Under the Maple Canopy

Singing Union Songs Since 2009

Fox News – Masters of Projection

I first read about this story over at The Wild Hunt (“The Mainstream News Media Dance with Wicca“) yesterday, but didn’t get around to watching the videos until today.  There’s plenty that one could comment about in the video.  It’s chock full of privileged, tone-deaf, insulting, ignorant, and unprofessional statements.  Among the things that most stuck out to me was this idea that Wiccans and Pagans should be outraged because they are “being used for a political agenda.”  I hate to break it to you, Tammy Bruce, but the only one using Wiccans and Pagans for a political agenda is the folks over at Fox News.

Note to the blond in the middle:  You can, in fact, wish anyone you want a “Merry Christmas” on your own time.  Just don’t be offended if I don’t respond or wish you a “Happy Holidays” in return.  Your right to say “Merry Christmas” is not in jeopardy.

Oh, and for the record?  Our family celebrates Imbolc, Vernal Equinox (Ostara), Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lammas (Lughnasadh), Autumnal Equinox (Mabon), Samhain, and the Winter Solstice (Yule).  Perhaps if you had done just the slightest bit of research you might have realized that Pagan beliefs are not a homogeneous sort of thing.

Best takedown of their “news” story? Thudfactor’s “Pagan Holidays and the Fox.”


Quiet Spaces

IMG_1166Things around my house can be crazy.  Like, really crazy.  It’s tough to stay on top of the mountains of things that a family of five can somehow generate or at least make appear as if from thin air.  I have a daily battle with the things that appear on my kitchen counters (a war at which I am presently losing) not to mention the toys, books, and papers that seem magnetically attracted to the floor.

By way of context, I should point out that my definition of “mountains” and “clutter” and “mess” are probably different from most people’s.  We’re not talking hoarderville here and as my husband is keen to point out, my messiest days are many other folks’ cleanest.  Still, it’s cluttered to me and the worst of it is often in my studio which has become the catch-all for anything I don’t want on the kitchen counter upstairs.

In the interests of sanity, I try to maintain one space in the house that is off-limits to other people’s stuff.  That space has become the table I rescued from my grandmother’s basement.  Last week I removed the Yule tree and lights, gave it a coat of beeswax furniture polish, and dressed it up for a new holiday season.  Some red and pink to remind me of warmth and fire (and a reminder that Imbloc is on the way), a pomegranate to bring to mind Persephone’s trip to the underworld, some amethyst, treasured antiques, my plant, and a few handmade items on which to place it all.

It’s my sunshine when the day is cloudy and the reminder of the need for a little bit of silence every day (just the sort of thing lacking in a house full of three children, two cats, and an exuberant Golden Retriever puppy).



Painting Without Brushes

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions.  To me it seems like a silly exercise in unkept promises, except this time it’s promises made with yourself.  This is also why I consider canceling my YMCA membership for the months of January and February.  You wouldn’t believe the way the parking lot and elliptical machines fill up for a few weeks at the beginning of the year only to empty out come March.

That isn’t to say that I don’t take advantage of winter’s more introspective nature forced by cold weather and diminished sunlight.  For some it’s a recipe for depression.  For me it’s a chance to recharge.  What better excuse for an introvert to stay home than, the easily at hand winter weather?

Lately I’ve been thinking about food.  What we eat.  How I make dinner.  How I plan our meals.  Having long since given up on the folks (from all sides) who think that food is somehow at fault for everything currently wrong with us – a veritable fountain of youth to some and the path of required asceticism for others – I have been trying to reach a far more balanced approach where one eats, not to medicate away the ills of modern life, but because it’s necessary and if it’s necessary, why not do so in a way that brings pleasure to your life?  (A foreign concept for our American Puritanical natures to be sure.)

I’m not interested in lists of forbidden foods.  I’ve done the low-fat, high-fat, low-carb, high-carb, traditional foods, counters full of fermenting and bubbling kitchen experiments, pre-packaged, Snackwells, sugar-laden, South Beach, thirty minutes a day to a thinner, more beautiful you and I’ve had just about enough.  Give me a roast chicken, some roasted root vegetables, and a pile of bacon-y greens to circle my plate and let’s just sit around the table and talk, laugh, love.

And bread.  Give me bread in carefully toasted piles with melting salted butter, caramel brown crusts that audibly let you know that you have in fact arrived at meal time, and a slightly resistant chewy crumb that says, “I’m alive and this is bread.”  You might think this sounds like a lot to expect of bread, but I can guarantee you that there wasn’t a single person around the birthday feast table on Friday that didn’t remark that the rolls we had were the sort of bread you could live on.

Not a one.

I’ve been reading Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal:  Cooking with Economy and Grace” the last few days, gasping over every other paragraph from words placed ever so carefully together by a writer who is as adept at spinning a phrase as she is at bringing together humble ingredients into nourishing meals.  The husband thought I was a little crazy as we were following the curves of Highway 14 on our way to Black Earth and I was practically tearing up over what spoke so powerfully to my very core.  Adler gets it and provides not a collection of recipes, but a way of cooking that makes sense to me.

