Blossom XVII: Samhain Magic

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“And above all, watch with glittering eyes

the whole world around you

because the greatest secrets are always hidden

in the most unlikely places.

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

.

Roald Dahl

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“We do not need magic to transform our world.

We carry all of the power we need

inside ourselves already.”

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J.K. Rowling

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“I want to be magic.

I want to touch the heart of the world and make it smile.

I want to be a friend of elves and live in a tree.

Or under a hill.

I want to marry a moonbeam

and hear the stars sing.

I don’t want to pretend at magic anymore.

I want to be magic.”

.

Charles de Lint

~

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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Samhain

October 28, 2014 fall color 084

 

The end of October also means the end of our Indian Summer.

Another sunny and warmish day here, a friend and I drove out to our favorite Homestead Garden Center this afternoon for pansies, panolas and soil.

With clearance in progress, ahead of the coming Christmas trees and wreathes, we also picked up some end of season ferns and perennials.

 

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We drove home contented, with the back of my auto filled to the brim with trays of plants and bags of good rich compost.

 

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Our conversation was interspersed with,”Look at that!” and ” Oh, how pretty!” our whole way out into the country, and back, as we enjoyed the beautiful trees along the way.

My partner has had an eye to the weather all day. 

 

October 28, 2014 fall color 104

It seems we have a n’oreaster in store this weekend.

We don’t expect to see snow, but we’ll have wind and our first truly cool days and nights.  So often these windstorms strip the trees of their leaves just as the color hits its peak.

 

October 28, 2014 fall color 103

So gentle October will blow away as two storms converge tomorrow over the East Coast, bringing  the first blast of winter to the eastern United States.

It snowed this morning in Chicago.  Snow on Halloween?  Really?

 

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This is the season of changes; endings and beginnings.

This is a good time to remember that the seeds of the new are always contained in the husk of the old.  Don’t you find that to be true in your own life?

 

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Samhain  is a transition time;  a time of remembrance.

I spent much of the day catching up with friends and meeting new neighbors.

A good way to mark this special day, I think.

 

October 29, 2014 fall color 009

 

And this afternoon I finally dug up the last Begonia “Gryphon” from its spot on the deck, and brought it into the garage for winter.

I’ve been procrastinating, as you have probably guessed; but  finally have almost all of our Begonias indoors.

Those that remain outside are sheltered, and one especially huge pot just isn’t going to come in this year.  (Unless I can figure out a way to wrestle it from the deck into the garage before that first true freeze, that is.)

 

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Finally, I made chocolate spiders for the neighborhood Halloween party this evening.

It is a little late to be giving you the recipe now, I know;  but I’ll write it out so you have the idea for next year.

 

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We have been corralling real spiders in the house for the last few weeks.  It amazes me how they find their way inside.

But we keep a glass jar and an old greeting card handy to catch them and carry them back outside.

The chocolate variety (of spiders)  are big and delicious looking.  They might look especially frighteningly delicious  perched on a huge scoop of pumpkin ice cream.

Whether you celebrate Samhain, Halloween, The Day of the Dead, or even good old Guy Fawkes Day, I hope you have enjoyed it with those you love!

 

October 28, 2014 fall color 102

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

Chocolate Spiders

1.  Pour a bag of milk or semi-sweet chocolate bits into a glass bowl, and microwave on high for thirty seconds.  Stir.  Microwave and stir in fifteen second intervals until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  Stir the chocolate briskly with a rubber spatula for about two minutes to temper the chocolate.

2.  Line a baking pan with waxed or parchment paper.

3.  Stir about two cups of Asian Chow Mein noodles into the chocolate and stir to coat.  Add more noodles, as needed, until all of the chocolate is used.

4.  Lift small lumps of coated noodles using two forks, and place them on the parchment.  Each “spider” should be about a tablespoon of noodles and chocolate.  Flatten the pile slightly, and arrange the noodles so it looks like a spider with many legs.

5.  Use two M&Ms or other small round candies to make the eyes. 

6.  Place the tray of chocolate spiders in the freezer for ten minutes, or the refrigerator for thirty while the chocolate hardens. 

7.  Serve on a platter, bag the spiders individually in candy bags, or serve as a garnish on ice cream.

All that is left... the end of the batch.  These don't have quite as much chocolate as the ones we took to the neighborhood gathering.

All that is left… the end of the batch. These don’t have quite as much chocolate as the ones we took to the neighborhood gathering.  But you get the idea….

One Word Photo Challenge: (More) Chocolate

"The Forest Floor" chocolate cookies

“The Forest Floor” chocolate cookies

In my world, “chocolate” means just that… chocolate!

I grew up the daughter of a “choco-holic” and learned early that an easy way to please my dad was to make him something with chocolate in it… the more, and the darker, the better.

So here are two variations on an  autumn treat which I’m calling, “The Forest Floor.”

I hope you will try it out this weekend.  If you like it, it might make a fast and easy addition to your holiday spread next weekend as we celebrate Samhain and Halloween.

