We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Halloween Dead Man's Party Cookies (Traditional and Gluten-Free)

by Michelle

"I can see lights in the distance trembling in the dark cloak of night
Candles and lanterns are dancing, dancing a waltz on All Souls Night."
                                                                                                    ~Loreena McKennit

   One of my favorite ways to pass an afternoon is to spend time preparing something great to eat with people that I enjoy spending time with, especially my sisters and my daughter, Maddie. When my sister Linda and I lived together for a spell we would often find ourselves on a Saturday morning, collaborating in the kitchen, putting together a simple and delicious midday meal that we would enjoy eating al fresco under the dappled shade of the big, gnarled oak tree.
   My teenage daughter and I often work companionably together to create beautiful and tasty desserts. Maddie has become an advanced baker while still in her teens, and even makes gorgeous layer cakes that would make any pasty chef proud. Maddie has made cookies with Linda and me ever since she was tall enough to stand on a chair to reach the kitchen counter and work side-by-side with us. Picturing these happy memories in my mind, I recall the nursery rhyme, girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Maddie, as a little girl, tended to lean toward the spicy side.

Linda and Maddie, both in their jammies, baking together circa 2000.
Maddie and I baking together back in the day. Such good memories!
   Every year I look forward to the day before Thanksgiving. That's the day we traditionally dedicate to baking pumpkin pies, apple pies or crostatas, and Grandma Joan's pecan tassies, among other treats. Maddie is happiest when a recipe calls for decorative embellishment, which gives her the opportunity to use a pastry bag and various decorating tips to create roses, leaves, and scrolls using frosting as a favored artistic medium.
   Maddie recently told me about a conversation that she took part in at a friend's birthday dinner. When the talk turned to cooking, Maddie discovered that she knows so much more about baking and cooking than she previously realized. Growing up with a mother and aunts who love to cook and bake, Maddie has picked up details that she didn't even know she had absorbed until she began contributing quite enthusiastically, like a true foodie, to the dinner conversation.

All grown up now, Maddie is a baking and decorating pro.

   Over the summer when my dear friend Stephanie gave me the "GingerDead Men" cookie cutter and stamper as a hostess present, what she really gave me was the gift of more time spent in the kitchen with my daughter. Maddie and I agreed that making the cookies would be a fun Halloween project. Especially since the bones are made by piping frosting... Maddie's favorite thing! I look forward to our kitchen dates with much anticipation now that she is older. I see much less of my only child now that she has her driver's license. Increasingly, now more than ever, school commitments and extra curricular activities demand her time and energy. Carving out time to be together has become more of a priority due to the demands of both of our schedules.
   Working in the kitchen together with family and friends encourages conversation and is quality time spent towards building better relationships. Then, as if it couldn't get any better, you get to chow down on some good eats with your favorite people. Now, where's my apron? Let's get baking.

These little cookie cutters are widely available. Click here for a link to
one website that has them for sale.

Halloween Dead Man's Party Cookies

Sunday, October 20, 2013

El Día de los Muertos in Tucson, Arizona: The All Souls Procession and Famous Sonoran Hot Dogs

The Memory Keepers by Michelle

   The All Souls Procession, in conjunction with the All Souls Weekend, is both a celebration and a mourning of the dearly departed. Death and loss are intrinsically bound. They are fundamental elements of the human condition. All Souls provides the community a space in which to publicly mourn, to remember, to reflect upon, and to celebrate those no longer with us. As a whole, we are united through the memories of our ancestors, our loved ones, and the living.
                                                                          ~ArtFire Website
My niece, Sonora, shows her holiday spirit.

