El Día de los Muertos, Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve…

It’s officially October. I cannot express how glad I am that it is October. I’ve been making Halloween-esque crafts all Fall in secret. I’ve been so excited for October holidays and I’ve had to hide it, lest I be judged by those who don’t share my excitement!

I love everything Halloween and everything close to. Ever heard of el Día de los Muertos, or “the Day of the Dead”? El Día is a primarily Mexican holiday, which honours deceased friends and family, bringing living friends and family together. In a lot of Western cultures, we see death as a morbid thing, and as an end to physical life. El Día embraces life and death, rather than fearing it [1] as many Westerners do. To the ancient Aztecs and Meso-Americans who began the traditions of El Día, life was a dream and only in death did one become truly awake. [1] It is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November, in correlation with the Catholic All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. [2] El Día is celebrated with traditions including decorating graves and making altars dedicated to the deceased, eating sugar skulls (keep an eye out for my next post!) and other treats, parades, music-making, and one of the traditions that has stuck out to me the most– hanging papel picado.

Disclaimer: This photo is not my own. If it is yours, please contact me so I can give you proper credit.

Disclaimer: This photo is not my own. If it is yours, please contact me so I can give you proper credit.

Papel picado is a paper banner with elaborate designs cut into it. Common Day of the Dead papel picado imagery includes smiling sugar skulls, dancing skeletons, drinking and/or feasting skeletons, skeletons getting married, or skeletons singing and playing instruments. [3] “The images on papel picado are always humorous and fun – never scary, sad or macabre.” [3] Like most Día de los Muertos art forms, papel picado is brief and short-lived. [3] The delicacy of the tissue paper means that the decorations won’t last long.– [3] They are meant to be enjoyed until they fall apart, or until it’s time to take them down. [3] This lack of attachment to longevity is in line with many other Day of the Dead art forms that are only temporary, such as sugar skulls which are meant to be eaten, and skeleton paintings on store windows that are washed off after the holiday is over. [3] Papel picado placed on altars to the deceased, represents wind, one of the four aspects (Earth, water, fire, and wind) important to an altar. [4] The sound of papel picado rustling in the wind indicates the deceased spirits are returning for the festivities of el Día.

So, I made these after I saw a post on Studio DIY‘s blog. [5] They have a papel picado feel, being made of a tissue paper, and they rustle in the wind when I have the door open, surely (friendly!) spirits saying hello. (;

I think it ties in nicely with the rest of my Halloween decorations. (: I made these spiderwebs, found on This Heart of Mine, guest starring Studio DIY[6] They also match my pennant banner which you can see in the background! Banners are something new I will be trying out in my Etsy shop soon. But this one is just for me, for my favourite time of year! (:

Since Josh and I have moved into our apartment, we’ve had a wreath on the door. I plan to uphold this ritual– wreath making is fun, and there are so many different kinds of wreaths! This one is a feather boa wreath with some Halloween-inspired roses and a painted sign that says “a real witch lives here.”

I also made this doorknob hanger that says “the Dix’s” on one side and “out of candy” on the other, for Halloween night when we’re done answering the door. It will unfortunately have to be kept inside the door, because I didn’t think through the fact that it would get caught in the door when we close it behind us!

I made this bat garland for our balcony, as well, inspired by the Artful Parent. [9] My bats are connected accordion-style by the wing, rather than sewn together.

Did you know Halloween is really only celebrated in the States and Canada? Other countries do celebrate Halloween, but not to the extent we do. Think about it– go into any store in October and it has a Halloween section. Even in Europe, most Halloween traditions are minimal. In Poland many people refuse to observe Halloween, because it is the day after All Saint’s Day, which is a sad holiday. [7] In Switzerland, Halloween, after first becoming popular in 1999 is on the wane. Switzerland already has a “festival overload” and even though Swiss people like to dress up for any occasion, they do prefer a traditional element. [7] “Between 1630 and 1640, the Catholic Church carried on a campaign to suppress surviving pagan traditions connected to All Saints’ Day and its eve. These feasts vanished completely. However, in the 1990s, Halloween was popularized by television programs and merchandising coming from [the] United States… As a result, Halloween has become a major festivity among Italian youth. The actual holiday, …All Souls Day, is still celebrated, with each region preparing their traditional plates and costumes.” [7] And in Romania, Halloween is celebrated around the myth of “Dracula”. The spirit of Dracula is believed to live there because the town was the site of many witch trials; these are recreated today by actors on the night of Halloween. [7] In Ireland and Scotland, though, they celebrate Samhain.

