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Homemade Irish Cream

In Body

Homemade Irish Cream - The Wholesome Handbook
Last Christmas was one for the books. I wasn’t working much, so all of my energy went into indulging my every holiday whim. I wove boughs of evergreen through the bookshelves. I wrapped gifts in cheesecloth and velvet ribbon. I crafted an advent calendar full of daily festive activities. I made a multi-course Christmas Eve dinner for two that took me days to plan and put together — roasted whole duck rubbed with spices, fingerling potatoes and purple carrots fried in duck fat, fluffy rolls from scratch, steamed oysters, traditional butter tarts. I’m not gonna lie. It was pretty fantastic.

This Christmas is more than a little different. There’s a disturbing lack of snow on the ground, I’m up to my nose with wonderful clients and exciting projects, our Christmas tree is… imperfect (in a fetching, Charlie Brownish sort of way!), and I’m not even close to being done with my shopping. But I took a little time over the weekend to whip up some homemade Irish cream, and let me tell you, this stuff makes me feel like Bing Crosby himself is about to rise from the grave and serenade Eartha Kitt and I with old Christmas standards while we lounge on a fur rug in front of a roaring fireplace in a haunted chateau nestled in the French alps.

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Shepherd’s Lunch // Fresh Ricotta

In Body

The Wholesome Handbook - Fresh Ricotta

Ricotta is an optimistic cheese, a bucolic one, wet and springy and feminine. It’s a cheese you eat with olive oil or honeycomb on a hillside in the sun. It’s a poor man’s cheese, a country bumpkin cheese, a dish for shepherds and milkmaids and ploughmen.

The ancestors of ricotta date back to the bronze age, but the modern iteration is a lovechild born a thousand years ago in Sicily, when the island was under Arabic rule. Ricotta is gold wrung from wastewater – traditionally made from leftover sheep’s cheese whey, a literal peasant’s portion, an ingenuity born of necessity. The wealthy caught on eventually and claimed it for themselves, as they do, and ricotta’s current culinary rep is much more bijou than it perhaps deserves. Ricotta is, at the heart of it, wholesome countryside food, easy to make, easier to eat.

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Eat Your Heart Out // Steamed Artichokes

In Body

Steamed Spring Artichokes - The Wholesome Handbook

The first artichoke was a woman.

A Greek beauty with fuzzy eyebrows and long black hair, heavy and slick with olive oil. The kind of woman who bathed naked in the ocean froth and loved to feel the grit of wet sand between her toes, the kind of woman who swam in thunderstorms and baked herself to a burnished copper on black rocks in the sun. The kind of woman with many lovers and many daughters. The kind of woman who loved, more than anything, to laugh.

Her name was Cynara.

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Fire Vibes & A Charcoal Mask

In Body

Fire Vibes & A Charcoal Mask - The Wholesome Handbook

A few years ago, there was a fire in Fish Creek near my in-laws’ house – I’ll never forget the blackened hill, the dried up riverbed, the dangerous smell of new ash and charcoal. That fire has haunted me. I imagine the terror of people gazing out of their kitchens to be met with a vista of flame. I imagine the urgency of birds and beetles, taking flight and rising with the heat. I imagine fish wriggling, panicked, in the warm water of the river.

After it was all over, we walked to the area to survey the damage, and something primal overtook me. I wanted to roll in the burnt grass and cover myself with black. I wanted to fill my lungs with smoke. I wanted to burn.

A land touched by fire is a land touched by death and reborn. The hill consumed by that brush fire is now lush and beautiful. The grass is taller, and the trees are heavier in defiance. The human soul is like that, too. We burst into flame, and even if we emerge bald and naked, stripped of everything, we manage to rise again. We are nurtured by destruction. We are given new life.
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Equinox Black Salt Bath & Lessons of the Crone

In Body, Mind

Equinox Black Salt Bath - The Wholesome Handbook

Our tilting earth swings on its ecliptic tether, the night claws back dominion from the day, and the crone ascends, as she has for millennia. It’s the autumnal equinox, that liminal, time-worn passage between light and dark, life and death, things that are known and mysteries yet to be uncovered. The crone’s hour.

