Category Archives: Food

Pointed, Prickly and Profound Pesach/Passover

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This is where I spent the first night of Pesach up Sugarloaf road in Boulder, Colorado. I had planned to be with my dear friends in Oregon, but life intervened. My 94-year-old father fell and broke his hip and then two days after his hip-replacement surgery had a minor heart-attack. I flew out here to help my brother and family navigate all of this.

My father, never at ease, with care or emotions, was very upset to see me when I first got here. He requested that I not come into his room alone. He said that I was “too emotional” and my presence distressed him. I was actually expecting this, because this is his default around me and emotions. I refrain from all emotional expressions around him and have for years. But, he was so uncomfortable and unhappy already, my presence served as a reminder that things were dire or difficult.

I am the person folks usually want around them when they are sick, 99% of the time. Folks love when I bring food to them, help them navigate tests, hospital staff, doctors, end of life care issues and everything in between. I am regularly consulted, and in the company of folks who are not well in hospital and home situations. It’s something I do from my heart with confidence and skill. The fact that my father denies me the opportunity to give to him, in the ways I am most able to, is one more opportunity for me to grow.

My Mussar/Jewish Ethical practices and teachings ask us to look at whatever is present in our world as our “spiritual homework.” This idea works for me because I am someone who tries to address whatever is difficult as an opportunity. I am not always successful in this, but I do use this concept as a framework for my life.

So, my brother, his partner, my daughter, various other family members and I have been trying to do a very complex dance. There are lots of steps behind the scenes and various curtains opening and closing, in sync hopefully, and lots of improvisation. I have respected my father’s wishes, for the most part. I found that he was open to good soups and foods, which I could make for him and send with my brother. This worked for a little while and then it was “too much fuss” and “too much foods,” even though it was a small box in the hospital patient refrigerator with some cheese, yogurt, olives and soup.

My father asked where I was several times when my brother came to spend time with him and my brother reminded him that he had told me not to come. I spent my pre-Passover time cleaning my brother and my daughter’s homes and kitchens and cooking for them and my father to support all of them, behind the scenes. I drive my brother into Denver frequently, and stay in the waiting area, and try to make it easier for my brother to handle all he is handling. It’s a family affair with one person on center stage looking like he is doing it all, my brother, but there are lots of things going on in the background.

This element of caring for folks, whether they are old, or not, is critical to understand. It is often the case that only one member of a family or friend grouping will be the one the person who is not well feels the most comfortable with. It’s important to not take it personally when you aren’t the person wanted. I know this intellectually, emotionally it’s another story.

So, I have cried, done a phone session with my therapist, gone to multiple services at Bonai Shalom and been on the phone with my husband and sisters and others and processed. I’ve gotten massaged at Siam Sensation, my favorite place in town and gone swimming and taken walks in the woods. I don’t swallow poison or hurt, when I am awake and aware. I take my pain to the Holy One, to my support crew of friends and family and to my sister’s grave as well. I lay it all out and down and work on trusting that my love and care will be of help and that someday it will all make sense or improve.

Heads together Paula Grave
My brother and I at our sister’s grave. It’s a place of healing and calm for me always. See More than One, for more thoughts on my sister and I and grave-side practices.

Everyone is unique in how they navigate illness and stress and difficulty. There is no cookie-cutter form that works every time. Patience and calm and trust are always great tools to have if you can figure out how to have them in a crisis, no small task. Even though my father was reticent initially to my arriving and my involvement, he has warmed up to me and to my help. My presence makes a difference for the other folks in this situation. It’s not what I thought I’d be doing, on the other hand, this is what is.

How this relates to Pesach and Passover is also relevant. We look at all the ways we enslave others and are enslaved at this time of year. We look at all the things that are leaven in our lives, all that puffs us up and that is not necessary. Our pride, our lack of awareness about the suffering of others, our over-consumption, our fear and our lack of faith are all examples of things we need to look at deeply. We always tell the story in the present tense and we are not only reminded once, but repeatedly, over and over and over, that the Exodus is not something that happened once. Our story is something that is currently happening and that is happening for us and for refugees and folks in bondage everywhere right now.

We live the story in this moment.

