20 September 2013

Mulled Wine Rocks

My mulled wine simmering away
in my cauldron I mean crock pot
It’s been a long week. I’m used to having long days (are there any other kind anymore, seriously?) but this past week was especially hectic, and I am just thankful I made it through until Friday. Now if I can just make it until the end of the day, I have a gloriously relaxing weekend in the woods to look forward to in celebration of the Autumn Equinox and Mabon, one of my favorite holidays—second only to Samhaine. By the way, my costume this year is already complete :) I knocked it out a few weekends ago whilst watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy, extended editions, of course. My friends and I are all dressing up as elves, dwarves and hobbits and hitting the fabulous streets of Austin, TX for the weekend prior to Halloween/Samhaine. So if you see an elegantly dressed lady-elf in forest-green satin, pine-green silk, leaf-green chiffon and ocean-teal velvet, that’s me! So feel free to come up to me and go, “Oh hey there, crazy person! I read your blog! You should really edit more.”

I don’t anticipate being recognized.

But I digress. Back to Mabon and the awesomeness that will ensue this weekend. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have recently started attending the weekly meetings of a local Open Circle. Thus, for the first time ever, I will be attending a truly group ritual, in the woods, with a bonfire. I am so unbelievably excited!! I spent all last evening gathering supplies and mulling wine, which I then bottled and put in the fridge to chill (gotta account for this Texas heat…no hot beverages here). Naturally I sampled the end product last night while it was still warm and fresh out of the crock pot, oozing spiciness and orange tang. I plan on sampling the chilled version this evening after work—you know, just to make sure it still tastes right—whilst packing my cooler and preparing my “milk and honey corn pudding” batter for the potluck. See, before Saturday’s sunset ritual, they have a potluck dinner; so I plan on using my trusty crock pot to slow-cook some corn pudding. It is a harvest celebration, after all. So I figure, I pre-make the batter, put all the mixed up ingredients in a giant ziplock bag (or two) and keep it in my cooler until it’s time to start cooking.

Thus, in light of it being officially autumn here soon (some lucky places have already started experiencing this most wonderful of seasons), I will share my mulled wine recipe. Once upon a time, I used to host a lot of Halloween parties (high school) and then Christmas/Yule parties (college). While I began with mulling cider, by the time all my friends—or at least most of them—were of age, I graduated to mulling wine. Before I had a crock pot I would just use a giant stock pot and let it simmer on the stove, so that method is also a good one, you just have to watch the pot more to make sure it doesn’t start outright boiling. You don’t want to be cooking off any of the alcohol, if it is wine you happen to be mulling. That said, in a pinch, you can always spike the end product with brandy or cognac if you are afraid your wine lost its kick.

First off, you need to be gathering your ingredients. Any fruits (preferably citrus) or spices of the cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice variety (whole or coarsely ground is best so that you can easily remove them later) you desire. Here’s what I used:

  • One orange, cut into quarters
  • Four sticks cinnamon
  • Mulling spices (whole cloves, large pieces of allspice, some dried bits of orange peel)
  • 2x extra large bottles of dry red (I used a Gallo Family Merlot; you can totally mull cheap wine! In fact, the cheaper the better, because you won’t tell the difference in the end)
  • Sugar or honey (I used about 1 cup of sugar, but you can use as much as 2 or just go all out and make it super sweet)

