Category Archives: Food

Omar and the Bowls

Omar Bowls
Silver-rimmed Star of David bowls from Omar

Thinking about serving, serving the Divine, serving others, serving family, serving a meal, being served and encountering a servant. While I was in Morocco this last April, (April of 2014), I met Omar. Omar is my Uncle’s servant. There is no easy way to say that. The word itself is primed and full of meaning. It connotes both positive and negative things for me. My first encounters with servants were in Morocco as a child. My grandparents’ home had three full-time servants; Hassan, Sadia and Fatimah. Sadia and Fatimah did the cooking and the cleaning and my grandfather was tended to by Hassan.

Berber Woman
Berber Woman painting by Helen Redman

I vividly remember being surrounded by these large warm women, who smelled heavenly, unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before or after. The combination was something like sweat, cinnamon, heat, roses, musk and cumin, vanilla and linden flowers. If I could swim in this scent or be near these women again, I don’t think I would ever emerge. I can’t describe it properly, but their smell, their warm arms wrapping around me and carrying me around or chasing me around the kitchen is something I carry with me and which I long for. It is the smell of work, of service, of excellence, of laughter and care and anger and heat and heart and some mystery too. It is the opposite of contained or relaxed or mellow and so very not of this place here.

My whole trip back to Morocco has really been a trip back inside of myself and into myself. I find I am reluctant to land fully here in this country, because so much of who I am is actually embedded in where I have been and in these memories, but also in the work of service. It’s a very foreign concept in this country. We don’t have servants, or at least most folks don’t, and unless you are active in a religious community or other non-profit organization “serving” is not always viewed as positive. The idea of being an actual servant to someone is frowned upon and rightly so, for many, many reasons in most work situations. I am not trying to justify servitude to a flawed system, servitude to a wealthy unjust boss or factory here. This kind of service though is not the only kind of service. I see no use in hiding from what is true for me and what I know from my life and my experiences that are the positive side of service.

My own service to others is a primal choice on my part in many ways. It is something that gives me tremendous energy and is a kind of tuning or truing. There is a tuning fork in my soul and when I am following the call of the Holy One, the sound inside of me is so pure and so whole and so right that I can’t imagine it being otherwise. That feeling doesn’t always manifest, often if I am asked to be of service or find myself pulled into it, I am not happily singing inside. I can be resentful, tired, frustrated, worried and so many other things, all of which are human and okay for me to be. The difference between those feelings and the feeling of being in tune is an order of magnitude difference.

The proper alignment puts me in a groove and there is the touch of the infinite there. I could lift a car off a person, or have a conversation with a star as it is being born somewhere light years away or back here on earth I might find myself helping someone to cross over the river Jordan singing them to their next destination. It’s just not a common experience or a mundane one. I feel blessed and lucky and grateful whenever I find myself there, amazed and renewed, awed and lost and full of tears. It’s the feeling of being a true servant, of serving the Creator and of wanting to do it again and again and to do it well and joyfully and of being so glad I was asked to do it. There is trembling and awe and a deep shaking and rushing to find the core of the task and to rush to do it well. In the Jewish tradition there is a teaching that one should RUSH to do a Mitzvah, not hesitate or stand back, but rush and hurry to do what is being asked. We don’t do this for people we don’t love or beings we don’t revere. If you are in service to a tyrant, you might rush out of fear, but you would never rush out of joy to serve.

I’m not serving a tyrant, so my movements are ones of speed and force towards the hope of helping or healing or finding the right words or actions or moment to grow some love in the world. I am so not alone in this. And, I am so very far away from serving humbly and with grace. Which, brings me back to Omar.

Atlas Mountains
Oukmaiden, Atlas Mountains

When we arrived in Oukaimeden, where my Uncle lives, about 9,000 feet high in the Atlas mountains, there was snow on the ground. It is a ski-resort during the winter months and my 86 year old uncle BB still has a ski rental shop there along with his home. This is where Ethan and I came to spend our one night with him. Omar lives downstairs in the small cabin and my uncle lives upstairs. Omar has a wife and two married children in a village about twelve and a half miles away. He rides a large motorcycle and could be anywhere between forty and sixty. I couldn’t tell. He made the fire in the cabin when we first arrived. In Marrakesh we were burning up with heat and the temperature was in the 90s. In Oukaimeden we needed a fire. Omar prepared dinner, he served us dinner and then sat in the kitchen while we ate it, he cleared our plates and did all the cleaning up. He smiled at me, he smiled at Ethan. He speaks no French. I speak only a little Arabic. I said Shukran about fifty times. Shukran is “Thank You.” Omar just smiled.

After dinner we prepared for bed. My uncle gave Ethan and I his bed and he slept on the sofa near the fire, something he insisted he did regularly so he would be warm. Omar prepared the sofa and went downstairs. Ethan and I said goodnight to my uncle and climbed into the large and lumpy and cold bed that was graciously given to us. We read a little bit from The Crucible by Arthur Miller and then we tried to go to sleep. There are no street lights in Oukaimeden, most of the homes don’t have electricity.