We carry in our hearts the true country
And that cannot be stolen
We follow in the steps of our ancestry
And that cannot be broken
~Lyrics from The Dead Heart by Midnight Oil

   During my formative years, I was raised by parents who, for a time, adhered to the strict tenets of a certain Christian faith. We weren't really churchgoing people though. I recall sitting in a pew a couple of times next to my Mom when I was very young. She tickled my arm in an effort to keep me awake during dreary Saturday morning services. Later, instead of attending church, our Dad opted to read from the Bible or articles published in The Plain Truth to us on Sabbath mornings, and that lasted for an eternity it seemed, but then finally fizzled out, much to our relief. In high school, I had a crush on a guy that attended Bible studies, so I went, too. He liked the band Styx (secretly, that is, because his parents didn't approve of rock 'n' roll, and especially a band named after the river leading to Hades). He also enjoyed playing Ultimate Frisbee. I did, too. Around that same time, my childhood best friend Sandy and I enjoyed attending Hume Lake Christian camps over the span of two summers. We had a lot of fun rowing boats on the lake and flirting with cute guys sitting around the nightly camp fires. So that was the extent of my religious education in my early years.

Juliette surveys the scene on the patio at El Charro Café located on
Court Avenue in downtown Tucson.
   However, in my twenties, under the guiding influence of my sisters, I sought to have a deeper spiritual connection with the Universe. I began by first seeking to understand the beliefs and ritual practices across the world's most influential and commonly practiced religions. I read the The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, followed by watching Bill Moyers interview Professor Campbell for the six part PBS series of the same title. Many books and much research followed.
   Being a descendent of immigrants hailing from countries associated with western Europe, I felt compelled to read further about pre-Christian Earth-based religious traditions, which led me to understand how America's favorite celebrations were adopted from my pagan European forefathers by way of Roman conquerors. Around 300 A.D., as the first Roman Emperor to accept Christ and convert to Christianity, mighty Constantine wielded his sword and thus began the rapid spread of Christianity.

A family visiting from Flagstaff applies makeup to each other while waiting for dinner.
   The early Roman Catholic Church kept the peace more easily by allowing the conquered peoples to retain ancient rituals, ensuring to this day the continuation of ancient holy celebrations, such as Samhain (All Souls Day, the precursor to Halloween), Santurnalia (Winter Solstice "Rebirth of the Sun" celebration, the precursor to Christmas), and Ēostre (the celebration of the dawn Goddess, the precursor to Easter), an annual event tied to the Spring Equinox and celebrated with a sunrise ritual celebrating fertility (hence the bunnies) and resurrection. Beltane, the second most important ancient festival, the first being Samhain, marked the arrival of summer. While not widely celebrated in America, in certain European countries, Beltane is a joyful time which is ritualized with bonfires and doorways decorated with flowers to protect a family from the Faery Queen.
   It is well documented that the early Catholic church initially went to great lengths to quash the pagan celebrations, but in the end, it was easier to let the conquered yet defiant peoples revel in their annual traditions. Christian acceptance of pagan rituals was tied to simply aligning practiced traditions to new values. That's just good business, folks. Priests blessed the celebrations with prayer and a sprinkling of holy water and a contentious situation became a win-win for everyone involved... the people and church alike. Besides, the food was pretty darn tasty at the festivals, and generous imbibing of delicious ale, mead and wine was pretty great, too. If you enjoy Halloween, Christmas, and Easter, then you have the pagans to thank. Raise your glass and say cheers.

   Call it what you like: Samhain, Shadowfest, Old Hallowmas, Summers End, All Saints Day, All Souls Day or Halloween, the days that bookend November 1st are a time to remember and celebrate the dead. October 31st through November 2nd are a time for reflection and to mentally, and physically, prepare for the approaching winter. Regardless of the origin, there are similar festivals at this time of year, across the globe, including North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
   Living in Tucson, near the Mexican border, I have fully embraced the traditions of El Día de Los Muertos, which translates into English as The Day of the Dead. In Mexico, November 1st is dedicated to remembering Día de los Angelitos, little angels, referring to deceased infants and children. November 2nd focuses on adults that have passed, including friends, family and ancestors. Although the subject of death can be quite somber, and often takes the tone of morbidity in our American society, the Mexican cultural approach of addressing the subject of death is quite joyful and full of lively mockery.