A) Crock pot method.
  1. Open wine bottles. Pour wine in crock pot.
  2. Squeeze juice from orange sections into wine. Plop squeezed orange sections into the wine afterwards for extra pulpy goodness and orangey flavor.
  3. Drop in your spices (cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, and whatever else you want to use) and sugar. Stir with obnoxiously large wooden spoon. Cackle. 
  4. Cover and cook on high for about 2 hours or on low for about 4. You can cook it longer if you want, but you don’t want it to boil; just heat up and simmer and get the wine all delightfully infused with the spice and fruit flavors.
  5. Reduce crock pot to “keep warm” (If you have that setting, or else just keep it on low and remove the lid) and serve with a ladle. Be careful; it’s hot. Drinkable, but hot.
B) Stovetop method.
  1. Follow steps 1-3 above, substituting a large stock pot or sauce pan for the crock pot. The most imporant part is the cackling; if fascilitates the strirring.
  2. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat.
  3. Let simmer for about 10 minutes then reduce heat to medium-low for at least an hour.
  4. Keep warm on low heat and serve with a ladle.
C) If you desire to chill your mulled wine and serve it cold, more like a sangria:
  1. Carefully—it will spill, so do this process either over the sink or over the pot so that you don't waste the runoff—ladle the warm mulled wine into a bottle (or two, or three). Using a funnel would probably help, but I don't happen to own one, so this step was particularly messy for me.
  2. Refrigerate overnight or until it's reached the desired coolness.
  3. Serve over ice in cute little tumblers.
=And there you have it, folks! Hot or cold, mulled wine is delicious. It’s known as Glühwein (pronounced GLUE-vine) in Germany and глинтвейн (pronounced GLINT-vine) in Russia. I’ve drunk it both places, and I’ve made it several times, and let me tell you there is almost no way to mess it up. Whatever fruits and spices you thrown in there, it’s going to taste good. Kind of like tiramisu: the basic ingredients are just so yummy, that it’s hard to find a bad version of it. Some mulled wines are sweeter than others; some are more alcoholic than others. I prefer to preserve the wine of mine instead of spiking it further, because then it’s hard to keep track of exactly how much alcohol is in there, but either way, the bottom line here is that mulled wine rocks, and you should go make some.

Right now. Go.

12 September 2013

Circles, Antimatter, And Humanoid Gods

Ancient Egyptian art depicting
some of their gods of the
Underworld. I believe it is
currently on display at the
 Louvre, but unfortunately
 I could find out little else.
About the gods I have no means of knowing either that they exist or that they do not exist or what they are to look at. Many things prevent my knowing. Among others, the fact that they are never seen.
~ Protagoras

Yesterday I did something I have never done before.

I attended an open circle.

Now, I have known of this circle’s existence pretty much since I have been living in Texas, but I was always weirdly nervous about getting involved. At first, the only information I found about them online seemed vague at best and mostly from the early 2000’s, so I wasn’t even sure if they were still active. Then, once I discovered they were still very much around, I instead found excuses for not reaching out to them: I was busy, I was a Platoon Leader, I never got off work early enough, what if I’m the only officer there, what if I don’t fit in, what if I’m not Pagan enough, what if I do something wrong, what if they make me call the quarters at my first ritual and I mess it up and forget which direction is north...

I’ve never been anything but a solitary practitioner, apart from working a few rites or occasionally reading Tarot with bestie Amphitrite, and those hardly counted as group rituals. However, after talking over my irrational fears (which I acknowledged they were, but still feared nonetheless) with Orion the other day, I decided that I was just going to go and see what happened.

So I went.

And it was freaking awesome.

We did not work any magic; rather, it was a class and a discussion on topics relevant to modern Paganism in preparation for next weekend’s Mabon ritual—which I fully intend to attend. They meet weekly to have classes and discussions, and then celebrate the Sabbats and Esbats in a sanctuary set up at a local grove. I am so beyond excited it’s not even funny. Everyone was super nice and welcoming—I got lots of hugs as the newcomer—and came from all walks of life and levels of experience. The group leader/sponsor described them as a collection of “chronic non-joiners, geeks, and crafty people,” so I knew almost immediately that I had found a home.

The discussion was themed around the harvest, with a focus on the concept of sacrifice: its origins, connotations, and modern representations. Now, another one of the things I was concerned about before meeting everyone, was that I would be too intellectual for the group; however, as soon as the discussion started, I knew that fear had been not only vain but completely unfounded. If anything, I felt like the dumb one in the crowd. I was certainly the quietest, but that was more out of respect for my position as newcomer. I did not want to rush right in spouting off my opinion on everything; I prefer to ease my way into group settings, and right now I have the luxury of time to do just that.

