Category Archives: Jubilee

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

One Woman, Two Foxes and The Blades of Grass

It really happened this way
I saw a fox
Running free and wild
I saw a fox no longer alive, so very dead

All in one day

I glanced out my window full of green trees dappled in sun
The grass, the leaves, all aglow
While writing a note to a dear someone
In russets and gold with some black on its tail full of flow
That foxy one just sauntered on by, casual and slow,
doing a foxtrot for sure, on her slow run

fox run

I gasped in delight and watched her go
Across the stream, up on the hill, here at Holy Hill
I was granted this glimpse, this gift and Oh!
The beauty of this beast
My first sight of wild fox while sitting still

It makes me cry, it does still
And I know why

In the morn we are born
In the eve we wither and die
We are fragile and fleeting
Like the blades of grass

It doesn’t matter our mass
Our brilliance of mind, stature,
Wealth, talent or form
We all only, only have this day

In the afternoon, much later on this same day, I took a stroll
On a new path, one unexplored and full of grass
I saw some large stones covered in moss
An old well, or trough?

The gray, the green, the flowers, the bees,
The sound of the wind
Moving in the breeze
I wandered over to get a better view
And then I cried and gasped and had to jump back

My fox, not the earlier one,
Once seen, she felt like mine, was lying there so gone
With flies in her eyes
All of Mother Nature’s bugs in and out and about
Her tail, brown and black, swollen and full
No more to play and glide across my window
No more to jump and run, gently or swiftly,
In the rain or in the sun
No more yipping and yapping or joy of catching the hare
With her wildness laid bare, she was now sadly, free of care

All in One day—it happened this way
The Joy, the Sorrow, the Delight and the Fright
I long, I long, with all my might
To see the fox, my fox, again running by on the slope

Perhaps on the morrow
With my heart laid bare
Across the stream, as if in a dream
If I’m lucky and there’s some measure
Of dew and hope

And I’m granted another day
As a blade of grass, as a woman, sitting still by the window sill
I hope to be granted this view and this gift
If, from the Holy One, yet another moment or day
Is given me to borrow

©By Nicole Barchilon Frank, October 1, 2015, 17th of Tishri, 5776

Enlightening, Enervating, Excruciating, Enraptured and Examined Elul on the Isle of Eire

2015-09-08 13.01.05 HDR
The View from where I sit and pray and meditate, just a two-minute meander down the bank of brambles I cleared.

I ordered a shofar from “the Tallit Man,” an operation out of Florida. Along with the shofar, the owner made a YouTube for me, with my shofar, showing me how it sounds and that it sounds. A shofar is made from a ram’s horn.

“All horns may be used, except those of cows and oxen, because their horn is called keren and not shofar. And also the horn of the cow and the ox is not acceptable because the accuser must not be made to serve the defender, that it may not be said: Yesterday they made the golden calf, and today they come to appease their Maker with the horn made from it.” ~S. Y. Agnon (from page 246 of Mahzor Hadesh Yameinu ~Renew Our Days~A Prayer-Cycle for Days of Awe~ Edited and translated by Rabbi Ronald Aigen

Jewish folks blow the shofar during the month of Elul, in the mornings, except on Shabbat. We blow it also to usher in our New Year called Rosh Hashanah and to mark the end of Yom Kippur. We blow it whenever we want to pierce the protections around our hearts and also the layers of klippot (hard shells created by our wrongdoings) that obscure our pure and radiant souls. It is not an easy sound, it is not an easy thing to make a sound with.

from: https://rabbisremembering.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/elul.jpg
Hebrew image of the word Elul taken from: https://rabbisremembering.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/elul.jpg

I think, other than ancient shepherds, the sounds I’ve been making in the hills of Eire with my ram’s horn are pretty unique. Although the cows across the stream in the next field and I seem to be communing as a result. Also, the crows don’t seem to mind the sound. The sound is supposed to remind us of the Akedah, (the story of Abraham and his sacrifice/binding of Isaac). At the very last second, an angel points out the ram in the bushes and the ram becomes the sacrifice, not Isaac. But Isaac was the sacrifice and this story is a haunting and intense one. There are many, many interpretations of it, perhaps another time, I’ll give you some of them.