It was VERY dark and very cold and just a little spooky. Ethan got up to use the bathroom which was a tiny room full of dusty, grimy, half-used bottles and looked like most bathrooms I’ve seen that belong to older folks or those who are otherwise-abled and who can’t see or get to the dirt. Ethan came running back into the bedroom and he was hyperventilating. He said that while he was peeing a giant spider the size of half his hand started to drop down from the ceiling towards him in his exposed state. He ran back into the bedroom.

Needless to say, I wasn’t too excited when it was time for me to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. There was one tiny light and everything looked creepy. I didn’t want to wake up my uncle so I was trying to be quiet but also doing the Nicole is tapping on the floorboards in a funny way dance. This was my “Spider if you are here, please do not come out, there’s a large person here and it’s better if you stay away” dance shuffle. I’m sure all spiders understand that this particular combination of footwork, shuffling, tapping, scooting, and slight jumping that I was doing is universal code for “do not disturb or emerge.” I tried to use the toilet, but was so terrified of the spider and unsure if my message had been properly translated or received. I made it through the event and quickly rushed back to the bedroom. I didn’t get much sleep, but at least I didn’t need to go into the bathroom until morning again and clearly, along with French and Spanish, I can now add Spider Language to my repertoire.

We had a lovely morning walking the area and then got ready to head back to Marrakesh, which was a three hour drive on twisty roads in the old blue 1976 Chevrolet with no air-conditioning being driven by my 86-year-old uncle who told me he needed a new glasses prescription, ummmm, that’s a whole other story. I wanted to buy some ceramics, small things, to bring home and my uncle said Omar would help us negotiate better prices and would accompany us part way down the mountains on our way back to Marrakesh. I was very happy to have the help. We had to drop something off at the only hotel in Oukaimeden and so I was sitting in the car with Ethan waiting. Several men came up to the car with their arms covered in necklaces and jewelery of every kind. I didn’t want to buy anything, so I tried to ignore them, but to no avail. All of a sudden Omar was there, he took off all the jewelry on one man’s arm and he picked through it and handed me ten necklaces. I tried to shake my head no, but Omar would have none of it.

No money was exchanged and I couldn’t communicate with any of these men. My uncle came back and I explained what had happened. He told me that this man owed Omar for something and now that debt was partially forgiven. I said, but I didn’t pay Omar and what is Omar getting from this? I asked my uncle if I could give Omar some money, but he said absolutely not and it would insult Omar. I arranged to give my uncle some money and asked him to do something extra for Omar or his family and then we went down the mountain looking for ceramics.

Omar stopped us at a roadside hill that had thousands of ceramic tagines and bowls and tiles in piles making up columns and columns and rows and rows of red clay, unpainted bowls stacked on top of each other which were entirely covering the hill leading into the factory. There was a tiny path with small steps through these columns into a large dark building. To my right, once my eyes adjusted, I saw a man who was kneading a large bunch of red brown clay with his feet; stepping in and out of the clay in a large square tub. As my eyes got more comfortable, I saw thousands of bowls and dishes leaning every which way in stacks of tens and twenties and more. It was a jumble of sizes, shapes and colors. I walked through trying to find something small I could safely pack in my bag and bring home. I found some beautiful white and blue bowls with a thin strip of silver lining on the bottoms and around the lip of each bowl. I asked the merchant the price and he said they were the most expensive ones and quoted me a price I didn’t want to pay. At that point I noticed some others that I also liked and they were smaller and didn’t have the silver. He told me those were made in this factory here, unlike the others I had previously selected. He quoted me a price and Omar nodded and I paid him.

On our way back to the car, Omar handed me the two other bowls, the expensive ones. He had bought them for me without my noticing. I couldn’t understand. I asked my uncle why and he told me Omar said I was family and he wanted me to have them and to have joy and that it made him happy to think of me with them. This man, who I only just met, was rushing to do something for me. He owns no home, he has worked for over twenty years or perhaps thirty for my Uncle, and he couldn’t stop trying to serve me, to offer to me. I didn’t and don’t know how to properly thank him. His gift was coming straight from his heart. He had the largest grin on his face, so happy with himself. This generosity and desire to please was radiating off of him. I told my uncle to thank him and tell him that I was so happy with the gift and that I would treasure these bowls and think of Omar always when I used them in my home in California.

I gave my uncle some more dirhams and asked him to pass them on however and whenever he could as he saw fit for Omar or his family. Even if I hadn’t had a penny to give, Omar would have been and done exactly as he did. He wanted to make me happy, he wanted me to smile, he wanted me to be served and he wanted to do the serving. He served me. He is serving me still, because I can’t get him out of my mind or heart. His simple kindness, his generosity, his humility, his smile, his strength. All these qualities and more dance around in me and beg me to pay attention.

Serving with joy, serving with kindness and with no thought of reward, serving out of a sense that the person before us is family or Holy or just deserving, this is the service I want to embody. How am I family to Omar? I am family to him because we are all family. My Omar bowls have a special place in my home and every time I see them or use them, Omar is with me. The jewels he gave me also connect me to the Moroccan soil, they come from the red earth and the mountain caves of the African continent, the birthplace of humanity. When I wear them, I feel myself connecting back to the Atlas mountains and to an ancient reality, to a warmth and strength and beauty and even to the large, prehistorically large spiders that come down in the night.

Nicole serves herself by writing to you from her home in Bayside, where she has a lot more to say about serving. Originally this piece was published here and elsewhere in March of 2014

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