One of the most interesting concepts we discussed, however, was the way we as a species used to make our gods look like us, even up to the point of deifying famous figures (the statue of George Washington as Jupiter, specifically, was mentioned). Many cultures view/ed their deity/ies as, at a minimum, humanoid. There were variations upon the humanoid figure, such as the many-armed blue skinned gods from India and the animal-headed gods of Egypt, but even these were still basically humanoid in their design. And that’s what got me thinking. Why?

As one who was baptized Byzantine Rite and raised very strictly Catholic, the concept of gods and men reflecting each other is not unknown to me. That said, in my youth I was more accustomed to hearing that God (the Yahweh one) created men in His image; but as a student of Latin and the accompanying culture, I was also familiar with the reverse concept. According to the Romans, we created the gods in our image, not the other way around. The Ancient Greeks and Romans were avid proponents of deities being reflective of humanity, even (and especially) including their faults: the jealousy of Hera/Juno, the vanity of Aphrodite/Venus, the womanizing douchebaggery of Zeus/Jupiter, just to name a few of the more popular godly faults. “To err is human,” as the common phrase goes, and yet in some lost societies, to err was also divine—a direct contradiction to the much quoted Christian adage that “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

And yet we have all the evidence of the universe before us. Bad things happen to good people. Birth defects. Disease. Natural disaster. Poverty, hunger, famine. Black holes. War. And yet we also have the miracle of nebulae, the delicate balancing act of matter versus antimatter that allows the entire universe to precariously remain in existence. (In case you are unfamiliar with antimatter, basically it is the same as matter only the reverse, and when in contact, the two explode in a massive release of energy and then cancel each other out….but yet we are still here. Mind blown yet? Mine kinda is. More information here, which despite being from Wikipedia is actually a pretty fair summary.)

Divine mistake or not, we are here. We exist. Life exists, and is living, here on Earth, in this time and space. So here’s my theory. We make our gods look like us because we want to become god-like ourselves. They represent an achievable, attainable possible future: us, but improved. More powerful. More knowledgeable. Stronger. Sometimes we even make them omniscient, sometimes omnipotent. Eternal (literally, existing outside of time, rather than lasting forever, albeit both may be correct interpretations). We, as a species, strive to be all of these things, but in our struggle to achieve more power and knowledge and strength we leave a mass of troubles in our wake (war, poverty, and other products of pillage and plunder). We use our tools and technology to further the eons-old struggle for survival of the fittest, only we call it something else. We enact the dance of predator and prey on a global level, and we call it international relations.

We call it politics.

And here I will stop, before I start spouting off about something that could get me in trouble. I hope, at least, that I have provided some food for thought. Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again.

10 September 2013

Remembering Smurf the Nordic Bard

How else do you honor a musician than with a song?
It has been a decade and your legacy lives on.
I’ve been trying to write for you a song all of these years,
but nothing ever fits, nothing ever fits.

I remember when we were twelve, we’d argue all day long
about which one of us played the better guitar.
Now I hope that when I die, you’ll meet me at the gate
so we can finally finish our musical debate.

You were so unique, walking your own path,
brave as any Viking with blue hair and an axe.
You lived with no apologies, excuses nor regrets;
I always envied that, I always envied that.

And when you left us we asked ourselves,
if you knew how many lives you’d touched,
how many friends would cry at your funeral,
wondering what we all did wrong,
wondering what we could have done.

For ten years I’ve been haunted by my last words to you.
If only I’d known then how soon they would come true.
I promised you a story at 3am that night, but I was tired,
and instead I said, “There isn’t enough time."
There’s never enough time.