I need to get back now, here and now, to “my Elul” in Eire. So, the loud, Jewish, Alpha female is living at a silent Catholic Carmelite Hermitage/monastery, no, this is not the beginning of a joke, but it could be. Here are some of the practices, sayings, rules here: No Fuss, Silence from 7pm-9am, every day (exception of prayers said in mornings and evenings), Silence Mondays-Tuesdays (complete day), Silence for a full week once a month, oh yes, silence in general, unless you really have to ask a question, but even then it’s preferred if you write a note. Oh and let’s not forget the basic vows of Catholic religious folks: Obedience, Chastity and Poverty.

Those of you who actually know me, are going to be laughing  hard right now. I am the opposite of “No Fuss.” Obedience and I have never been cozy, Chastity and I aren’t and never have been related and while I’ve lived in poverty in my single-mother years, it was never something I wanted to be doing. Simplicity and I are also like oil and water. If I can make something spicier, more involved, more complicated, then I usually do. Visually my home, body and any spaces I live in, are fully colored, adorned and they are also full of imagery and visual patterns. I am also the opposite of moderated, quiet, and sparse.

When I got to my simple cabin named “Clare” for the companion of St. Francis of Assisi, I opened a card from one of my dear friends. She had instructed me not to open it ” ‘til you get to your cabin in Ireland.” So, I opened it to one of her original art pieces with Hebrew teachings. It said: “I am dust and ashes” in Hebrew and English. I broke into tears, and am doing so now. This person knows me very well and is my “spiritual buddy,” I’ve given her permission to always say the hard things to me and to help me grow and she does. Five minute pause to sob here….that’s what I just did.

Elul is about self-examination. I timed my arrival here so that I would be here in time to have the full month of Elul in this space where all I get to do, if I choose to, is self-examine and correct. So, here where it is actually more perfect than I could ever have imagined, with robins, swallows, crows and the wind as my companions, I am and have been looking deeply at myself.

I do this every Elul, but this Elul is different because I am alone. Except, I feel anything but alone. The presence of the Divine is with me all the time and the Holy One is more accessible to me here, because there is no NOISE and no DOUBT and no INTERRUPTIONS to my connecting. The only sounds I hear from my cabin, are the stream outside my window, the crows, the cows, and the wind or rain. I can avoid seeing all people by choosing what hours I go to the main house to get my food or do my laundry, or I can choose to see folks but go on a day of silence so no conversations will ensue. Or, I can choose to join the people here in prayer and silent meditation on the days when that is happening.

I didn’t think I would set foot in their chapel. I mean no offense to my Christian friends, but hanging out with a cross on a wall while I am praying, has never been something easy for me. I used to have violent images come up for me with crosses and pyres of Jews combined, the crosses pushing the Jews into the flames. That is not the case for me here. First of all, it’s a beautiful space where the hermitage folks pray, very simple wooden small space, “no fuss,” and thankfully those images, from my people’s historic past, are no longer haunting me.

The most luminous part of being in this place and worshiping with these folks, is that everyone here is in love with Ha-Shem. The deep delight and beauty of that is extraordinary for me. It’s a feast for me to be around people who are in a relationship with Holiness that is not a chimera or philosophy. These folks have been living a religiously engaged life for their entire lives. They are not neophytes at worship, at communion, at listening to the voice in the silence. They are deep practitioners and to be in their presence is to be in the presence of Peace and Holiness. (Don’t worry, I’m not planning to become a Carmelite Nun).

I know this feeling of complete connection. I’ve had it whenever and wherever I go that people are not in question about the presence of the Divine in their world. I have experienced it with my Moslem friends, with my Jewish friends, with my Buddhist friends, with my Wiccan friends and my Native American Friends, with my Hindu friends. I experience it wherever folks are connecting from a place of love to the Divine, however they define that. I do not want to cause any distress to anyone who does not have this feeling. I am just trying to explain that the environment here is very different from the world at large. This place is steeped in and radiates Relationship to Reverence.

That’s why I’m here. Hee Ney Ni-Here I Am, which is what Abraham says to Ha-Shem when he is called. It’s what I am trying to say here, every day. Here I am, in my mess, my mistakes, my loud intensity, my large appetites, and my fussy, particular, complicated humanness. As I get better at sounding the shofar, the layers of my junk, the hard shells that obscure my soul, are getting shattered. Shattering anything is not easy or gentle. While I am in a gentle landscape, the work I am doing is not particularly gentle. It’s ragged and rough. It’s dark here at night, all my fears come forward, all my pain around issues that are old and familiar for me emerge, all my missing of those I love, most especially my husband, comes to the forefront and I find myself sobbing and sobbing. AND, the Exciting and Enraptured part of this is that there is no one here to interrupt my process or for me to appease or be taken care of, so I get to go really deep and actually heal from my core.