   A favorite activity for me during this time of year is to make and decorate sugar skulls and to create a personal altar to honor my ancestors and loved ones that have died. My sister Juliette got me started on building altars when she first made one in honor of our sister, Maria. Our family was grappling with ways to deal with Maria's sudden death, and building an altar gave Juliette a physical way to honor our sister. Maria's altar resonated with our entire family and Juliette's community when it was put on public display in Bisbee for an El Día de Los Muertos event. The American Red Cross asked to include Maria's altar in a traveling exhibit, but Juliette reluctantly declined due to the fragile structure of how the altar was put together. She felt the altar would surely crumble under the wear and tear of moving from place to place and from myriads of people touching it.
   At this time of year, Juliette also likes to celebrate the season by preparing pumpkin soup and pan de muerto, bread shaped like a skull. And, Juliette is always involved in a variety of art projects inspired by skeletons involving mediums such sugar, glass and clay. My sister Linda captures her community's spirit through her lens and publishes the often emotion-invoking images for everyone to enjoy. I'm also not abashed to throwing spectacular Halloween parties. One year my friend and I chose a Day of The Dead theme, complete with a community altar. It was amazing. And, particularly moving for some of our friends who had just experienced the loss of a loved one.

   In my own life, I regret that I have been slow to recognize the importance of symbolism and ritual. Growing up, my family came together for weddings and funerals and Christmas. When my Nana passed, the big family Christmas celebrations ended, too. As I've aged, I have begun to fully understand how difficult it is to make anything last: friendships, traditions, community, and even family. Ritual brings us together. In the absence of ritual, we fade away. We can so easily be disconnected from those things that at one time were most important to us. I have felt this most of all over the last decade. Things that I thought would not likely change, did in fact change.
   To me, death is a metaphor for the acceptance of the things I cannot change, or have been unwilling to change, resigning myself to what will be. I decide what I must own and what needs to be discarded. This time of year, when it is believed that the black veil is at its thinnest between worlds, and departed souls can more easily converse with the living, I give myself over to reflection. I have cause to examine the death of all things in time, and to more fully consider what I can and cannot change. In this season, I celebrate death and rebirth, and resolve to move forward on my path with a grateful heart.

   Tucson's All Souls Procession was inspired by the El Día de Los Muertos holiday. The Procession's founder, Susan Johnson, was struggling to find a way to deal with the death of her father. As an artist, Susan was compelled to channel her feelings of grief in a creative, positive and life-affirming way. In 1990, her initial offering was a ritualistic performance presented to the public. Reaction was so positive, and other likeminded individuals wanted to participate in a similar way, that the Procession was born. The popularity of the annual event continues to grow year over year. A whopping 35,000 people participated in the event last year and 250 volunteers, known as the Militia of the Dead, kept the event under control. The parade route covers two miles and culminates with a performance at the Mercado San Agustín by fire artists Flam Chen.
   "The Procession is a sanctuary for community members from all walks of life to express their grief and loss in a celebration of creative energy and a rejoicing of living," according to the official website. Procession contributors and attendees are encouraged to complete a prayer form, found here, where a participant can write what s/he is grieving, releasing, celebrating, embracing, and/or remembering. The completed forms are collectively placed in a gigantic urn and burned at the end of the night in a dazzling pyrotechnic performance.

Juliette's grandsons, Devin and Parker, are thrilled that grandma 
"JuJu" sprung for lightsabers. Best. Gift. Ever.
The procession appeals to three generations of our family, all gathered together
 to experience a unique and special event.
My nephew, Paul and his boyzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

   Events associated with the All Souls Procession take place throughout the calendar year, from constructing masks, floats and lanterns, to sewing costumes. What I truly appreciate is that it is an all ages event, and everyone is welcome as long as they are respectful and contributing to the event in a positive way. Since this is a community funded event, the Procession continues to thrive and grow from much needed monetary donations made by local businesses and the general public.
   There are two processions in which to participate. The Procession of Little Angels and Personal Altars Vigil take place on the first Saturday of November and is currently held at Armory Park. The All Souls Procession is scheduled on the first Sunday in November. Participants begin lining up at 5:00 pm. The Procession begins at 6:00 pm. Visit the Many Mouths One Stomach website, the non-profit organization that manages all aspects of the Procession, to access a map of the route. Also, check out the on-line photo gallery, a repository of photos from numerous, talented photographers. Following is my humble offering, a collection of images that I captured during last year's Procession.

