Tess. Lotta Photography

“You find peace . . . by realizing who you are at the deepest level” – Eckhart Tolle

The Witch Way: Lughnasadh/Lammas & Path of Totality

I came across the astronomical term path of totality just before Lughnasadh when preparing for my ritual work, and the revelations have stuck with me throughout Lammas celebrations, meditations, and divination work. For this Sabbat, my spiritual work has been focused on exploring the shadow I may be casting because of the shadow I may be denying.

The path of totality refers to the area of land darkened during a total solar eclipse. During the eclipse, the moon will cover the sun, effectively casting a shadow. Those of us in the Los Angeles area will be able to see it as a partial eclipse (about 61.38%), starting at 9:05 am to the maximum eclipse at 10:21 am.

At that moment, the sun’s atmosphere is visible, including its corona. And, at that moment, the moon confiscates the sun’s light, hiding it from us and encouraging us to stand within the shadow.

If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would admit to being uncomfortable with our shadow selves, as C.G. Jung refers to the repository part of the human psyche and personality in which we relegate what we label as negative psychological elements. In essence, Jung articulates this as the aggregate of the things we define as inferior or unacceptable within ourselves and each other—what he refers to as the “personal shadow.”

This is where all of our denied expressions of emotions and unexplored pain go, for example. Regardless of what we’d like to believe, denying and avoiding healthy expressions of anger, disappointment, sadness, loss, etc. does not mean it goes away. Often, that unexplored fear, for example, festers and manifests as unconscious habits and behaviors that rip ourselves and each other apart. These bits of nasty baggage sabotage our relationships and keep us feeling isolated and unhappy.

At its most horrific form, our collective unexplored shadow—our cultural, religious, political, and social shadows—surface as what Jung might categorize as en masse manifestations of the archetypal shadow, such as the historic epidemic of rape and violence against women, hatred toward certain groups, and the ferocious devastations caused by greed.

Full on heavy shit to think about….Blessed Be!

When the eclipse is cast on August 21, what will your shadow reveal?

#RadWomenUnite: Marian Gonzalez

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© Tess. Lotta

Marian Gonzalez is an icon of Rebel Beauty. Not only does she hold a huge and kind heart, she possesses that addictive quality of effortless beauty—the kind of glow that grows from investing courageously in community, family, and one’s own freedom of spirit.

I met Marian in 2015, while shooting a bout for the Los Angeles Lady Arm Wrestlers. Known to her LA LAW compatriots and fans as the gothy Martian aristocrat Princess Zarkoja, Marian’s seemingly ominous wrestling persona is underscored by the comedic chops of a theater actor.

LA LAW wrestlers commit not only 100% to their character, but also, alongside equally dedicated volunteers, to the entire endeavor of their seasonal bouts, events that raise funds for local nonprofits. A member of three theater companies (Sacred Fools, Broads’ Word Ensemble, and LOFT Ensemble), this type of dedication is not new to Marian, and as readers will discover in this interview, it is just one spark that fuels her lovely and captivating fire.

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When and how did you become involved with Los Angeles Lady Arm Wrestlers (LA LAW)? 

In 2012, I participated in the first two LA LAW events as part of my friend Alyson’s entourage. Her character was THE TECHNICIAN. Her entourage was composed of adoring actors. I went in drag as Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart. We were both pro-wrestling fans, so she loved that. The next year, I asked if I could wrestle.

From what I witnessed, you are one of the fan favorites! How does it feel to experience that? Importantly, why do you continue to participate in LA LAW? Is it all about the match win? 

Zowie. You can’t see it, but I’m blushing. It is humbling to hear this. Occasionally, I’ve run into people who recognize me—while working as an extra, attending trans activism events, or riding the train. It is amazing anytime I hear someone tell me they like me. But, it makes me so happy that they come to our events and enjoy themselves. Every ticket sold helps people, and I like running into people who have helped.

I do have to say it makes me feel fifty feet tall when someone tells me they’re a fan. This is the closest I’m ever going to get to the inside of a wrestling ring for the WWE, and it makes my heart soar to not only do this, but that people enjoy it.

As fun as it is, a lot of hard work goes into it. I train year round for something that happens two days a year. It feels good to win. I guess I shouldn’t pretend to act like I don’t care, but the wins aren’t the reason I do this.

LA LAW is a big, nuts happening, but its purpose is also to help the community. And, we are a performance event. What matters to me is raising money for the groups we help, putting on a good show, and empowering women. On the night of the event, the show is what matters.

