I skimmed a few sections: I refused to read about anyone’s initiatory experiences, especially as conveyed in Mar’s artless writing.)

Some wondered if Pagans and witches were so upset with this book because of what she says about the groups she’s in. This is not it. No one else has said it, but I will: many of her feelings about her experiences and her opinions of certain groups and people I shared at one point! I’ve been in ritual and wondered what the hell was going on, feeling out of place, and so on. To trot out my favorite quote: “You’re not *wrong*, Walter; you’re just an asshole.”

Two examples, if I may. Two examples that I have not seen addressed in any reviews, but to me are the shining examples of what a failure this book is.

Throughout the book Mar describes her yearning for Secrets, for the je ne sais quoi that a certain priestess has in spades. Yet, again and again the Mysteries are laid out before her and she swots them away because they do not fit her preconceived notions, nor do they get her what she wants.

Early on in the book she describes living with the Jesus Movement, a tiny Christian sect in California, hoping to convince them to be filmed for her documentary. She mentions how exhausting it was to smile just right all the time. Instead of *being* a trustworthy person, she tries to convince them she’s trustworthy.

Finally, the group lets her know that they decline the offer to be filmed. Instead, they tell her “What we would really like is for you to become our sister.” They offer her a place in their community. Rather than reflect with humility on the gift being offered her, Mar is “disturbed, nauseous…. I’d been emotionally sideswiped.” Sure, there is disappointment in having the project “derailed,” but she views the relationships built over the months together as a waste.

This section, not 50 pages in, let me know right away what kind of person was narrating this story. She could be handed the keys to the kingdom and she would throw them away assuming the shed was of no worth.

The second example comes 50 pages later. Mar has found a teacher to study with. She is filling out the extensive vetting questionnaire. Mar writes “the cynic in me realizes that this would be a neat document for someone to have her in back pocket if we were ever to part ways unhappily. So while remaining pretty candid in my responses, I double-check for any comments I’d hate to have get out. After all, Karina is literally compiling a file on me.”

The stark irony of this stopped me cold. There is no reflection here about the fact that Mar herself is compiling a file and she *will* give away information. She shares intimate stories and deeply personal details of people she claims to be friends with. This is a place where I would hope an editor stopped and said, “Is this all you want to say about this?”

And that is crux of this book’s deepest flaws: for all of her angst, Mar is incapable of self-reflection in any meaningful way. The books seems to want to be a hip, darker version of Eat, Pray, Love – a flawed book that I quite liked. Sadly, Eat, Pray, Love may as well be a Pulitzer prize winning book of deep insight in comparison.

In the end, the people portrayed in Witches of America come across as complex and very human people. Mar, however, reveals herself as shallow, deeply insecure, and riddled with status-anxiety.

This book is a failure of a memoir and/or a sociological book. It is an embarrassment and should not have been published.

Avoid it all costs.

An Improved Matchstick Container

Jar vs. bottle

Jar vs. Bottle:  How crafty do you want to be?

Last year around this time, I wrote about how I’d thrown out my ratty matchbooks in lieu of a mason jar and sandpaper rig.  I do love the mason jar set up as it is such a simple fix to an annoying problem, but over the last year I did notice that I was experiencing a couple problems.  The first was that every time I needed to grab a match, I had to unscrew the jar top.  I had to be a bit careful about this because of all the layers of sandpaper I’d nestled in the top.  If I opened everything too quickly or turned the lid the wrong way, I’d be spending a few seconds cleaning up rounds of sandpaper.  The other issue I noticed was that I would have to frequently use 2-3 matches to get one to light.  Granted, this may be because I used a very fine grit of sandpaper and could have changed out to a larger grit pretty easily, but cutting out sandpaper rounds gives me a similar reaction as some people have to “nails on a chalkboard,” and I procrastinated horribly on that task.

Bottle

Carol Watson Artwork’s Matchstick Bottles, as shown on her Etsy store.  She can also be contacted via her website or Facebook page.

