Winter Solstice and The Cycle of Life: Through the Dark and Climbing Towards the Light

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We’re in the dark days of the year and coming up next week is the shortest day, the winter solstice. Winter is a time for taking stock, nourishing the seeds of new things, and the stalks of others that we aren’t finished developing yet, that we want to keep and grow. It’s a time of letting go of things that need to be recycled into something else. And often that is not direct, but an energetic recycling.

If we have been “nourishing” or putting energy towards something that we have come to realize has run its course, then it is time to let that go. The energy and thought and attention we put there can be put elsewhere and whatever that was goes back out into the ether to fuel someone else’s growth. In that way, we can view these things as neutral, or potentially positive, instead of negative or destructive. It’s what we do or don’t do with them and how we choose to view them. We can say “Okay, that worked for a while, now my story with that person/thing/habit is over.” Maybe it’s over completely, maybe just in its current form. These things may have once been “positive” (I prefer the term growth oriented): what you needed during that time in your life, to learn or grow from, to support your evolution.

Sometimes, as with people and relationships, your paths diverge. Your story together has been written and there’s not much else to say. Sometimes the struggle and learning you go through and grow from in a challenging relationship delivers you to a point where you recognize and are ready to say “That’s enough. I’m stronger/wiser/know myself better now. I learned what that needed to teach me, and now I’m ready to move on so I can grow more. If I continue here, then I probably won’t.” In that way, we can view things traditionally or by habit seen as negative, as opportunities to stretch, grow, learn, and become resilient.

But here’s the thing: life is always happening, we are meant to evolve, to adapt, and in order to do that we must grow and growth involves discomfort and pain and uncertainty. Life can be smooth sailing at times but it is often going to involve a lot of struggle and discomfort if we want to have a rich, meaningful, purposeful life. It is to be expected. When you go into the dark, seize that opportunity to mine it. There is always light on the other side, a part of a dark-light/death-birth-rebirth cycle all around us, reflected by and tied to the change in the seasons. If you want something to change in your life, if you want something different, then something in it has to die and be recycled into something else, just like animals and plants and we humans die, and in doing so give life to something else. It’s unavoidable. But also exquisitely beautiful and profound. This is the way Life continues, life from generation to generation in the natural world and within your own life.

If you are having trouble seeing or letting go of things it is time to let go of in your life, you can set an intention to find out what this is and/or how to do this and then go for a walk, preferably somewhere in nature and away from cars, streets and lots of human-built things. The rhythm of your pace, the sounds, the smells and sights around you combined with the physical activity can open up a flow state in the mind and soul. And if you can listen, you’ll often find answers to what you’re looking for or at least a start. Another simple activity you can do to catalyze this letting go is to get rid of things cluttering up your space. These things that you don’t use anymore and have no plans for, or that don’t resonate with you anymore, or remind you of something you’ve moved on from–move them on. This actual recycling can symbolically trigger the same of bigger, non-tangible things.

Getting Unwrapped Around the Axle

In the dark times when you want to give up the struggle and say “F*$% growth!” if you can decide to always be in touch with your core sense of being enough in this moment, no matter how craptastic it can get sometimes, while you are experiencing these moments or phases you can be sad, or angry or desperate or hopeless or adrift or alone or any other uncomfortable emotion–or all of the above–yet still possess that inner, grounded sense that you are totally 100% enough in that moment, that you are a work in progress and are supposed to be just that. You are not broken or a dud, you are in development. And like any good website and webmaster, you periodically need to post the “maintenance mode” sign on your homepage and update those plug-ins, spam detectors, SSLs, and the content to reflect the current, enough you. NO ONE came here with it all figured out and anyone who says that they’ve got The 411 is probably delusional or full of s$@%.

Also, you do not need anyone else to check this “I am enough” box for you. You do not need any outside approval to be enough, period.

When you approach life this way, negative emotions tend to pass on through comparatively quickly instead of you getting wrapped around the axle. Instead of feeding and spinning into this spiral of relentless negative emotion and perpetuating the mental chatter, when you set the intention to recall the above, that’s what you’ll focus on–that you are enough right now and that these feelings and situations are, in fact, temporary and do not reflect the core of you. Not saying it’s always easy–most of us know all too well just how difficult the seductive siren call of the negative spiral can be to resist–but it is simple, and with practice, it can become more easy and natural, maybe eventually second nature. I am definitely a work in progress on all of this and more, and that’s enough for me. 