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Spread out a cup of coconut, a half cup of sliced or slivered almonds, and a half  cup of chopped walnuts or pecans on a baking sheet.    Toast in a medium oven for a few minutes until they are fragrant and lightly browned.  Chop some dried cherries into small bits.   Prepare about a quarter to a half cup of dried fruit.  Chopped apricots, raisins or cran-raisins would also work well.

 

This tempered chocolate looks lumpy because the coconut, cherries, and nuts have been stirred in and coated in chocolate.

This tempered chocolate looks lumpy because the coconut, cherries, and nuts have been stirred in and coated in chocolate.

We begin by melting the chocolate. 

If you’ve worked much with chocolate you probably already know that you must keep water away from it as you melt and temper it.  That is why I prefer the microwave melting method to the double boiler method.  Too often the steam from my double boiler affected the melting chocolate and it “seized up” on me.

No worries, seized chocolate still tastes just fine.  It just doesn’t have the proper consistency for serious candy making.

Select a good quality chocolate, milk or dark, and place 10 to 12 oz. in a glass bowl or large measuring cup.

Microwave on “high” for 30 seconds, and stir.  Continue to microwave the chocolate, 15 to 20 seconds at a time, until it stirs smoothly.  Add 2 TB of real butter near the end of this process.  I also added 1/2 tsp. of good ground cinnamon to the chocolate with the butter for a richer flavor.

Stir the chocolate vigorously for a minute or two to temper it.  I use a rubber spatula to keep the chocolate neatly off the sides of the bowl.  Tempering gives the finished chocolate a smooth, crisp texture and clear color.  It hardens better when well tempered.

Stir a quarter of your coconut, fruit, and nuts into the chocolate as you finish the tempering.

Pour the tempered chocolate into a shallow mold, and tip with more coconut, nuts, and chopped dried fruit.  This milk chocolate is ready to chill.

Pour the tempered chocolate into a shallow mold, and top with more coconut, nuts, and chopped dried fruit. This milk chocolate candy is ready to chill.

The first preparation gives you a solid candy bar.

I used a shallow aluminum pan, left from some delicious frozen something from Trader Joe’s.  Use any shallow mold you have on hand.

Spread the chocolate fairly evenly in the mold.  Top with a generous sprinkle of toasted coconut, nuts, and fruit.

Use the spatula to gently push the toppings into solid contact with the chocolate.

Cover with plastic wrap or slip the mold into a large zip-lock bag, and place the chocolate in the freezer for 10 minutes or the refrigerator for 30.

October 23, 2014 chocolate 009

When solid, cut into small servings.  Once hardened, this can be stored on the counter in an air tight container.

The second preparation is a bit crunchier and a bit less intense.  It also uses less chocolate for those watching either calories or pennies.

October 23, 2014 chocolate 001

Cover a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper, and lay out a dozen graham crackers.

Melt and temper 10 to 12 oz. of  chocolate, adding cinnamon, coconut, nuts, and dried fruit at the end of tempering.  I used Hershey’s Special Dark baking morsels because my Dad loves Special Dark above all other chocolate.  Yes, these are going to be a gift for him.

October 23, 2014 chocolate 006

Divide the chocolate evenly between the crackers, dropping a large spoonful on each.

Spread the chocolate evenly on each cracker with your spatula or a small knife.  Sprinkle more nuts, coconut  and dried fruit on top.  I added chopped pistachios to mine, and finished with a light grinding of sea salt.

Oh, the salt makes all the difference!

 

October 23, 2014 chocolate 007

Cover the tray with plastic wrap, and freeze for 10 minutes or refrigerate for 30.  When the chocolate is hard, lift the crackers with a broad spatula and cut or break them into serving sized pieces.

October 23, 2014 chocolate 021

“The Forest Floor” chocolate cookies

 

These will keep in an air tight container longer than it will take you to eat them!

I hope these “Forest Floor” chocolate candies and cookies make it into your holiday menu, and that your friends and family enjoy eating them as much as you enjoy making them!

 

With appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells

and her One Word Photo Challenge:  Chocolate

"The Forest Floor" chocolate cookies

Recipes  and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

A Rose for Samhain, and a Treat!

October 31 garden 009Sunset marked the beginning of the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain.  Celebrated for millennia, Samhain marks the ending of one cycle and the beginning of another.  It marks the final harvest and acceptance of the fallow time of winter, and all that winter brings.

We acknowledge our ancestors at Samhain and remember those who have come before us with love and respect.  Traditional cultures all over the world celebrate this night as a thinning of the veils between those of us who are still embodied, and loved ones who have gone to spirit.  From Mexico and South America to Iran, Europe, and the Phillipines families gather at the graves of loved ones.  It is a festive time to decorate the grave; leave offerings sweets, cakes, drink, and flowers; and tell stories of those who have departed.

Seedling shrubs we dug from my parents' garden yesterday.  I potted these up this morning to grow on a while before they go in the garden or to friends.

Seedling shrubs we dug from my parents’ garden yesterday. I potted these up this morning to grow on a while before they go in the garden or to friends.