Well, during a shopping trip at an artist’s co-op the other day, I discovered an iteration on this theme that I think is brilliant.  Hoosier bead and jewelry artist Carol Watson has taken small glass bottles and Dremel-engraved a rough crosshatch pattern on the bottom.  All you do is tip a match out of the bottle, strike it on the bottom, and go about your business.  I’ve yet to have a match fail on this crosshatch, which is engraved pretty deeply–it’s no light frosting!  The engraved lines are just deep and wide enough enough for the match to catch and light, but spaced enough to clean any residue easily with just a damp cloth.  Carol also dresses her bottles up with a bit of raffia and one of her own lampwork bead creations.

Carol’s bottles are about $20 each, but provided one has a Dremel tool and an appropriate bit (this one should do fine with a standard Dremel and eliminate the need for engraving bits) as well as appropriately-sized bottles and patience, this could be a ridiculously simple, cheap, and effective gift option for coven mates and friends.  Perhaps an appropriate one for Candlemas?

NOTE:  These containers only work with “Strike Anywhere” Matches.

Updates and Oddments

"Hare and Owl" (2015) by Jackie Morris. A watercolor made for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Presented here because it is wintery and gorgeous.

“Hare and Owl” (2015) by Jackie Morris. A watercolor made for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Presented here because it is winter-y and gorgeous…pretty much what I hope January brings.  December was so unseasonally warm!

What an odd, exhausting few months it has been!  My teaching job continues to be more demanding than I ever thought it would be, and I can feel myself becoming burnt out.  I thought that the winter break would get me some much-needed R&R time, but instead I find myself slogging through paper grading and lesson planning.  It’s been a full-time (and then some!) job, and I don’t even have kids for two weeks.  I’m surviving, and I’m told that next year will be better…but holy mother, May cannot come soon enough.  I need a long stretch of flex time.

Grad school is going well–I’m currently rocking a 4.0 with two semesters under my belt–and so far it has proven to be a manageable work load with teaching.  My classes this next term, however, are going to be more demanding, and one of my professors wants me to write a book with her…so we’ll see how the balance progresses.

Craft wise, it’s a bit of a toss-up.  I am so, so happy with the coven that I was initiated into this past November, and I adore everyone in the community and I am loving the new practices that I’ve been learning.  But my personal practice has definitely slid to nearly non-existent what with the demands of work and school.  I really need to find a way to carve “me time” into my day…and get the energy to do more than lounge on the couch and watch Netflix!  I have a mountain of BOS copying to perform and ponder, meditation and energy work techniques to practice, and a whole slew of other things I’d like to take on.

In the interest of New Year’s Resolutions, then, my resolution will be to develop a better work/school/Craft/life balance.  I definitely do not function well when I do not have a true “weekend” to follow my own needs, so my working solution for now will be to try to accomplish all my school and work tasks during Monday-Friday.  I think it can be done if I work a little smarter.  I suppose we’ll see if I can do it.

Krampus: Folklore gone Fad?

Well that's just pleasant.

Well that’s just pleasant.

Not to sound like a crotchety old lady…but what on earth is up with Krampus saturation in pop culture and pagandom this year?  I know there’s got to be something going on when I’m seeing bumper stickers all over the city with some sort of iteration is “Krampus is the reason for the season.”  Indiana is a very Christian place–the majority of students in my classes aren’t permitted to celebrate Halloween–and Krampus…well, he’s cosmetically challenging to Christian culture.

Google tells me there’s a horror film by that name that came out on the fourth.  Is that the source of all this Krampus stuff every where I turn?  Is there something else in the zeitgeist?  I literally can’t recall ever seeing a piece of folklore become so faddish so quickly.

Flipbooks: Eliminate Losing Your Place in Ritual

A potentially easy way to organize a ritual script.

A potentially easy way to organize a ritual script.

In teacher school, I recently took a class where we learned about “foldables” or “interactive notebooks.”  These are basically semi-complicated ways of making notebooks more fun and showing students new ways to organize material.  If you want to see how absolutely bananas these things can get, I highly suggest searching both of those terms on Pinterest.  I have to admit, I’m fairly glad I didn’t do these in my own primary and secondary school days.  I was so OCD, I never would have used my notes for fear of ruining the artwork!