So, in my now, having to traverse the territory of my pride around my ability to care for folks in need, I can see it as one more form of leaven in my life. Ceding the care-giving to my brother and taking a back-seat, that’s not my normal setting, nor is it easy for me, but I can and am doing it. Letting go of my childhood pain and sense of rejection around my Papa is also a way to liberate myself further from things that I no longer need to be tied up in knots about.

My father loves me, he has never, and will never understand me. Big deal, what’s new? This is the story for so many people. While it is painful, I am not alone, I am not three or twelve. I’m fifty-two years old. I have a plethora of folks who do understand me and don’t reject me. My father is actually not rejecting me, he’s rejecting having to feel things that he doesn’t have the energy or ability to handle. I represent emotions and feelings to him, I hold that space in his mind and in his experience. Just being around me stimulates him in ways that are not comfortable for him. He still thinks I should be a lawyer, which is just beyond laughable.

Soup, I can send him, through another person, that works. Yesterday, I felt a strong call, on the second day of Pesach, about ten days into my visit here, to go see him. So, I called him, he is now at a rehabilitation facility.  I asked him if I could come for a brief visit and bring him some maztoh ball soup that my friend, a former student of his, had made. He said, come visit, but no soup, and only if I was already in Denver. I lied and said I was, but that it would be a few hours before I arrived. I drove in, during rush hour to see him. It took an hour and a half to get there and an hour to get home. When I got to his room he said: “I’m going to make you very happy and let you rub my feet.” This is something I’ve offered before, when visiting with him, but that he’d always refused.

So, I washed and massaged Papa’s feet, which felt good for both of us. While I was there, the Executive Director came in and asked how things were going. My father said “fine,” but then started to complain about the food. He then he raved about the tomato basil soup he’d had at the hospital and said they should hire away the cook at the hospital. This was funny to me, since he’d complained about the food there to my brother. I told the director to just have the kitchen always put some lemon on my father’s tray and that would help him enjoy whatever he was eating.

A little later, dinner was served and the cook came up. My father apologized profusely for complaining to the director and the cook assured my father, that he wanted to provide the best meal possible for him and that it was his job to do so. He asked my father where he was from originally and my father said: “France, we are French, from Morocco originally.” The cook said: “I’m from Palestine, I’m Palestinian.”

I immediately said “Salaam Aleicum,” and he shook my hand and said Aleicum Salaam and smiled. Jews and Muslims share this form of greeting. We say Shalom Aleichem, they say Salaam Aleicum, both of these things mean the same thing, Peace To You, and the response is Alecheim Shalom or Aleicum Salaam, which means To You Peace.

My father then said it was a “bloody ridiculous mess” in Israel and Palestine and that all the bloodshed and arguing was wrong. The cook didn’t say anything more to this. I shook his hand again and thanked him in Arabic, “shukran, shukran.” He smiled and departed. There was lemon on the tray they brought my Papa for dinner. And, of course, he would have preferred the soup my friend had made, but he’d told me not to bring it, so I hadn’t, trés typique, as we say en français.

We attend to the details of Passover more intensely than any other holiday. It is considered of benefit to go longer, go deeper, do more, make things sparkle or have more meaning, discuss it differently, cook more dishes, clean more, and in general go a little crazy in your preparations and expressions for this holiday. So, likewise, with my father in his situation, the details are maddening, complex and continuously shifting and challenging. It requires great attention to detail and flexibility.

I’m blessed to have a family that has consummate skills in this area. So, as we wander in this new wilderness, this place that is wholly different from what we are comfortable and familiar with, we look around us and see we are not alone. We are helping each other along, we are laughing, we are crying and we are falling down and picking each other up. We are finding ways to do what needs doing in the face of complex emotions and situations.

Let me be very clear as well, it’s horrifying to me, when I think about how hard and how much work we are doing for my father, who has health-insurance, who is in clean and calm facilities, who has children who can afford to drive or fly in to help. What is horrifying about this, is that so many folks don’t have this kind of support or care. The vast majority of people in the world, who are suffering all over this world, don’t have the resources or the facilities that my father does. My father is an American but he wasn’t born here. He emigrated here after World War II. He got his college education here in the 1950s and became a French professor at CU Boulder. He worked for over thirty years there and planned intelligently for his retirement. He found his truest love at the age of 75 and has been happily married to her for almost twenty years now.