Whether celebrated as Halloween, Samhain, Dia de Muertos, or by some other name; around the world we acknowledge the time from October 31 until November 2 as a time when our deceased loved ones are still a part of our family circle.  Beginning in the seventh century, European Christians began celebrating November 1 as “All Saints Day” or “All Souls Day”.  The night before became All Hallows Eve, and later, Halloween.

My friends' garden, newly re-designed and fences rebuilt.

My friends’ garden, newly re-designed and fences rebuilt.

In the garden we are cutting back the season’s growth, cleaning up fallen leaves, and building beds for the new season coming in spring.  We build our compost piles, spread our mulch, gather our seeds, repair our borders, plant our bulbs, and divide our perennials.  We deal with what has passed, and prepare for what is coming.

I was greeted this morning with a beautiful, fragrant yellow rose when we went out into the garden.  There were the seedling shrubs, dug yesterday from my parents’ garden, to pot up and plant.  But first, we wandered around enjoying what was beautiful in the garden this sunny, warm morning.  It stayed warm and dry all day and is perfect trick or treating weather tonight.

My friend's Mandevilla vine, rescued from the local hardware store in September, is in full beautiful bloom this evening.

My friend’s Mandevilla vine, rescued from the local hardware store in September, is in full beautiful bloom this evening.

We had tea with friends this afternoon, and I had the chance to see all of the new beds they have been building and re-building this week.  Darkness fell gently as neighbors gathered for a costume picnic across the street.  A fire pit blazed in their driveway, and lit pumpkins sat on porches along the way home.

Even in 2013, modern as we may be, we remember the ancient ways of celebrating Samhain and Beltane with fires and candles, gathering with friends, sharing food and drink, and marking the passing of time with appreciation for our lives and our loved ones.

Here is a recipe for the “treat” we are sharing with friends this Samhain.  It is something I enjoyed from my high school cafeteria back in the 1970s, and finally found the recipe years later.  It is quick and easy to make; something between a candy and a cookie.  We call them “Fudgies”.  The recipe is offered as a gift to you this Halloween, and we hope you will enjoy them.

Fudgies

Fudgies

Fudgies

1 stick butter

2 c. sugar

2 heaping TB cocoa powder

½  cup milk or cream

¼ tsp. salt

½ c. peanut butter

1 tsp. vanilla

2.5 c. oatmeal

½ c. coconut

Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy saucepan.

Stir the cocoa into the sugar, and then pour the sugar and milk into the butter and heat over medium high heat until it boils, stirring frequently.  Stir continuously as the mixture boils for 2-3 minutes, as it reaches the soft ball stage.

Mix the dry oatmeal and coconut in a large mixing bowl

Remove the fudge from the heat and add the vanilla and salt.  Stir gently and add the peanut butter.  Allow the mixture to sit briefly as the peanut butter softens, and then stir the peanut butter into the fudge mixture with a rubber spatula.  Gently pour the hot fudge mixture over the oatmeal, stirring to combine.

Drop spoonfuls of the hot mixture into small muffin cups or onto parchment paper.  Allow to set up until firm.  (Speed the process by putting the tray of Fudgies into the freezer for about 10 minutes)

Package the hardened Fudgies into clear plastic bags to give as treats.  These will keep a few days on the counter, but they probably won’t last that long anyway!

Orange in October

This Monarch spent the entire day feasting on Lantana nectar in our garden.

This Monarch spent the entire day feasting on Lantana nectar in our garden.

Orange takes on a special glow in October as the season draws to its holiday bedazzled close.

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Whether seen against a dazzling clear sapphire sky, or against the low grey clouds if autumn’s grey days, Orange jumps to the foreground, its warm optimism radiating confidence that good things are close at hand.

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October, in Eastern Virginia, is the last month of summer.

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The equinox a few weeks ago was only one of the markers along the path from high summer to Winter Solstice.   Each week of October eases the transition a little more here, near the coast.

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Even as daytime temps flirt with the eighties, the night time lows dip closer and closer to the 40s.  We are all on notice that the first frost is close at hand.

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And so the garden turns up the volume on orange.

October 13 rain 007

Pyracantha, just beginning to turn color from summer green to autumn orange.

Pyracantha berries, green all summer, brighten; like little light bulbs screwed in until the juice flows and electrifies them.

Pyracantha

Pyracantha

Flowers intensify their hues, like Kool Aide mix left undissolved in the bottom of a pitcher.

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Monarchs and Painted Lady butterflies have taken over the Lantana beds from the Swallowtails, who have gone elsewhere.

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More leaves each day crumple into brown.  Powdery mildew claimed the Ageratum during our week of rain turning blue and green to brown and grey.   Skeletons of trees are left behind where leaves take flight in the wind.

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Orange shines in the landscape like a beacon shines across a field at night.

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  It calls us deeper into Autumn comfort.  It calls us to drink cider; roast sweet potatoes; pile pumpkins on our porches; fill tired pots of annuals with fresh, crisp chrysanthemums.

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It invites us to plan weekend walks in the woods, or drives to the mountains to enjoy the brilliant autumn color.

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Samhain beckons.  Orange pumpkins, waiting to be carved and lit, tempt us at every grocery store and roadside stand.

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Celebrate October, and embrace every shade and hue of orange.

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