The simple foldables, however, I think are brilliant, both as teacher and student.  One organizer I really enjoyed was the flipbook.  I thought this particular one would be very handy for discrete notes, like parts of speech or comma rules, or even summary notes for reading a novel (a page for setting, rising action events, climax, new vocabulary, etc.)  But as I made my sample flipbook in class, it struck me that this would be brilliant for use in Wiccan ritual.

Follow me here.  How many of us have printed off a ritual script, brought it into circle, and then stumbled to find the different sections?  I know I certainly have.  And then you flip back and forth through different pages, convince yourself they’re in the wrong order, and basically go nuts trying to find your flow.  It doesn’t matter how big the font is–you constantly lose your place.

With a flipbook like this, though, you basically create labelled tabs for each ritual part, and the tabs let you quickly turn to the right area of your “script”.  If one page isn’t enough, you can always stack two or three and create a mini booklet for a section.  I’ve been using one for a couple weeks now to help me learn a new Outer Court script, and it’s been genius.

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Count the number of steps you have in your script.  Take half that number in pieces of paper.  Fan out the pieces evenly as shown in picture one.  Then, take the bottom page and fold it so that the middle page meets itself in a second fan.  (Note how their are two blue strips in the middle.)

To make the booklet like you see in the first page, just count out the number of steps in your ritual, then take half that many pages.  You may wish to do as I did and add another page as a “cover”.  Fan stack the pages in an even row so that they are offset from each other by a quarter inch or so.  Then fold the stack over upon itself so that the top half of the middle page fans over the bottom half of itself.  Staple the folded edge to hold everything together.  Write the name of each step on the exposed flap of a page, then fill in the rest of the page with your script for that step.  With the booklet closed, you’ll just see the names of the steps and can easily go to any with just a page turn.  And all it takes to make this booklet is paper, a stapler, and a pen.  Easy as pie.

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I actually prefer this method of creating a flip chart.  I made this one just for show.  If creating it for real use, I recommend extending the tape across the entire top of the card.  I also recommend using a plastic backer board instead of cardstock, which doesn’t hold up well against the weight of the cards over time.

There is one downside to the paper flipbook, though.  The amount of space you have on any particular page changes.  It’s hardly noticeable if you have four or five pages, but if you have 12, you’re really short on writing space for that first step. The outer court script I’m trying to memorize has 24 stages.  It’s impossible to get workable writing space using the construction method I described above, so what I actually did for this “ritual flipbook” was to return to my high school calculus days where I taped a series of notecards to a backer board to organize my notes.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was creating a flipbook.

These notecard flipbooks are also dead easy, though they require more supplies.  You basically take a piece of cardstock and a few pieces of note cards (4×6 unruled ones here), decide on a spacing you like (if you use ruled notecards, just space each on the last line), and then paste the cards into place with Scotch tape.  A nice bonus here is that you can change your printing settings to print to a 3×5 or 4×6 card, and thus save yourself some writer’s cramp.  You can even laminate the cards if you want to.  Whatever you do, I definitely recommend writing out all your note cards before taping them into place, as you won’t be able to write or print over the tape.

My calculus flipbook survived my year of high school calculus and my semester of college calculus.  It also survived both of my brothers’ high school years.  My current students are actually referring to it to help them pass their own calculus classes, so clearly a well-constructed notecard flipbook can take a beating.  I think the cards and tape can just go on forever, and it is fairly easy to replace one if it gets too beaten up. However, the cardstock will fall apart pretty easily in a binder.  The weight of all those cards and gravity is just more than the hole punches can take.  I actually stuck my calculus cards to plastic full-page sheet lifters for binders.  I also made sure that my tape went all the way across the top edge of a card, and overlapped the card on top of it.  They were really strongly affixed that way, and I never lost one.  If you’re creating a flipbook like this for a ritual you’ll be doing more than once, I really recommend finding the plastic lifters.  They can be hard to find, but definitely worth it.