“Originating in ancient Europe as a Celtic Fire festival, Samhain is now celebrated worldwide.” [8] Other than being celebrated in Ireland and Scotland, it is celebrated by Pagans. Samhain coincides with the end of the growing season [8] and it is the third and final Pagan harvest festival. It is also celebrated as the ending of the old Pagan year and the beginning of a new year. It can be celebrated with Samhain rituals, feasts honouring the dead, and reflections on the past year and goals for the new. [8] My friends and I will definitely be greeting the spirits (perhaps cued by papel picado!), giving thanks for the old year and bidding farewell, and looking forward to the new year this week!

 

1. Day of the Dead history
2. Day of the Dead
3. Papel Picado
4. Dia de los Muertos: A User’s Guide
5. Haunted Housewarming: The DIY Breakdown on Studio DIY
6. DIY Paper Spiderwebs on This Heart of Mine, by Studio DIY
7. Halloween around the world
8. Celebrating Samhain
9. A Felt Bat Garland on The Artful Parent

Spicy Slow-Cooker Turkey Chili

It’s not officially fall, but right after Labour Day, the weather cooled down and there’s an autumn aroma in the air.

I’ve been eating apple bagels and drinking hot lattés, buying harvest vegetables, anticipating fall activities, and cooking fall foods. One of which being a spicy slow-cooker turkey chili. 

One of my old roommates used to make turkey chili in his crock pot every weekend when he would go skiing. If I was lucky, I would get a bowl of rice and chili. It’s so simple and easy, and so delicious.

So I decided to take a whack at making my own. (:

I added more vegetables and legumes, and I made it spicier. I used Diavolo red sauce in my chili. We get Diavolo sauce every time we go to the market. I’m really not partial to plain tomato sauce. Diavolo, for those who don’t know, is red sauce with chili powder and dried chili flakes.*

 

 

Ingredients:

– 1 lb ground turkey, turkey sausage (different spiced ones to mix it up!), or a mix of both
– 1 can (drained) black beans
– 1 can (drained) pinto beans
– 1 can (drained) red kidney beans
– 1 cup corn, frozen or drained can
– 1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
– 1 tomato, coarsely chopped
– 2 cups Diavolo red sauce*
– 1/2 tspn chili powder
– 1 tspn fresh minced garlic (optional)
– 1/2 tspn parsley (optional)
– 1/2 tspn oregano (optional)
– 1/2 tspn basil (optional)
– salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

Cook the turkey in a skillet until done. Add onions while cooking (optional).

Add ingredients in crock pot. Cook on low for approximately five hours, stirring occasionally. 

Serve with rice, topped with grated cheddar cheese and fresh chives, and extra hot sauce if you like it extra hot!

Makes approximately 6 servings.

Did you know I have an Etsy shop?

Did you?

Well, I do. (:

Bleached shirts, done by me!

I make a lot of custom items, mostly being custom bleached shirts.

To promote my shop, and the new facebook page I made for my shop, I am hosting a Rafflecopter giveaway!

The contest begins at 12:00 am on 1 August and will close at 11:59 pm two weeks later on 15 August. I will choose a winner at random at that time, who will get one free custom bleached shirt in their size and have it shipped to them! This contest is only open to US citizens. For all other terms and conditions, check the link above with the giveaway.

So, join in on the contest and good luck! (;

A summer baby shower and some refreshing summer cupcakes!

This week I’ve been helping Josh’s mom with a baby shower she had been planning. I really love parties and entertaining, so I had no trouble helping shop for the food, set up for the party, and work out the details.

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It was a sports-themed shower, and everything was adorable. We had sports-themed table settings, sports-themed balloons, and sports cookies. The soccer ball above was for Kim, the mom-to-be, in lieu of a guest book. The favours– also shown above– were lip glosses, blue nail polishes, and little bottles filled with candy.

It was a great party, and a beautiful day. Actually, it was a really hot and humid day, but the heat didn’t stop the fun!

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We played a few really fun and interactive baby shower games with prizes, and we had two door prize raffles. Denise said the first prize to go was going to be the wine and chocolate, and of course, it was. (;

The first game we played was a nursery rhyme game where we were given a hint about a character and we had to name who the rhyme was about. For example, “Who lost her sheep?” “Little Bo Peep.” Whomever got the most correct answers won a prize.

The next game we played involved the small bottles we were given, and we had to drink from the bottles as quickly as we could. Whomever drank the fastest won a prize.