  1. How can my situation, which is challenging, but not horrific help me to be a better person?
  2. What can I do differently so that the suffering of others is lessened?
  3. Where are there places in my life that I can explore further that will enable me to be freer to give with my whole heart and serve the Divine more fully?
  4. How can I release what constricts and binds me so that I am truly free to show up for exactly what needs showing up for?

These are my four questions for this holiday, not the typical ones, but they are the ones I’m wrestling with. May your forays into this Holy Spring Time, whether you are Jewish, Christian, Pagan, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or any other stripe or way of connecting to this Wholly and Holy Amazing world, be full of joy and thoughtful contemplation. May you find your way out of whatever binds you, into full-on service to what needs doing and what is for the good.

You are not alone!

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The altar I made for my father the day I learned about his hip fracture. The wine, in the center, is for us to drink to his health, the photos are of my father and my daughter, my father and his mother, my father and his wife and two of my favorite angel images. The bowl holding the candle is the bottom of a Moroccan couscoussier and one of my brother Paul Barchilon’s ceramic coasters is holding the light.

Terrific Turmeric, Carrot, Ginger, Cabbage Kim-Chi

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Turmeric, Carrots, Salt, Ginger, & Cabbage, minus the cayenne.

Ingredients: One to two cabbages (any kind will do, savoy, regular, purple, whatever rocks your cabbage boat), a large root of ginger, several carrots, a large root of turmeric, one or two teaspoons good salt (see Let’s Talk Salt), cayenne if you want it spicy, large Mason jar, a heavy rock that fits in the jar and one large cabbage leaf that is not sliced up.

This is easy to make, just time consuming and messy. I like to slice things very fine, because the more surface area is exposed the more flavor is released. It’s best to use a large glass or ceramic bowl, metal and this recipe do not make good alchemy together. Slice everything up thin and fine, for the turmeric and ginger, peel and chop very small.

Combine all the ingredients together and use your hands to mix and squeeze the ingredients. This releases the liquid, since the salt pulls it out of the ingredients. Once you’ve squeezed/mixed this stuff together you will fill the jar you have and pack down the ingredients as tightly as you can. Wrap the rock in the large cabbage leaf and place it on top of the packed Kim-Chi.

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Rock wrapped in whole cabbage leaf on top of Kim-Chi.

Then seal the jar and place it somewhere cool, not your fridge though, for two weeks or more. Once you’ve opened it, then you will need to refridgerate it. If your climate is warm, then refridgerate it, but let it sit for longer.

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1/2 gallon Mason Jar of Kimchi, using two small cabbages, three carrots and the ginger and turmeric, it shrinks once you salt and squeeze.

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This is the same photo as the first picture, but with the cayenne added, ’cause I always want it spicy!

 

Tomatillo Salsa Estupenda!

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Fall Flowers and Tomatillo Salsa Fresca y Estupenda!
  • However many tomatillos you can get your hands on
  • 3-7 serranos or jalapeños (depending on how spicy you want your salsa)
  • one whole garlic bulb, this means lots of garlic
  • lots of fresh cilantro
  • juice of a lemon and a lime
  • good salt (See: Let’s Talk Salt)

tomatillo-detail

Peel off the papery tomatillo skin covering the green fruit and rinse well. Place the tomatillos in a saucepan with a little bit of water, enough so that they can steam/break down, a little less than to cover them. You can cut them in half if you want to speed your cooking time, but this salsa really is quick to make. The tomatillos break down in about twenty minutes. Cut off the stems of the serranos or jalapeños put half of them in with the tomatillos so they can cook a little bit as well. Put the remaining peppers in the blender, some cooked and some raw makes this salsa have a great flavor. If you are using fresh garlic you can just peel all the cloves and throw them in as well. If you are not using REALLY FRESH garlic then you have to follow the garlic procedure below:

Add salt, but not too much, you can always add more after you have blended it to see about the flavor. Once the garlic, pepper and tomatillos have softened and cooked it is ready to blend. Throw in a ton of fresh cilantro and the juice of your lemon and lime and blend away. It’s better to blend things, if you aren’t using a really good blender, when stuff has cooled down. I have a Vitamix, so I can blend things hot. Be careful, Jewish Mama warning here: NEVER fill up your blender with hot liquid! I usually fill the blender a third of the way. I do several blending batches, this is with my Vitamix. If you don’t have a good blender, let the sauce cool down before you blend. There you have it! Share it with friends, or preserve it, otherwise it is only good for a week in the fridge. It tends to separate once it is cold, so just shake it up. I keep this salsa in glass or ceramic containers only, which is always recommended (meaning STAY AWAY from plastic)!