The Goddess Catrina is also referred to as the Lady of the Dead.

Skulls are displayed on altars as a symbol of death of rebirth.

Viva las belly dancers. They were my favorite performers
at last year's Procession.
Love this!.... Marc Anthony in Day of The Dead drag.

  If you are headed to downtown Tucson for the Procession, you and your crew can conveniently grab a quick dinner at a number of hot dog carts that specialize in preparing Sonoran Hot Dogs. We also like to make this Tucson specialty at home for casual gatherings.

A picture can convey a thousand words in one quick scan. This photo just shouts two: bite me.
Sonoran Hot Dogs

Sunday, October 13, 2013

El Día de los Muertos in Petaluma and Linda's Everyday Carnitas

The Memory Keepers by Linda

I knew a man who once said, "death smiles at us all; all a man can do is smile back."
                                                                                                      ~ From the movie Gladiator

This beautiful young mother-to-be is having her face painted just before sunset as the group of women ready themselves to join the procession of dancers headed to the Petaluma Arts Center.
The fact that I can see that she is visibly pregnant and smiling, for me is the perfect 
real life juxtaposition of the symbolism of this holiday. El Día de los Muertos is celebrated 
as a holy day in Latin America. It recognizes the fact that we humans have little choice but 
to honor the death of our loved ones, as we celebrate the living. Life and Death are 
inseparable, and death comes for all of us... no matter our station in life.
   El Día de los Muertos has carried a special place in my heart since I discovered the tradition when living in Arizona many years ago. In those years before death had come to claim my grandparents, sister and a son, the observance of the day was a novelty… full of lively mockery, painted faces, skeletons, and sugar skulls, but lacking the gravitas that the day carries for me now and for those who have lost someone dear to them.
   Last year in October, I took part in the local procession that takes place in my new home of Petaluma, California. I walked with friends from my neighborhood to the downtown near the river where everyone gathers for dancing and activities before the dancers begin the procession at dusk down to the Petaluma Arts Center which is part of the old train station. A large group of revelers fall in behind the dancers, and all make their way to the final destination where there is more dancing, and also vendors selling food and handmade wares. Inside the building the are several altars which pay tribute to lost loved ones which may be viewed by the community.

The dancers begin the procession by walking through the streets, and ending at the 
Petaluma Arts Center.
   The dancers who lead the procession are part of the Danza Mexica Ohtli Yoliliztli, which was founded in Santa Rosa, California in 2009. Its purpose is for the advancement and preservation of the Mexican culture through Aztec Dance. The members are inter-generational ranging in age from 9 to 50 and are dedicated to building a community based on the spiritual ideas of the ancient Mexicas. Teaching and learning the rituals and philosophies of Ancient Anahuac, Danza Mexica Ohtli Yolilitzli is actively engaged with a broad community to promote cultural pride and awareness. These dancers can be seen at many events during the year in the local area. 

One of my favorite dancers... she is absolutely stunning.
    Petalumans young and old turn out in great numbers to show their support and to enjoy the dancers and the festivities. A great number of them dress in costumes and carry momentos of their loved ones who have died, such as photos. Many of them carry their young children on their shoulders.

An old photo and flowers are carried by a family who is part of the procession. For me she represents the Universal Mother, Daughter and Sister and Wife.
At dusk the dancers begin the procession.
The procession culminates at the Arts Center of Petaluma where there are 
performances by mariachis and other dancers.
A whimsical maché calavera presides in front of the stage.

A mariachi wipes his brow in between lively songs.
Inside the Arts Center are many altars on display that have been built by members of the community
in the traditional and contemporary styles.

Glazed pottery for sale by a vendor.
Three Catrinas stop to look at the beautiful clay pottery.
There are various pieces of art and sculptures for sale inside the building.
And of course, this Virgen de Guadalupe with milagros came home with me.
A dancer bows his body at the end of the final dance performance 
by the Danza Mexica Ohtli Yolilztli.
   If your community has a local procession, I encourage you to go out and take part. It is a great time to celebrate your mortality, to honor those that came before you and to hold close in your heart those loved ones that you have lost in the journey of life.

Everyday Carnitas

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