We played another game called Toss and Shout, where we tossed a doll like Hot Potato, but whenever the doll came to us, we had to shout a baby-related item (for example high chair. or baby lotion) within three seconds and without repeating any of the shouted items. Whomever hesitated or repeated was out. The last remaining person won a prize.

Another game we played was called Baby Picasso, where everyone was blindfolded and had to draw Kim’s baby. Kim chose the winner and they received a prize. My favourite was Cate’s, the top right photo in the previous collage. (; They were all pretty amusing, though.

Lastly, we played Spit the Binky. Everyone lined up and spit a pacifier as far as they could. Whomever spit theirs the farthest, also won a prize.

Sara, spitting her binky!

After all the games, we headed inside and hid from the heat while we ate dinner and… Cupcakes!! (:

Denise asked me to make cupcakes a few months in advance, and of course that meant I wanted to use the opportunity to try something I’ve never done before. (; I only did chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, but I made a stabilised whipped cream frosting.

How darling! (: The frosting is very tasty and it was perfect on a hot, summer day. I’ll definitely be making it again!

Stabilised Whipped Cream Frosting Recipe
Recipe from Food Pusher

Frosting Ingredients:

-1/2 teaspoon unflavoured gelatin
-2 tablespoons cold water
-1 cup heavy whipping cream
-2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Frosting Instructions:

Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in small bowl to soften.

Simmer 2 tablespoon of the cream; pour over gelatin, stirring till dissolved.

Refrigerate for approximately 10-15 minutes. Then, with a whisk, beat until smooth.

In a stand mixer with a whip attachment, or with a hand beater, whip remaining cream and sugar just until soft peaks form; whip in the smoothed gelatin mixture, stopping to scrape the bowl. Whip until stiff peaks start to form, but be careful not to over beat. You will probably only need to whip it another 10-20 seconds before it’s done.

Keep leftover frosting and any product topped with it in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

This recipe made enough frosting for me to pipe a dozen cupcakes, but Food Pusher says it will frost and fill two 8″ or 9″ cake layers, or frost a 10″ angel or sponge cake.

Josh’s cake

This cake is not for the weak of heart. Nor for those on a diet. And it’s certainly not for those who don’t like dark chocolate.

Josh really likes dark chocolate. Of course I obliged his dark chocolate-lust for his birthday– only the best girlfriend would. (;

This cake is loosely based off of an Sicilian cassata cake. A traditional version of this Sicilian cassata dessert, often served at Easter, is made from a light-textured sponge cake stuffed with rum-ricotta filling laced with candied orange peel. Josh’s cake provides a version more suited to a chocolate-loving Americans’ taste: dense chocolate cake with bits of 100% cocoa filled with sweet cannoli filling and chocolate, and iced with ganache-like fudge frosting.

Josh’s Chocolate Cake Recipe

Cake Ingredients:

– 1/2 cup butter
– 1 1/2 cups sugar
– 3/4 teaspoon salt
– 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
– 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
– 2 100% Ghirardelli chocolate squares, optional
– 2/3 cup cocoa powder
– 3 large eggs
– 1 1/4 cups flour
– 3/4 cup milk

Cannoli Filling Ingredients:

– 2 cups ricotta cheese, part-skim preferred
– 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
– 2 tablespoons simple syrup or vanilla syrup, to brush on cake, optional

Frosting Ingredients:

– 3/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
– 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
– 2 100% Ghirardelli chocolate squares, optional
– 3/4 cup heavy cream
– 1/2 cup butter
– pinch of salt
– 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cake Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and flour two 8″ round cake pans.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, baking powder, chocolate, and cocoa, adding eggs one at a time. Add half the flour to the bowl, beating at low speed to combine. Add all of the milk, and the rest of the flour, beating gently until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven, loosen the edges, wait 10 minutes, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool. Store completely cooled cake well wrapped, at room temperature, until ready to fill and frost.

Filling Instructions:

Note: I didn’t make my own cannoli filling. I bought pre-made cannoli filling from my local supermarket. And put chocolate on top of the piped-out filling. This comes from the original recipe from King Arthur Flour.

Stir together the ricotta, sugar, vanilla, and chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Frosting Instructions:

Sift the cocoa, confectioners’ sugar, and chocolate into a bowl.

Bring the cream to a simmer on the stove and whisk into the cocoa mixture. At first the mixture will look grainy; continue whisking for a minute. You’ll see the lumps disappear as the sugar dissolves and the cocoa hydrates. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Place the butter, salt, and sifted confectioners’ sugar in a small mixing bowl. Beat until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.