That mythical crone.The crone is every midwife, wise woman, and witch in history. Feared and misunderstood, she is the veil between worlds. She has the kind of wisdom and magic that can only come from a long and soulful existence, her story written in wrinkles, her root-like hands gnarled with her lifetime’s work. She emerged in spring as the fragrant, sweet maiden, and was ripe with the erotic fecundity of summer and motherhood. Now, in her old age, she’s the enlightened one. Her knowledge is untaught and unsanctioned, sprung wholly from the depths of her experience, and this, of course, makes her dangerous. She instinctively knows the truth of all things. She threatens the status quo. She makes people uncomfortable.
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Aloe Vera Moon Juice

In Body

Aloe Vera Moon Juice - The Wholesome Handbook

It has been a mercurial summer. The rains seem forever locked in a cosmic battle with the sun, wrestling for dominance, throwing the prairie skies into turmoil as they cycle endlessly from searing, blue-hued heat to murderous black rainclouds and back again. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ancient Titans themselves ripped open the surface of the earth to rise again. But even amongst the mayhem of the heavens, there is calm to be found. The moon is still wears her cool white face, and silent, glacial lakes still shine turquoise with limestone. The earth still offers up refuge and healing, medicine both spiritual and physical, very often hidden in plant life.

After a rather bacchanalian weekend, I’ve emerged with a wicked sunburn and a body in dire need of some gentle recalibrating. My husband’s grandparents recently celebrated their 60th anniversary, and Reists from all corners of the nation descended upon the mountains for three days to mark the occasion. Nazarene hymns were sung in four-part harmonies, caramel cakes were devoured, several exploratory miles were walked, and Andrew was somehow convinced to carry on the family legacy of playing the musical saw.

We snuck off for a cocktail party at our dear friend Brittany’s place, and I ended up moon-gazing and soul-baring with a new girlfriend until the wee hours of the morning, fueled by a king’s portion of creme de violette and gin. An actor friend lulled us to sleep with a dramatic reading of the first act of Hamlet, in full Scottish brogue. Four hours of fitful sleep later, we were on the road again, weaving through the purplish, sunrise-kissed Rockies and back to the family.

Between the punishing weather and the abundance of activity, I’m very much in the market for some cooling down, both literally and metaphorically. The aloe vera plant is one of earth’s most glorious remedial offerings, the perfect champion for the task.

Besides the well-known properties of aloe as a powerful cooling salve for the skin, it is also rich in antioxidants, helpful in balancing blood sugar, and intensely nutritious, boasting vitamins A, C, E, and B’s 1, 2, 3, 6, and 12. A little aloe juice in some ice water is the perfect detoxifying drink after a weekend of heavy reunion food, very little sleep, and a little more sun and gin than my body would thank me for. It’s as soothing and rejuvenating as the glow of the moon.

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Edible Flowers & A Beltane Bowl

In Body

Beltane Bowl - The Wholesome Handbook
It’s Beltane, and spring is full in her glory.

This ancient Gaelic festival celebrates an earth suffused in her own beauty – fertile, sensual, and so very alive. The deer are rutting, the clover is fragrant, and the fae are afoot.

It is a time for leaping over bonfires and dancing ribbons ‘round the Maypole, weaving rosemary into your braids and wandering barefoot through new moss. It’s a time for handfastings, a time for lovemaking, for honouring our awakening wildness, and of course, a time for flowers.

Flowers are the quintessential symbol of Beltane and spring – colourful, fragrant, and sensual. We weave them into crowns, tuck them into buttonholes, soak in floral baths, shred petals for confetti, and yes – even eat them. There is something so poetic and primal about eating flowers, don’t you think?

This Beltane bowl is a little offering to spring, an edible hymn to life’s return. It’s chock full of peppery goodness, insanely gorgeous to behold, and leaves you feeling as fresh and youthful as the Maiden herself.