ENJOY!

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Wildly Wandering and Engaging with Elderberry Magic

Ingredients for Elderberry Syrup Making
Ingredients for Elderberry Syrup Making

Hineyni/Here I am in the land of Ireland and I’m walking a few miles down the small lane near my Hermitage, on one of the gloriously sunny days that we had recently. I am singing to the trees and the birds and also saying hello to the unseen Faerie Folk in the dark mossy, wet green forest. I am chanting praises in Hebrew and my heart and my eyes are open. I notice these small purple almost black berries on red stems growing on the side of the road. I reach up high to pick one bunch, and when I get home to my cabin I compare what I’ve picked and verify with my herb books to make sure that I am indeed in possession of elderberries.

My joy is great because, yes, I was. I am always careful when I wild-craft (collect things in the wild for consumption). The first time I encounter something in a new place, I will wait to do something with it until I have confirmed, either with my research or with the locals, that it is indeed what I think it is. I always want to check that it is growing somewhere that wasn’t a former dump-site for toxic chemicals. I normally wouldn’t use berries or herbs from a road-side, but this particular road is mostly traveled by sheep, humans and an occasional slow tractor or cars. It’s a small rural road and the elderberries actually are pretty high up, about six feet from the ground.

Onward to the wonders of making this magic elixir. It’s quite easy. It just takes a while from start to finish and your presence with the process. It doesn’t make sense to make a small amount of this stuff. First of all, it’s so delicious that you will want to drink it like juice, secondly, it takes hours to collect enough berries to make a goodly amount, thirdly it costs a lot of money in the stores for what you can make at home. Now, if you factor in the time harvesting, the wild-crafted honey I purchased, the fresh lemons, cinnamon sticks, cloves and organic ginger, and I was actually charging for my efforts, the cost of what I brewed up would be similar to what you would pay in the stores. Luckily, for the folks, here at this hermitage, they get it for free.

Here’s the thing about elderberries, they are magic, true earth magic. They are full of vitamin C, they most likely will keep you from getting a cold or the flu, if you regularly consume them. If you are already ill, they often will lessen the time you are down. They are super immune boosting. Did I mention that this stuff tastes so good you do not have to fight with your children or your friends to get them to take it?

The beauty of the berry!
The beauty of the berry

“In sandy earth or deep, in valley soil, I grow, a wildflower, thriving on Your love.”~The Song of Songs, Love Lyrics from the Bible by Marcia Falk

I always make offerings when I am collecting.

These berries were a pure gift from the earth. I sang to the trees and thanked them as I picked them from the branches. In general, when I am wild-harvesting or even if I am just sitting in prayer or meditation or I see a glorious flower or bird or have a moment of joy in nature, I make an offering. If I have food with me, I take off a small portion of it and leave it on the ground near where I am or where I experienced my delight. If I don’t have food but I have my glass water bottle with me, that I take everywhere with me and refill constantly, so I never have to buy bottled water, I pour a little of my water on the earth. If I don’t have anything physical to offer, I just touch the tree or ground or water or plant and sing or say “thank you,” usually my tears are flowing with gratitude, so I can offer those as well. I NEVER take all of the berries or the flowers when I am picking for any reason. I always leave a lot for the birds, the bees, and for the plant to re-seed itself. And, yes, right before Halloween/Samhain, let me just come out as the very Jewish-Witchy-Wild-Woman-of-the-Tribe Ha-Kohanim that I am. (I will be posting all about this in a few days, so stay tuned).

If you are a praying person and you actually engage with Holiness, however you define that, you can be in relationship with the Earth and the Divine. By being in relationship you can help transform and do Tikkun Olam for yourself and the planet around all that is out of balance and in need of care.