With the mixer running on low speed, add the cocoa mixture a spoonful at a time until it’s all incorporated. Scrape the bowl, then beat at medium speed for 1 minute.
To assemble the cake:
Brush the cut side of each layer with simple syrup or vanilla syrup; this will help keep the cake moist.
Place the bottom layer on a serving plate. Pipe or spread the ricotta cannoli on the cake. Top with the second cake layer. Ice the cake top and sides with the chocolate frosting.
Serve immediately; or refrigerate, well-wrapped, until ready to serve, preferably not longer than 24 hours.

A healthy and delicious Chinese recipe

We’ve been cooking pretty healthy lately, since summer is coming, and of course that means bikini season! I don’t know about anyone else, but after I’ve been dieting for a while, all I want is exactly what I can’t have– pop, cookies, juice, Chinese food… I love General Tso’s chicken. So, we made some.

I was prepared to spend a while in the kitchen, making a huge mess, slaving over the stove for a likely less-than-par Chinese meal to fill my “food void”. But guess what! It didn’t take long, I didn’t make a huge mess, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, and it was deliciousAnd of course, much healthier than take out.

Healthy General Tso’s Recipe

Sauce Ingredients:

– 1 tablespoon cornstarch
– 1/2 cup water
– 2 cups chosen vegetables, snow peas and/or broccoli recommended
– 4 chopped garlic cloves
– 2 teaspoons grated ginger
– 3 tablespoons brown sugar
– 2 tablespoons soy sauce
– 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, depending on preference

Chicken Ingredients:

– 4 tablespoons cornstarch
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 teaspoon pepper
– 1 pound (organic, free range) chicken, cut into bite-size pieces

Preparation Instructions:

For sauce:
Mix together water and cornstarch until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients. Set aside.
For chicken:
Mix cornstarch, salt and pepper. Lightly coat on chicken.

To cook:
Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Add a small amount of oil (I used olive oil). Cook chicken, stirring and flipping occasionally until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from pan, and set the chicken aside.
Add sauce to skillet and cook until vegetables are tender and sauce is thickened. Add chicken (and any collected juices) to skillet. Toss/stir to coat.
Serve with rice.

Who else is excited for Spring?! Part II

The birds have seemed to return, days are getting longer, temperatures are rising (more or less), allergies are kicking in… I believe it’s nearly Spring. It’s also time to unveil the answers to my Ostara contest!

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Ostara, simply put, is the Spring Equinox. “The March equinox signals the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. It marks… when the sun crosses the celestial equator going from south to north.” [1] Of course, to many others it can mean more. I’d like to take this opportunity to stress that in Pagan “faiths”, each person walks their own path, and believes whatever each individual feels to right to them. For example, it is not uncommon for Pagans to associate themselves with the Christian God, or on the other end of the spectrum, with no god at all. Some Pagans believe in the horned god and the maiden, mother, and crone as their only deities, and some Pagans collect, if you will, all sorts of gods from mythology.

That being said, it’s only natural that with so many beliefs not everyone celebrates Pagan holy days the same way, nor do they all celebrate the same holy days. Some Pagans will celebrate holy days by acknowledging the god(s) they worship, some will simply celebrate by rejoicing that the wheel of the year is turning and Spring, in this case, is returning once again. “For Wiccans and some other Pagans, Ostara is the day when the Goddess and God… join in sacred marriage. The Goddess will conceive, and give birth in nine months. The increased growth and strength of nature in the spring is due to the rising power of the Goddess and God.” [2]

However, it is believed that the Anglo-saxon Pagans of the past observed Ostara and the goddess of dawn, Ostara, or Eostre. Ostara was the goddess responsible for bringing spring each year in Anglo-saxon mythology. Mythology says one year Ostara “was feeling guilty about arriving so late. To make matters worse, she arrived to find a pitiful little bird who lay dying, his wings frozen by the snow. Lovingly, Ostara cradled the shivering creature and saved his life.” [3] “She then made him her pet or, in the X-rated versions, her lover. Filled with compassion for him since he could no longer fly because of his frost-damaged wings, the goddess Ostara turned him into a rabbit… She also gave him the gift of being able to run with astonishing speed so he could easily evade all the hunters. To honor his earlier form as a bird, she also gave him the ability to lay eggs (in all the colors of the rainbow, no less), but he was only allowed to lay eggs on one day out of each year.” [3] “Ostara’s magical companion… accompanied her as she brought new life to dying plants and flowers by hiding the eggs in the fields.” [4]

Credit to A-Muse-ing Grace Gallery and Thalia Took [8]

This is, again, a myth and a legend, and with any myth or legend, whether it’s Homer’s the Iliad, the Bible, or the Anglo-saxon myth of Ostara, it must be taken with a grain of salt. With nearly all legends, oral traditions carried these stories from generation to generation. The problem with the legend of Ostara is the lack of physical evidence in Anglo-saxon history that Pagans actually observed her. The only piece of proof we have that Ostara was observed is relatively new, and it’s called “Temporum Ratione orThe Reckoning of Time by the Northumbrian monk and scholar the Venerable Bede”. [5] However, Germanic and Celtic tribes really didn’t record much of their history at all. There are more accepted Pagan Ostara practices, though.

