Monday, August 5, 2013

Ah, August

     'Tis a lovely day here in western Massachusetts. Humidity is low, the sun is shining, and while it's lovely and warm, there's a sweet breeze drifting through the open back door, rustling the leaves of the grapevine, and they're whispering fall is coming.

     Fall, my most favorite of seasons. Three of my children were born in fall, I was married in the fall, and my all-time favorite holiday arrives with a gasp, screech, and lots of candy and pumpkins. Is there ever so wonderful a season as fall in New England? (Readers are going to have to help me out here, as I've never traveled outside of the US, and never further from home than Pennsylvania and Florida. How's fall in your world?)

     It's coming, but it's not here, not yet, and summer is still holding her own. On the back steps the peppers and tomatoes are reaching their peak: one pepper picked with much glee, and in a few more days I'll be snapping the next off the plant. My tomatoes are reveling in the near-constant sun, needing water twice a day, but what happy plants they are, and just beginning to ripen into bright yellow globes. I cannot wait to make panzanella out of my very own home-grown tomatoes!

     Just days ago we celebrated the Pagan festival of Lughnassad (or Lammas, as it's more commonly known. It's easier to say.) Lughnassad is the first of the three harvest festivals in the Pagan calendar, traditionally known as the grain harvest, but here in Mass, almost everything is ripening. Our local farmer's market is overflowing with corn, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, berries, salad greens...I could go on and on. We celebrated the harvest with some homemade bread and a vegetarian feast: a light vegetable soup, salad and tomato and zucchini tart. (We threw some cheese in, too, but sadly that wasn't homemade or even local. I'm working on that.) For dessert, blackberry buckle with lemon-vanilla cream, the blackberries picked by my littlest one and I on the side of the local bike path that runs by the river.

     I must admit I'm not as constant in my faith as I perhaps could be. We Pagans are not as much of a minority as we used to be, but my family practices alone. There is no Pagan church or temple nearby, and the local groups are scattered and have conflicting interests (the most common being adult-only study or practicing groups. We are a family; we would like to worship as one. You wouldn't believe how alien that concept seems to be.) And so, often only minimal effort is put into recognizing our holy day. I often wish I paid more attention, used greater resources, made more of the days that in ancient times were so very important, not just to people's spiritual growth but to their very survival. I let myself get distracted by children, by housework, by writing projects, by excuses.

     Mid-September is the second of our harvest festivals. Let's see if I can do better, hmm? And now, I shall leave you with a delightfully delectable thought for this perfect late-summer/early-fall day: cherry shortbread cookies, perfectly suited for sitting under a rustling grapevine with a mug of hot tea...or a glass of iced. Enjoy!

Cherry Shortbread Cookies

1 c plus 2 Tbs of flour
1 stick butter, sliced and chilled (important!)
1/4 c sugar, plus more for sprinkling, if you'd like (I usually skip it, myself)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c dried cherries (feel free to use more. I always do.)

*Preheat oven to 300; line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
* Using a food processor, mix flour, butter, sugar and salt for 20 seconds. (If you don't have a food processor, use 2 knives and cut the mixture together until it has a sandy, grainy texture.)
*Add cherries and pulse until chopped, 20 seconds (or add chopped cherries)
*Turn the mixture out onto your work surface and shape into a smooth ball o' dough. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough into a 7 by 9 inch rectangle (more or less), about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 12 rectangles. Prick each cookie 3-4 times with a fork.
*Place cookies on the cookie sheets 1 inch apart (you may need to use a spatula) and refrigerate 20 minutes.
*Bake 30 minutes, until just golden. Cool 10 minutes, sprinkle with sugar, the transfer to a rack to cool completely. (I can never wait that long. Still-warm shortbread is a gift of the gods.)

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