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DIY Eggshell Seedling Starters

In Body

DIY Eggshell Seedling Starters - The Wholesome Handbook

I’ve never quite managed to keep a garden alive. I have all the best intentions, a potent bloodline of earth-working women to draw knowledge from, and a deep and abiding love for all things green – but most of my gardening experiments end in sad, wilted shoots that I pull up for the neighbourhood jackrabbits.

I don’t know why the green thumb gene skipped me. My mother has a gorgeous carpet of thyme in her garden that I jealously run my fingers through every chance I get, and buxom white peonies every June. My aunt is an absurdly talented florist. When I was young, my grandmother’s little house boasted a wilderness of flowers in the front, and a tangled, fairy-tale mass of pumpkin vines in the back. By all accounts, I should be an ancestral earth sage, Radagast-like, with herbs tucked behind my ear and dirt on my knees.

Alas. I just don’t have the knack. But I dearly hope to challenge that this year – I’ve meticulously sorted through seed packets of five-colour beets and heirloom kohlrabi to find creatures that might actually cooperate with me (torpedo onions and black cherry tomatoes). I’ve consulted the Farmer’s Almanac, the moon phases, the historical weather patterns, and several lovely women in my life who have beautiful gardens. Mark my words – I’ll be eating those onions come August.

I’m starting my seedlings in last week’s leftover eggshells. I love this no-waste alternative to plastic seedling trays, and once the seedling has outgrown its nursery, it’s easy to crack the egg a little and plant it right into the ground. The eggshell will decompose and provide a lovely source of calcium for your plant-babies.

DIY Eggshell Seedling Starters - The Wholesome Handbook

 

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Equinox Bath Tea & The Forgotten Element of Self-Care

In Body, Mind

 

Equinox Bath Tea- The Wholesome Handbook

Persephone is padding barefoot up the cold hill from Hades, flowers and herbs woven into her wheat-coloured hair. The earth quickens under her feet, seeds crack open, greenery thrusts tenacious fingers through the topsoil. It is the vernal equinox, and Persephone has emerged, blushing and breathless, from her dark kingdom below.

The Queen of the Underworld might, at first, seem like an unlikely candidate to breathe new life into the earth. But her deep-seated darkness is precisely why she’s the perfect woman for the job. Most life cannot grow with only sunlight to feed it. Life also needs dark, damp, rich soil to thrive.

We are no different from nature. We need both darkness and light to grow. Persephone is the personification of this fertile balance, and with her reappearance from Hades we can honour that which is unsavory, uncomfortable, and challenging, but ultimately healthy and fruitful.

Women, for too long, have been denied darkness. We’ve been told to file down our teeth, that our anger, frustration, despair, and grief are unsightly and displeasing. Unfeminine. Inappropriate. Indulgent. Our spiritual lives are bombarded with messages of pure love and cleansing light, and our darkness is treated as a disease to cure or a dragon to vanquish.

But by stifling the wild creature of our darkness, we also extinguish the magic of our light. Do not fear your night sky. It has lessons for you, hard truths, good medicine.

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Four Ways to Kick Up Your Coffee

In Body

The Wholesome Handbook

I love my coffee black. I love it with cream, I love it Vietnamese style, I love it hot and cold, spiced and milky. I may be a one-cup-a-day kind of gal, but that one cup is my most sacred morning ritual. There’s nothing more intoxicating than the earthy smell of freshly roasted beans, pulsed in a burr grinder seconds before brewing. One of my favourite days from my honeymoon in Bali involved a trip to a local roaster and a thick, sweet cup of kopi luwak, the beans harvested from the droppings of wild civets.

There’s a pretty pervasive narrative out there that extols those of us who take our coffee black. But sometimes you just don’t have the best craft beans on hand, or you’re feeling something creamy and sweet, or you just want a change. There’s no shame in experimenting with your morning brew, and your status as a Cool Person doesn’t hinge on how you take your coffee. Of course, I would never disrespect a truly amazing cup of coffee by drowning it in sugar and cream – but we live in the real world, where sometimes we buy and drink the crappy stuff. Besides, its fun to experiment. I highly encourage play in all areas of life, especially in the kitchen. Here are some of my favourite ways to kick up an otherwise mediocre brew!

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