And when you left us we asked ourselves,
if you know how many friends you had,
how many messages left on your coffin lid
asked you what we all did wrong,
and what more we could have done.

And when you left us we asked ourselves,
if you knew how many lives you’d touched,
how many friends would cry at your funeral,
wondering what we all did wrong,
wondering what we could have done.

09 September 2013

Digging For Bones

Circle: The Spinner's Journey Cover Art painted by
yours truly, so if you copy it, please link back!
I have a very specific process for writing my stories, and it’s quite different from the free-style writing I use here on my blog or when composing lyrics and poetry. If anything, my method for producing a story shares more in common with my method for making statues: I start with the bones, then add in the meat and finish everything up with the skin and details. For statues, this translates into building a frame out of wire, fleshing that out with metal foil as necessary (for larger pieces, mostly), then adding the outer layer of clay in which all the pretty little details are set. Once it’s baked, the painting begins. In writing my stories, the process goes something like this:

  1. Stream of consciousness-style chapter summary (the vision)
  2. Dialogue sketch (the bones)
  3. Descriptions of action (the meat)
  4. Descriptions of place (the skin)
  5. Editing (the details)

My stories—likely a product of my obsession with any show created by Joss Whedon—are rather dialogue-driven, so the dialogue is where I start the active process. The summaries tend to be the freestyle, unedited, ungrammatical, hand-jammed ramblings of a writing-as-you-think-it production that is illegible to all but me. Thus, the real work begins with the bones: the dialogue. Sometimes the words my characters speak come to me in the way that poetry does; I don’t think about what I’m writing, I just let the ink flow and it miraculously sounds kinda good. Sometimes I realize I have a notebook and a few minutes to kill, so I’ll brainstorm briefly about what scene I need to write next, and then I’ll start the conversation in the middle. More often than not, a random line will pop in my head, and I’ll think to myself, “That is totally something Gren would say about Ruv when he’s complaining to Hal,” and so I write it down and before I know it I’ve got three pages of scribbled conversation between my protagonists.

I look at my pre-story dialogue as sketches, and so that’s what I call them: dialogue sketches. They outline the chapters, provide commentary on the action, and reveal aspects of my character’s personalities that occasionally I didn’t even know until, well, I just let them start talking. I’ve never written a play, but I have read a few. My dialogue sketches look something like a screenplay when they’re done, except my characters never exit stage left. Rather, they whip out a sword and start fighting a dragon only to discover that even the dragon is feeling a bit chatty.

The reason I bring up my dialogue sketches is because I’ve produced a LOT of them recently. As you may know, I finished the preliminary draft of the first novel in the Circle series, titled The Spinner’s Journey. (On a side note, if you are unfamiliar with my story’s premise, you might want to check out the Bookshelf tab at the top of this site; there you will find story summaries, character profiles, and explanations of Aorean geography.) However, as it took me so long to finish the novel, the first few chapters stylistically did not fit with the later chapters, and Present-Anden disagreed with Past-Anden about the way the adventure should ultimately begin; thus, I decided to rewrite the first three chapters.

Which means starting all over again with the dialogue sketches.

The prologue and first chapter are already complete, so I’ve moved on to chapter two, which is where the protagonists really come together as a whole. Three of them—Mari, Gren and Hal—begin the story as old friends; but they are not a complete group until they bring in Laria, and only when they are complete can they begin the journey to ward off chaos for another thousand years. How do they begin their journey, you ask? Why, with a song, of course! And here is that song, as a nifty sneak-preview of the revamped beginning to The Spinner’s Journey:

Through the mists of time and space,
Where rivers speak and birches sway.
Into the flaming forest land,
Bring us all, hand in hand.

Bring us all, our journey begun;
Bring us whole, each and everyone,
Into the mystic land of old,
Where all dreams and stories unfold.

Through the mists of space and time,
The shifting fabric, dark and light,
Into the flaming forest land:
Bring us all, hand in hand.