Luckily and by the Grace of the Earth and The Creator of the Universe, The MAGIC and Glorious Holiness of this amazing planet we live on is constantly offering itself to us and healing itself. Its berries, its acorns, its boundless gifts overflow to and through us over and over again. Our earth also manages to transform toxins in ways modern science is only beginning to understand. And, as we dance with the earth, and we love and give thanks and engage with and BE in relationship with, not over the earth, we heal ourselves and our glorious planet as well.

Okay, back to the recipe, I will actually tell you how to make this stuff, I promise, if you haven’t already looked up somebody else’s recipe by now! Here’s the difference between my recipe and someone else’s. If you actually sing to the berries and you pray and practice for the folks you love and you give thanks while you are picking the berries and you are chopping the ginger and you are stirring the syrup, your elderberry syrup will be more potent and everyone and the planet will benefit more from your enlivened engagement with the process!

Making Elderberry Syrup with fresh elderberries, or with dried ones too, if you cannot find fresh, (The Actual Recipe)!

Remove the berries from the stems into a ceramic or stainless steel bowl. This is best done with a helper, if you have a large amount. It took me and another hermitage member at least an hour to remove all the berries from what I had harvested. I did collect a huge amount, so you might not need that long depending on what you have, but again, MORE IS BETTER. Don’t worry too much if small bits of stem get in your bowl, you will be straining the finished product.

Put the berries in a large stainless steel pot and add enough water to cover them and then add about a cup more than that. Add the juice of the fresh lemons. I recommend lots of lemon juice, I used four. You can see in the picture above, how much cloves and cinnamon sticks are needed. I crushed up the cinnamon sticks before putting them in. I did not use all the ginger in the picture, but I used two whole big roots, which I peeled and chopped up very small. Add all of this into the pot with the elderberries and water and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down, cover and let it simmer for at least an hour. You do not want this to be boiling away, the liquid is the syrup.

Some folks let it sit after simmering for another hour or two off the burner, that’s a really good idea. If you have time, do that. By the time I got around to cooking this syrup it was getting late and so I didn’t let it sit. I strained the hot liquid into another pot using a fine-mesh stainless steel strainer (NEVER USE PLASTIC ANYTHING NEAR MEDICINE)!

Using a bowl and a wooden spoon press down on the pulp in the strainer to get every drop of liquid you possibly can out of the pulp. If you let it sit longer and it isn’t hot, you can also put it in cheese cloth and squeeze and press all the liquid out that way, but you cannot do this when it is hot. Save the pulp for use in your garden or give it back to the earth, please do not throw it in the garbage, it is like discarding something precious. Give what you don’t use back to your compost heap, or if you don’t have a compost, just put the pulp in a jar or container and the next time you are near a river or stream or in nature, return the berries to the earth directly.

Add the honey after you have strained the syrup, slowly stirring it in. Stir in a clockwise direction with a wooden spoon. Again, this is a good time to think about healing folks or how grateful you are. Swirl in the bee’s magic and the wonder of the flowers that turned into these berries and made this heavenly purple almost black syrup, give thanks for the rain and the wind and the water. I used a full quart of honey for this batch. Use the amount that works for you based on how many berries you had. Taste the syrup and see if you need more.

A note on honey. Most honey nowadays is problematic. It can say wild or organic or local and not really be any of those things. Large bee manufacturers feed their bees sucrose syrup instead of the bees actually interacting with flowers. When you are making medicine, you do not want that kind of honey. Actually, you never want this kind of honey. Get honey that you know is raw, local or that you trust. It will be expensive, unless you can trade with your beekeeper for some of your finished elderberry syrup! A good plan!

Once you have achieved the proper balance of honey and it tastes right to you, you can bottle the stuff. It’s important not to put hot liquid into your refrigerator. So, let it cool down completely before putting it in a cold environment. Only bottle in glass and use a stainless steel or wooden ladle to move the syrup from your pot to the funnel or bottle. If the liquid is cooled down, basically cold, it is okay to use a plastic funnel, but better to buy and have a stainless steel one in your kitchen. The syrup will keep for a long time, and you’ll go through it before it ever is too old.

Elderberry syrup and roses
My daily dose, along with the some rose petals and lavender I’ve been harvesting. Stay tuned for rose bead recipe coming up in the future and for the whirlwind of wonderful wild-crafting and doings in the Nicole Zone!