The Angels and the Holy One are here taking care of me, the stream and the green leaves are here taking care of me, the roses outside my front door are taking care of me, the view of clouds crossing the sky is taking care of me, the silence and the stillness is taking care of me, the warm cup of milk I fix myself with honey, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla (not a simple, no-fuss glass of warm milk) is taking care of me. Hee Ney Ni, Here I Am, open to whatever needs to unfold.

Shofar, Challah under orange cloth, Shabbat oil-wicks and one of my Holy Views right before Shabbat.
Shofar, Challah under orange cloth, Shabbat oil-wicks and one of my Holy Views right before Shabbat.

This place is the safest, kindest place I’ve ever been in my entire life.

I have never felt more enclosed and able to be fully tender and exposed than here. The quality of this place is delicious and gentle and I feel held here in ways I cannot completely express. So, I’m not traveling to Dublin to spend the Jewish New Year/Rosh Hashanah with other Jews. I’m staying here, and quietly and deeply saying the prayers that all my folks will be saying. I’ll play the recording, lovingly offered and made for me, of our Temple Beth El Choir, singing the songs they would be singing. I’ve actually been listening to it over and over, and sobbing or singing along. I miss my family, I miss my community and my friends. And, it is okay for me to miss them, because I am not missing my connection to what runs through all of us and the world. That is here for me in every breath, in every view, in every birdsong and stream sound and in the quiet smiles and presence of those around me who are also in communion with the Divine.

L’Shana Tova U’Metuka (A sweet New Year) I wish for you all.

August Full Moon behind the clouds, my cabin, (named Clare) below, Hi Ney Ni/Here I Am, safe in Home and Hearth and Enraptured in Eire.
August Full Moon behind the clouds, my cabin, (named Clare) below, Hee Ney Ni/Here I Am, safe in Home and Hearth and Enraptured in Eire.

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!

Hadi the Honeyed One and Lovely Lorena

Crows, Jays, Ravens: Corvus-corvidae-carrion-crow
Corvus-corvidae-carrion-crow. Crows, Jays, Ravens
image taken from:
http://www.factzoo.com/birds/corvidae-family-crows-ravens-jays.html

Having moved across a great many miles by plane, train, taxi and using my own feet, I’ve arrived in the “major” town near where my solitary time will be. I have so many stories to tell about the last month of my life. Adventures in Paris, folks I spoke with, the Hammam Pacha in Paris (a Hammam Pacha Post coming in the future), the Lebanese restaurant Chez Nagi, the Gentle Gourmet (vegetarian and vegan restaurant in Paris), time with my husband that was precious beyond words, lovely luncheons with my father and Judy, long walks through Paris and pounding pavement and endless going up and down stairs in the metro, time at museums, moments of breathtaking wonderment at the master works of some of my favorite painters and discoveries of beauty and joys previously unknown.

But right now I’m in the county of Yeats’ child-hood in the home of Hadi and Lorena. I am watching a murder of crows or ravens wheel about and grab the grains of rice Hadi left out for them from last night’s Iranian feast. The garden is small; off their backyard. I arrived by train from Dublin’s 4pm train, where I flew into Ireland from Paris. I got here around 7pm in the evening, where I am (secret location), and I needed to find accommodation for one night. I knew this ahead of time and so while I was still in Paris I found several possible places to spend the night, thanks to Airbnb, that was easy. What was spectacular is that I landed here in the home of Hadi from Iran and his Lovely Irish wife Lorena.

In the breakfast nook of Hadi & Lorena
In the breakfast nook of Hadi & Lorena

What always amazes me is the way the Divine has such a light and lovely touch in my life at this point. Not sure if that is the Holy One taking a personal interest or more just my eyes opening and seeing things from a very specific kind of perspective. But basically, everyone I encounter and engage with, so far, on this journey has been a tremendous offering with something I specifically and deeply wished for and needed offered from out of seemingly nowhere, but clearly somewhere.