“All the fun things about Easter are Pagan. Bunnies are a leftover from the pagan festival of Eostre.” [6] The Easter bunny “links to the fertility, rebirth, and the abundance of life that is evident in Spring.” [4] “Exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures.” [6] “From the earliest of times, the egg has represented immortality.” [4] “As Spring is the season of nature’s rebirth, the symbol of the egg was of course particularly significant at this time.” [4] “Spring also symbolized new life and rebirth; eggs were an ancient symbol of fertility… Easter eggs represent Jesus’ resurrection. However, this association came much later when Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion in Germany in the 15th century and merged with already ingrained pagan beliefs.” [7]  “The Druids dyed eggs scarlet to honour the Sun, and Pagan Anglo-Saxons made offerings of their coloured eggs to the Goddess Eostre.” [4] “Hot cross buns are very ancient too. In the Old Testament we see the Israelites baking sweet buns for an idol, and religious leaders trying to put a stop to it. The early church clergy also tried to put a stop to sacred cakes being baked at Easter. In the end, in the face of defiant cake-baking pagan women, they gave up and blessed the cake instead. Easter is essentially a pagan festival which is celebrated with cards, gifts and novelty Easter products, because it’s fun and the ancient symbolism still works.” [6]

This year, Ostara falls on 20 March at 7:03 am, and Easter falls on the Sunday after the full moon, being 31 March this year. Whether you celebrate Easter, Ostara, Passover, or any other spring festival, may it be a blessed one, and I hope you learned something from my little Ostara “term paper”. Merry meet, and merry part.

1. Everything you need to know: Vernal or spring equinox 2013
2. Ostara (Spring Equinox)
3. The Goddess Ostara and the Easter Bunny: The Art of Renewal
4. Ostara – Eostre
5. Eostre and Easter Customs
6. The Pagan roots of Easter
7. What Does the Easter Bunny Have To Do With Easter?
8. Eostre

My favourite soup recipe– Cauliflower Soup.

Last night was the last night of the full moon, and we celebrated it.

For our full moon celebration, we had a bonfire, drank coffee, and I made cauliflower soup. Well, I made cauliflower soup, and it just so happened to fall on the full moon.

Cauliflower soup is one of my favourite dishes, and it’s a soup best served with a delicious bread. This time, we had Wegman’s Garlic Tuscan bread. It’s a good winter soup, and pairing it with any bread makes for an easy lunch or dinner. Oh, and yes, the soup is easy and rather quick to make.


Cauliflower Soup

Ingredients:

– 1 stick Butter, Divided in halves
– 1/2 whole Onion, Diced
– 1 to 2 whole Carrot, Sliced
– 1 stalk Celery, Sliced
– 1 whole Cauliflower Heads (Roughly Chopped)
– 2 Tablespoons Parsley
– 2 quarts Chicken Broth or Stock
– 6 Tablespoons All-purpose Flour
– 2 cups Whole Milk
– 1 cup Heavy Cream
– 2 teaspoons To 4 Teaspoons Salt, To Taste
– 2 teaspoons To 4 Teaspoons Pepper, To Taste
– 2 teaspoons To 4 Teaspoons Garlic, To Taste
– 1 cup Sour Cream, Room Temperature

Preparation Instructions:

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, melt 4 tablespoons butter (half). Add the onion and cook for a few minutes, until browning.

Add the carrots and celery and cook until soft. Add cauliflower and parsley and stir to combine.

Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, pour in chicken stock or broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer.

In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter (remaining half). Mix the flour with the milk in a separate bowl and whisk. Add flour-milk mixture slowly to the butter, whisking constantly.

Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup heavy cream. Add mixture to the simmering soup. Allow to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Check seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or garlic if necessary.

Just before serving, place the sour cream in a serving bowl or soup tureen. Add two to three ladles of hot soup into the tureen and stir to combine with the sour cream. Pour in remaining soup and stir.

Serve immediately. Best served fresh.