One tablespoon a day of this syrup is a preventative, immune supportive kind of medicine. If you start to feel sick, or your beloveds do, increase the amount to two tablespoons and take it every three-hours or so. Do this for two days and you might be able to ward off the cold or flu. If you can’t catch the cold before it takes hold, take the syrup three or more times a day while you are sick and it should reduce the time you are unwell. If you are taking prescription medicines, it’s always a good idea to check with your provider about negative interactions. Most folks do not give children under the age of one anything with honey in it, so check with your doctor about that as well. You can buy elderberry syrup for pancakes, so I really am just warning you to be super safe and careful whenever you take anything medicinally. For, me the warning is not about being fearful of the natural world, it’s about being aware that I do not know everything and that some medicines and some fruits are not good companions.

Was this the longest recipe you ever read?

Well, good medicine and good magic take time.

To the Wild Woods with You, in Wonder and Wandering!

Cedar Tree Magic
Cedar Tree Magic

Nettles and Nips~Brambles and Breezes~Blowing, Breaking and Binding

My Breakfast nook view, with flowers from outside my cabin
My Breakfast Nook view, with flowers from outside my cabin, and some brambles in the background!

My fingers sting from the nettles I collected. The nettles grow everywhere here, like the grass and the blackberries and the miscellaneous brambles. My definition of a bramble is:

a combination of berry vines of some kind, nettles, other twisty plants or wild roses with thorns and, of course, mischievous faery folk

There are a lot of brambles hereabouts. I was very careful with the nettles. I know they are good food, really good food. They can be eaten if you cook them or dry them. To get them to that place, first you have to cut and prepare them, which means you will be stung, some, even if you are wearing gloves and long sleeves, at some point the nettle will collect her payment, either when you harvest her or when you prepare her for eating.

This is as it should be.

“The Universe is a Green Dragon,” by Brian Swimme is a book I read that was given to me by a nun, named Dolores, who was a sociology teacher at Humboldt State University. The book is a beginning physics primer. It is physics for those just beginning on the journey of wondering about how the universe dances and how energies move about in that dance. In that lovely tiny, thin, little book is a discourse about how everything has a cost or energy signature.

There is no VOID or something without nothing. All things have a cost so to speak. It is not about how many coins you deposit in the hand of the vendor, but just that even if you do not see the vendor, or the hand, or if you think plants don’t have feelings, or you cannot see the energetic signature of violence; they are all still there, the invisible hand waiting for your coin, the plant saying, okay, you want me, here is the cost.

Now, those nettles were free, kind of. I’m on retreat in Ireland. I paid money that I saved up for ten years to be here for three months in this cabin with electricity, a view of green trees, grass, brambles (replete with Fey Folk), clouds that move across the sky so fast that the words fickle and fey must originate here. This means the weather changes every ten minutes or so. It’s been sunny and glorious about ten times today, but it’s also poured rain, been fiendishly windy and amazingly quiet and calm. Anyway, back to the nettles, which I didn’t pay anyone for with cash.

The View when the sun isn't shining, which is most of the time, but I get to watch the clouds roll by and it's magnificent!
The View when the sun isn’t shining, which is most of the time, but I get to watch the clouds roll by and it’s magnificent!

Eating right, eating what is handy and nearby is a way of life for me. It’s not really optional at this point. I just gravitate towards what is local and at hand, like a magnet. This is, of course, with one very important exception; SPICES! I need them like a plant needs water and sun (see my previous post Hadi the Honeyed One and Lovely Lorena). In my defense, I think spices provide essential nutrients and vitamins, but that’s a stretch. They just make my life better and so besides spices, eating what is at hand or within my bio-region feels best.

Once I gathered the nettles, then I put them in a large bucket of cold water, stems and all, for their first soak. I wasn’t sure when they would stop stinging. I know they don’t sting once they are cooked, but it has been many years since I prepared them and I did so with either Aleta or Jolie Egert Elan of Go Wild Consulting, my herbalist and botanist beloveds, who made it look simple. Maybe they have some kind of agreement with the nettles and never get stung, but I think they actually also have mentioned getting stung. Now the sting of a nettle is a small thing, it’s like a tiny zing. It isn’t terrible, just piquant, sort of like something spicy! It does stay with you for a bit. It will remind you of its presence, the sting, every once in a while, like the feeling you get when your foot falls asleep, just every now and then a little zing.

