In Search of Magic

On cooking as craft, rather than hobby or occupation

Read on for a candied violets how-to, a few good stories, and a bit of magic

In addition to my life in food, I'm also a writing coach, and help scholars in everything from physics to Medieval history to trauma and emergency medicine wrangle the nuts and bolts of an organized writing practice, while also thinking about their work more holistically.

Recently, one client said something that's been ringing in my ears ever since: "Your craft, whatever it may be, is your magic."

I think for many modern readers, the term "magic" is inherently mysterious/tied to certain pagan practices/scary/any number of other words. But the idea of making magic is simply a generative one: There is something you want to see in the world, and you bring it into being.

One's craft, then, is simply the work they do to bring new things to the world: anything from cooking to designing websites to teaching to raising a child.

I've been thinking a lot about my craft, and by extension, the magic I put into the world, lately. I suspect that, for many of us, this past year has asked us to rethink our crafts (and thus our own particular brand of magic): How has our craft shifted in this moment, and what magic are we bringing to a world that we're in the process of building?

Perhaps like you, what I've discovered is that my 'craft' itself isn't just any one thing, and the gifts it produces are wide and varied too.

When I'm engaging in my craft as a writing coach, my magic is helping other people share their voices.

When I'm engaging in my craft as a fermenter, my magic is, as Sandor Katz says, to use "the transformative action of microbes" to create something new and (hopefully) delicious. Similarly, as an artist, my craft is to use the building blocks of my practice to envision something new.

When I engage in my craft as the person behind Root, my magic is to bring you stories, experiences, and dishes that I hope connect you a bit more closely to the past and bring you a bit of joy.

Thinking about our creative work as a craft, not simply a hobby or a job, helps provide clarity to the 'why' that pushes us to pursue it. Since food touches so many corners of our lives, there are lots of 'whys' that can move cooking to a craft, rather than simply a utilitarian act: family, connection, love of flavors, love of history, exploration, pleasure, and the list goes on.

Working with the craft of food never ceases to imbue me with a sense of wonder: from the candied violets I made with my mom growing up to all the ways our ancestors worked with trees for food and medicine. This month, I'm making more goodies (like those violets) that remind me of how connective the craft of cooking is, and for the first time in a long time, hope to have a few chances to bring what I make to friends, too.

To read

This month I've been reading, and thinking, a lot about storytelling, both in terms of what stories we tell about our food and our world but also how we go about weaving them.

Amy Rodgers tried to recreate her mother's old recipes, and in so doing reminds us that "memory is a slippery thing."

Alicia Kennedy, whose posts I always look forward to reading, examines the interconnection of hospitality and hostility, the stories we weave around hospitality and its performance, and in particular, the lack of any widespread change in pay or treatment for hospitality workers.

Nandita Godbole reminds us that our food stories can come from many places, and weaves hers in large part from memoirs.

Our food stories often include elements of nature, and we can bring them in more explicitly through wild foods-based recipes like this pinecone jam.

Our food stories are also shaped by how others frame us, perhaps something that's clearest in modern influencer culture. But how modern is it? This piece considers the idea of the cocktail influencer through a wider lens.

The Isle of Skye in Scotland has long inspired myth and legend, and this piece connects the stories to the landscape.

In India, Dr. Pushpesh Pant is bridging the gap between food history and modern knowledge (and for those looking to support the Indian people during the current crisis, this list has some helpful resources).

Once we've written our stories, they must be gathered. The Archive of Healing is a growing online compendium of healing methods past and present.

And finally, on the theme of magic, a reminder that Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic is fantastic, and all about cultivating your own creative practice.

Root news

Root members this month learned about the history of vanilla, and got four vanilla-infused recipes to play with in their kitchens, along with the surprisingly complex history of the bean.

To get this, and an archive of past member emails, sign up at this link or with a paid subscription of Substack (you'll get two free online classes, too!)

This month we'll be celebrating Midsummer in the northern hemisphere. For an easy, delicious mead recipe, head to this piece in the Kitchen Witch archives.

The Herbs and Art CSA is blossoming with the bounty of summer foods, and in the coming months expect lots of flavorful homemade vinegars, seasoning blends, inks, salves, and more.

$50 gets you 5 handmade treats per month, nationwide shipping included. To join, head to this link.

And finally, if you subscribe to Imbibe magazine, make sure to flip to the article on kombucha for an interview with me on its history, and on the importance of outlining the limits of our knowledge around culinary history in general.

The Hidden Cosmos oracle + recipe deck is at the printer as we speak! Keep your eyes peeled for a virtual and in-person launch event, plus the link to preorder. Speaking of preorders, Ferments for Mindfulness, my latest class for Fermentation School, will open soon. If you'd like to take my class on mudcloth, or see any of their other offerings, head to this link.

To make: candied violets

Growing up, candied violets were a coveted springtime treat, studding cakes and adorning frosted cookies. Or, simply eaten by the handful in the kitchen right after making them. Recently I attended the Midwest Women's Herbal Conference (this time in virtual form), where the year's patron plant was violet. Violet, in part, soothes the body and heals the heart, and so it seems like the perfect companion to a year where everything feels topsy turvy.

Violets are easy to find out in nature, but if you don't have any, you can often find them at the store with the packages of fresh, refrigerated herbs.

Candied Violets
1 egg white
sugar
violets (washed and completely dried)

-Sprinkle a layer of sugar on a plate.
-(Very) carefully paint the egg white on the flowers (I usually just do the fronts, if you're brave you do the backs too). I use my finger for this because it gives me the most control, but you could use a small paint brush too.
-Set the flower painted side down in the sugar, making sure all the painted surfaces are covered.
-Let the flowers dry.