This is primarily a story about spices though. The people and the flavors I’ve encountered and the massive engagement with them and reveling in food that I have been on before heading into my more sparse and spare food reality. I knew that Paris would be a place of eating and no holds barred.  Why bother being there if you aren’t going to have a chocolat chaud or a croissant or canard or plat des fromages or poisson cuit au amandes et miel? So, yes, a lot of good food has been eaten by me since I left my home, where I cook the good food. I did make a few meals for my beloved in Paris at our Airbnb flat, and one luncheon for Dad and Judy, but otherwise, I’ve been fed and not feeding others for the last month.

While writing this I got an email message from the person who will be picking me up in a few hours. Her message was she’d come get me from this home where I am, but she might be “late.” This is what I responded with:

“I’m writing up a storm here, enjoying the rain, the murder of crows in the yard and will keep my eyes open for you. There is no more late or early for me. I’m on the rain time, the Hermitage time, the time of Holy Happenings as they unfold in Grace.”

Just saying that makes me gleeful. Hadi, Lorena  and I have just shared some coffee with honey and delicious almond raspberry cake, made by Lovely Lorena and, of course, more honey. Hadi is from Iran and just recently got to see his family after ten years apart. He has a twin brother and big family there. Because of the wounded crazy and politically complicated parts of our world, it is very hard for him, as a man of Iranian descent, to travel and connect to his family physically. This is part of my story that makes the tears flow.

When I arrived here, I entered in and smelled some very good cooking. I met these two lovely humans and after my long day of travel sat in their kitchen drinking water (tea was offered, but I wanted water). I said it smelled heavenly and wondered might I be able to join them for their dinner when it was ready. The answer was of course. So, I got an delicious Iranian dinner of lamb stew with lentils and an incredible yogurt dish and basmati rice. Hadi also regaled me with his tales about the wonders of honey and the many uses of honey. Hadi and his love of honey were very clear and Lovely Lorena mentioned that many, many. many spoonfuls of honey a day are consumed by her husband. It was clear to me that all the honey eating had made Hadi honeyed and I told Lorena that, let him keep eating all that honey, it’s clearly making him sweet!

Now onto the spicy part of this story.

Paprika from le P'tit Souk
Paprika from le P’tit Souk

So, while I was in Paris, I knew I needed to buy spices for whatever fare I’d be cooking and consuming in my small cabin. I am just fine with the idea of simpler meals and basic foods, which will be my lot starting tonight and on-wards for many months. I’m not okay without some spice or flavor to put on my legumes or zucchini or grains. So, I went to the market off Maison Blanche metro stop on l’avenue d’Italie on one of the market days, while I was in Paris. Hundreds of people walking in a tiny corridor between vendors offering their watermelons, fish, meat, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, clothing,flowers, bathroom supplies, perfumes, linens, electronics, all calling out to you, in French loudly; all hoping you’ll stop at their stall and not the one down the line for your apricots or your baguette.

I found a stall that was full of gorgeous dried fruits, buckets of olives in many different kinds of brines, nuts and middle-eastern foods, hummous, and baba ghanoush and anchovies and tzaziki and a large array of spices. YAY! I started asking the vendor if he had cumin, coriander, hot pepper, etc… He and I fell a little in love (my husband has been informed). Ramadan, that was his name, was probably somewhere between 60-75. It is hard to say because I’m terrible with figuring out how old or young a person is and he was un petit homme mais avec un grand coeur et un ravissant sourire (a small man but with a big heart and a delightful smile). He had a smooth beautiful hairless head and his skin was lovely and the color of roasted almonds and he was young-looking, but he wasn’t a young man. The first time we met, we just liked each other.

I knew I would come back to his stall and went back there on Sunday (the market was Thursdays and Sundays). I walked too many blocks between all the other vendors and found no Ramadan and his wares. I was very sad. The open air stall is a small representation of their larger presence in Paris called Le P’tit Souk, but I knew I wouldn’t have time to go there, so I thought this was my last chance and I missed it.

I found some time and tried again on the following Thursday and wonderfully, there he was. This is when the love-affair really began. A love affair of spices and enthusiasm over life and the Divine and living with flavor and joy. He kept exclaiming that I was a “femme exceptionelle, extraordinaire” and many other superlatives were used. Now, any vendor knows, complimenting your customer is a VERY good idea. But this wasn’t that. There was a connection and a spark between us, momentary, but real and so kind and genuine. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am always falling in love with everyone. Men, women, birds, beasts, flowers, paintings, the texture of a fine linen, a particular shade of orange on a woman’s dress, I’m just falling in love all the time and everywhere. This is not always so easy for those who love me, but at this point, my most beloved has gotten used to it.