So, after the first soak, I prepared another container of water. I picked up the nettles with a teaspoon strainer, you know the kind that clips open and shut and you put tea leaves in bulk inside of it. I am in this cabin, named after Clare of Assisi (for the Beloved Companion and Nun who was close with St. Francis of Assisi). In my lovely cabin, there are cooking utensils, but not like my kitchen at home. I couldn’t find any tong-like implements in my drawers, so I used the teaspoon grabbing one stem at a time out of the first bucket and holding it over the second. I then used the scissors with my right hand and clipped the individual leaves into the water for their second rinse. I wasn’t sure if the stems were edible.

I am without the internet in my cabin named after St. Clare. I am so grateful for this fact. I have lots of books here but didn’t think to bring my herb books, a mistake. I sent my Tanakh and my Tikkun and my library of beloved teachers on subjects Jewish and my Hebrew dictionaries and my prayer books. I forgot that I would be living in a wood, where the bible you need is a book about herbs and flowers.

Getting ready for Shabbat
Getting ready for Shabbat

There is a large library at the main house and I can borrow a book about herbs from there, but the morning when I decided to gather the nettles, I hadn’t yet realized I needed that information and so didn’t have the book on hand. So, I experimented with my nettles and I knew the leaves were good to eat, so clip, clip, and clip into the water they went. I did not get stung at all during this improvised tong/teaspoon scissors adventure.

In case you are wondering, which you probably aren’t, why I didn’t just use the gloves I used initially to harvest them with to do this part of the work? Well they were the ugly, dirty, really old gardening gloves that I found in the peat-fuel box and they are definitely OUTSIDE only kind of gloves. So, back to nettle land. Since I could not use the nasty gloves and I needed to cut up the nettles, or thought I did, before cooking them, I strained them by pouring the whole container of water out over the strainer I put in the sink. In this way, I never had to touch those tricky nettles.

Then, since I wasn’t sure if just washing them well would have made them less stingery (a new Nicole word), I put my hand in the pile of clean wet leaves to test their sting factor—now you know why my fingers are pulsing a little from the nettle-bites (kind of like tiny nips or bites from a lover). Oooh, that makes me miss my beloved!

My Bedroom Window with cards from my beloved and a view of brambles leading down to my small steady and musical stream (now that the brambles have been cleared enough for me to get there!)
My bedroom window with cards from my beloved and a view of some trees and brambles leading down to my small, steady and very musical stream (now that the brambles have been cleared enough for me to get there!)

So, having ascertained that a good rinsing and de-stemming does not in fact render nettles mute, I realized I’d need some kind of protection between self and nettles for cutting. What’s the best protection? A condom, or in the kitchen at a Catholic hermitage cabin named after St. Clare; something made of plastic, like a plastic bag. So, I put my hands in double plastic sacks, having clearly resolved that one batch of nettle-bites was quite enough for the day, double protection seemed prudent.

I then chopped up the nettles and put them in the pan with a little water, covered them and cooked them for five minutes. They were a deep dark green, luscious, delicious and no longer venomous. I tested them with my fingers first, before eating them, no sting whatsoever. I put a little olive oil, salt and lemon on them and enjoyed them with the rest of the meal I had prepared, which took one tenth the effort to make. I feasted on the local fare and then took a much deserved-nap. The morning of bramble wrestling (I’m slowly clearing a path down to the stream outside my bedroom window), nettle preparing and even some morning stretches in the field above my cabin when the sun was shining for ten minutes straight made for one tired jubilant me.

I’m now going to go paint and write some letters from my window seat here in Clare where I can see the weather, the fickle and fey, weather whooshing by without getting wet. Later, if it gets too cold, I’ll make a fire with PEAT, just as has been done here for thousands of years. The pictures I’ve put up here were from a different day, when it was Friday afternoon/early evening almost Shabbat. I put them here to give you all an idea of my surroundings. Binding myself to the sun and the weather, not to a clock and a schedule, has been and is tremendous for me. I feel old patterns breaking away and am bonding with this place, the movements of cloud, mist, sun, bird and rain. The flowers and the brambles and everything around me offering lessons and companionship. It is magnificent here!

Shabbat Sun in Window, not quite time to light candles, but very soon!
Shabbat Sun in Window, not quite time to light candles, but very soon!