In the chapter she calls “How to Paint Without Brushes,” Adler gives the shortest list of kitchen gear you’ll ever read and then instructs the reader:

You can gather all of that, in whatever versions.  You can also cook well, not in different pots and pans, but in the ones you have.  As long as you taste curiously, and watch and feel and listen, and prick your way toward food you like, you will find that you become someone about whom people will say that cooking seems to come naturally, like walking.  They will say it and it will be true.

That is my advice then, on experience and equipment.  Consider not minding whether you know the answer, and not filling your kitchen with tools, but becoming, rather, the kind of cook who doesn’t need them.


I’ve long been on the search for the perfect loaf of bread and have turned out my share of wheaten bricks.  I had read much and tried lots with marginal results.  Those who eat my bread would probably be surprised to learn that up until recently, I considered myself a marginal baker at best and a bumbling fraud at worse, but yesterday there was a moment when I looked into the mixing bowl and knew incontrovertibly that I had arrived.  That bread dough right there in the bowl was done – there was no further need for kneading.  I could shut the mixer off and know that my bread would turn out.  I repeated the process with a second batch (because baking less than two loaves at a time in this house is silly) and arrived at the similar point.  I knew it in the way that I know few other things in life.

I had, in fact, arrived.

And it was, dear reader, exactly as I thought it would be.  The loaves rose perfectly in their pans and baked equally so with just the right combination of oven spring and browned crust.  Arriving, as it were, to some portion of my true self, The Baker, and giving myself permission to cast as wide a net for my creativity as is honest and true to who I am.

Maybe food really is transformative – not in the health seeking, life prolonging, death preventing way, but in a way that allows us to live well, laugh often, and love intensely.  Allowing us, maybe for once, to seek fulfillment in the everyday and to tell all the “experts” to kindly mind their own business.

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Happy New Year!

With everything else going on in our lives (trips, illness, the husband’s crazy work schedule), we decided that a quiet New Years Eve celebration was just what the doctor ordered.  The five of us at home.  Groceries’ chosen meal.  Simple.  Quiet.

Ok, maybe not quiet.  When is anything quiet around here?

Right now I have the inevitable post-holiday clean up to do.  Dishes.  Counters.  Random bits of things that made it down to my cutting table in the office.  Laundry for the week ahead and the return to school for 2/3 of my children.  Hmmm…procrastinate with me, will you?


I made bread to go with our feast.  The recipe is from Peter Reinhart’s “Artisan Breads Every Day.”  It’s a lean dough (flour, yeast, salt, and water) and I followed the alternate instructions for the blistered crust.  Reader?  It was the best bread I have ever made.  Irregular shaped crumb.  Crispy crust.  Chewy.  Oh my, oh my, oh my.  This is bread you could live on.

I added about a cup and half (or so) of King Arthur Flour’s Sir Lancelot Unbleached Hi-Gluten Flour to the mix.  I have no idea if this was the deciding factor because I have made a decent loaf or two in the past few years.  I’m just wishing they sold it in larger quantities.

IMG_0919Brownies.  I don’t know how much longer I should have cooked this sorry pan of brownies.  We were more than 30 minutes past what the directions said and the were still gooey like they were half-baked.  Tasty, but half-baked.  These were much better the last time we had them.

We finished off the night with the kids’ usual bedtime, a movie for the parents, and my usual bedtime as well.  No ringing in the New Year, toasting, or grand partying, but it was perfect.


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Sun Bread

A reader asked me what Sun Bread was today and I remembered that I have yet to write about it on the blog before haven’t posted a picture of it on the blog just yet.  I can’t claim ownership of the idea because I got my idea from Elisa Kleven’s picture book, “Sun Bread.”  It just dawned on me that I’ve been searching the blog under the name of the bread trying to find a post and coming up empty, but I haven’t searched for the author’s name.  Silly me!

Sun Bread began as a Candlemas/Imbloc/Groundhog’s Day ritual back in 2010 and has morphed since then.  The first time I made it I used the recipe in Kleven’s book, but it bombed spectacularly.  I have since replaced the recipe with one called “Mary’s Challah Bread Recipe” and then shape it as the book describes.  I’ve never met Mary, but if I ever get the chance I’d gladly wax poetically on the wonders of her recipe.  There isn’t a single person that has shared the ritual of eating this bread with us that hasn’t fallen in love with it immediately.


Sun Bread, Winter Solstice 2011

Over the years I have made it for Groceries’ birthday and a few family gatherings, but mostly it’s something that appears in our home on the Solstice and reappears a few times in the winter months up until Imbloc even though I never really consciously made that choice.  It was one of those accidental traditions that found a life of its own.  The last time I made it for a non-solstice-y, sun related event it felt kind of off to me.  I mentioned it to the husband and he pointed out the attachments we had made with it and gently suggested that there would be nothing wrong with honoring its sacred form and function in our lives.  So, while I will gladly make bread for any gathering, even Mary’s Challah Bread, I save this particular shape for sun related holidays.

This year I never made Sun Bread for the Winter Solstice and it felt…wrong.  Seeing as it’s been cloudy and rather gloomy lately, it seemed right to make it today.  Solstice part two?  I’ll make it again for Imbloc for sure and maybe for the Summer Solstice.  I’m also going to take the base recipe and make a loaf in the shape of a sheaf of wheat for Lammas.