Irish Guinness Stew

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This evening I’m making some Guinness Beef Stew for 20 people! for a class I’m holding at my bodywork studio this Wednesday evening. Guinness stew is so good on a cold day. It’s one of my ultimate comfort foods. I think it would be a nice alternative to traditional holiday fare and all the turkey or ham leftovers. “Oh darn, look more Guinness stew in the fridge, what ever will I do with this?” (In the unlikely event there is any left.) Really traditional Irish beef stew is made with lamb, but good lamb is not as easy to come by in the US, though where I live in Ellensburg, WA we do have pretty decent access to foods from small farms. I am getting a half share though this spring from my neighbor down the road at Winzer Farm.

Most Guinness stew I’ve eaten in pubs in Ireland uses beef, and since many people seem to like it better than lamb in the states, that’s what I’m making this batch with. My recipe does not use anything tomato. I’ve seen more than a few Irish or Guinness stew recipes out there that call for tomato paste. Nope! I think the addition changes the flavor into something different that just isn’t Guinness beef stew. IMO it masks the wonderful flavor the Guinness imparts. I do make mine with carrots, celery and potatoes, and it’s debatable whether any of these (well, probably potatoes were in there) belong in purely traditional Irish stew. I reckon they used what they had lying about to make the stew stretch to fill more bellies.

Instead of wheat flour, I use tapioca flour or potato starch to help thicken up the broth. It works better for me. After browning the chunks of beef (but not cooking them all the way through) I coat the pieces in flour and keep stirring and scraping to get the brown bits and prevent burning (turning the heat down too).

You can use a heavy stock pot if you don’t have a dutch oven to brew the stew. I actually use this same pot for the whole recipe. You don’t really need another pot and it would be better to keep the cooking going on in the one, so as not to lose any of those lovely browned bits of meat and Guinness. I suppose you could technically make this in a slow cooker, but in my experience that turns stews mushy. I do not own an Instapot, so I don’t know how it would turn out using one. By the way, almost all the alcohol from the Guinness will cook off during the 2.5-hour simmer, but you’ll be left with the wonderful taste only Guinness stout can impart!

My 13-year-old son loved it and thought it was better than what he had in a couple pubs on a recent trip to Ireland! Hmmm, well, I’ll take it. 😊

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp beef tallow/lard (or you can use bacon grease or olive oil)
  • 2 lbs beef chuck cut into 2-inch chunks, across the grain
  • 1 tsp sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 onion large chopped (white or yellow, I prefer Walla Walla yellow)
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 3 tbsp tapioca flour (or potato flour or as a third preferred option, wheat flour)
  • 22 oz Guinness Stout Beer (get the stout!)
  • 2 cups beef or chicken broth (plus additional broth, or water, for covering top of vegetables later)
  • 4 carrots cut 1/2″ pieces
  • 4-5 celery stalks diced
  • 4 small-medium waxy yellow (Yukon Gold is good) potatoes cut into 2″ pieces
  • 3 sprigs thyme or sub with 1 tsp dried thyme leaves

Instructions

  • Cut the carrots and potatoes, mince the garlic. Cut the beef into 2″ chunks. Pat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of tallow or oil in a heavy stockpot or Dutch oven over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add beef chunks in batches and brown all over but do not cook through or char. Stir in the tapioca flour, scraping the sides and cook for 3 more minutes.
  • Set the beef aside on a plate and do the same thing with the remaining beef. You probably won’t need to add more fat. Put the browned beef aside for now.
  • With the heat at medium, add the rest of the lard or oil. Add the onion, cook for 3 minutes until softened, then add the minced garlic, cooking 2 minutes longer.
  • Add the Guinness stout, stirring and scraping up the lovely little browned morsels on the bottom of the pot. Then add the beef or chicken broth.
  • Return the browned beef to the pot, along with any juices. Add the carrots, potatoes and the thyme You can tie the bundle with a piece of kitchen twine or use dried thyme.
  • If the beef and vegetables are not fully covered with liquid, add enough broth so that it is. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Stir, then lower the heat so it gently simmers. Cook 2 hours then remove the lid and simmer  it for an additional 30 minutes longer until the beef falls apart easily with a fork and the sauce has reduced and thickened.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the thyme bundle and serve with brown soda bread or a crusty loaf.