So, I collected all the spices I needed and said Aleicum Salaam/ Aleichem Shalom (which is the farewell portion of the greeting Salaam Aleicum/Shalom Aleichem) to Ramadan and the P’tit Souk stall on avenue D’Italie. Because Sunday was Tisha B’Av, and I was fasting and chose to stay home and observe this day of mourning at “home,” I couldn’t get back to the P’tit Souk. And, perhaps he wouldn’t have been there. Unfortunately for me, the one spice I had forgotten to get was saffron, and I realized this but had no time to return to the market or go to another one before leaving for Ireland. Oh well, one can live without saffron.

But, not really, at least the Holy One and I are aligned in this manner. Ha-Shem gifted me with these people and upon entering the home of Hadi and Lorena and smelling the smells and starting the conversations before dinner, somewhere in all of this, Hadi started getting out all the spices he had brought back with him from Iran. Hadi and I began a conversation in spice and smells. When a good cook meets another good cook, just like gardener to gardener or painter to painter, you share your wares, your secrets, your seeds. So, he gave me a pot of something small and red to smell. I told him I had to say a blessing first before smelling something delightful. I said my blessing and smelled HEAVEN in crushed deep red saffron. I smiled and said, “saffron, from Iran or Turkey?” Hadi said:

“Iran, the best is always from Iran, never Turkey or anywhere else, Iran!”

I’d have to agree. A little while later he gave me a bag of his precious saffron and I almost cried. I’m crying now as I write this.

Perhaps a bag of saffron is not something that would make most people cry, but for me, it’s like being offered jewels or water in a desert. Spice and color are the oasis in a landscape that too many people have made barren and dull. For me, and for those who engage with spices and herbs, the boundaries of delight that we can create with a simple pinch of saffron or a drop of cinnamon or corriander, is our way of making magic real in this world, and on your tongue and in your body.

The Holy One made all of this and all of us, Ramadan the Parisian vendor, Hadi the honey-loving saffron sharing Irish-Iranian, Lorena the Lovely, kind and almond-cake making hostess. You and I and Mick, the Yeats’-quoting poetry taxi-driver and Gearard my train-ride companion for the three-hour train after Dublin, Caleb, the maintenance man, at the Paris flat who carried my hugely heavy suitcase up the two flights of tiny wooden stairs around 4pm in the month of Ramadan, when he hadn’t had any food or water, simply because he was kind and could see that it was going to be very hard for me to do. All of these people and more, all gifts along my path, shimmering jewels of human goodness and flavor that the Holy One has placed on my path as I make my way.

Crows or Ravens enjoying rice offered by Hadi and Lorena
Crows or Ravens enjoying rice offered by Hadi and Lorena

I have lots more stories to tell and I will tell them as they need to be told. For now, if you are in Paris, find the P’tit Souk stall on Avenue d’Italie, say Salaam Aleicum to Ramadan the spice vendor for me. Eat at the Lebanese restaurant Chez Nagi (I’ll tell that adventure, in detail, another time). Also, if you happen to be a vegetarian or love one, as I do, go to the Gentle Gourmet. It is not so easy to find truly Vegan/Vegetarian food when you are traveling, also they have gluten-free, soy-free, and vegan specialties, so if you have particular food requirements and allergies, this is the place for you. I’ll write up a longer narrative about that meal as well, later.

How kind of Ha-Shem to give me these folks and these moments of human connection with excellence and color before I head deep into stillness and contemplation. I’m grateful beyond words and ready to begin a different kind of journey. Heading out to my hermitage shortly and off to unknown territory, but in my bag, my heavy, heavy bag full of what I need for the next ten months, there is one ingredient, lighter than all the rest, it’s the one that will take me straight to Gan Eden/Paradise, the Iranian saffron given to Honey-Loving Hadi by his sweet mother and shared with me, here in Ireland.

Heavenly View from my train ride between Dublin and .....
Heavenly View from my train ride between Dublin and …..

How can you possibly doubt the presence of Holiness and Honeyedness (a new Nicole word), after hearing this story?

In love of honey, saffron, humans, crows, rain, Yeats and the green, green Isle of Eire,

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