The ladies of LA LAW are all tough as hell. Arm-wrestling any of them is tougher than against any dude. If I lose, I lose. Maybe Zarkoja’s story that night turns to plotting revenge. I just want folks to have fun.

 You shared in regard to wrestling that, “Feeling like I have some control over my body has helped me deal with my dysphoria like almost nothing else.” It would be awesome to hear more of your voice on such an important point you raise. 

Every transgender person is very different. Our stories are greatly varied. One of the things so many of us do have in common is the horror that comes with our bodies changing in ways that we don’t want. Our vessels change in ways that are in defiance of who we are. Sometimes we figure it out early, and we know why puberty is so upsetting, even if there’s nothing we can do about it. Puberty hit and I had no idea why changes that delighted the boys my age made me so sad. It hurt all the more as I got older.

I didn’t understand that I was a woman, but I felt a definite and clear idea that I wanted people to think I was. I just knew that it would be unlikely that anyone would ever believe me. I had no idea what any of this meant. But, the world told me there were so few ways of what women should look like. I certainly didn’t look like that.

At most, I saw the drag queens on Sally Jessie Raphael were what I should have looked like. The guests revealed to be male on “Guess If This Is Really a Woman or Man” episodes on Jennie Jones were  what I should have I looked like. Yet, I certainly was not shaped like either of those! There was no hope. I didn’t feel suicidal, just sad. My vessel betrayed me. I think I may have been depressed.

Being me, it felt like everyone else had control over their bodies, like they had agency, like they weren’t just borrowing their bodies. They looked like they actually lived in them. I wondered what that must have felt like.

Being trans, any control you have over your body is sweet and joyous. Whether it’s stumbling across the right kind of shape wear that helps me stop panicking, or the doctor telling me that my prescription for hormones will be waiting downstairs, to suddenly feel like you have agency over your body feels like moving a mountain.

Tell me about the ways in which wrestling has helped you deal with dysphoria? What do you see as key empowering moments in your journey and why were they empowering? Does your LA LAW persona, Princess Zarkoja, tie in with your journey—how and in what ways? 

I’ve been severely overweight most of my life. I dropped a lot of it. It felt good, but the shape of my body still felt weird.

Around the same time I came out and started presenting as female, I rediscovered pro-wrestling. Women’s wrestling was swinging back towards less of a novelty. They got to develop characters and storylines. They got to actually wrestle, and as hard as the men! Being the kind of lady I am, that on its own felt very Girl Power. The more I watched and cheered the more I noticed something about them.

Every one of those women were unmistakably female. They had broad shoulders and thick arms. They looked like me. It is one thing to believe to your core that what a woman is shaped like is what a woman should be shaped like, to believe that the horrible standards placed on women’s bodies is a deeply structured system that is good and pure to fight against. It is another thing altogether, a very difficult one at that, to feel so positive about one’s self.

Being strong, like capital “S” Strong, wasn’t just a male quality. It was a female quality as well, but it was still seen as a MAN THING. So, when I watched Bayley, and Charlotte, and Chyna, I felt at home. I’m strong, and I feel good about it.

I train six days a week for two nights with LA LAW. Someday, my life might need to take me in a different direction, or I won’t be physically able to do this anymore. But now, my body doesn’t feel like a thing I am borrowing. It feels like it belongs like me. And I know that I’m going to always feel that way forever! And, it is so nourishing.

I gave myself permission to be the woman I am. I want that for every woman. I want every woman to revel in giving themselves permission to be the woman they are. And if Pamela Martinez and Joanie Laurer could be superheroes and women, then I could be a super villain. So, the Most Exalted Princess Zarkoja, True Princess of Mars, is, like her name suggests, vain and bitchy. I love that asshole.

At our photoshoot together, you shared an experience of being misgendered Reflecting on this, in what ways has taking custody over your own body helped you with the ongoing effort of living safely and with dignity in the world?

Not all trans women pass as cis. Not all of us want to. But, if we want to be treated like humans, we sometimes still need to.

I don’t feel great talking about passing or passive privilege. I feel nervous about acknowledging my privilege. It’s not just that talking about it or acknowledging makes me feel like it will go away. But, it makes me feel gross to want it and have it. It feels kind of shitty to acknowledge as someone who passes that I don’t too much care if I pass, so long as people acknowledge that I am a woman. For the most part, that is true.

I just assume that about the world around me. I just assume that people are willing to treat me as who I am. But then, cis women often start talking to me about their cycles. I hear about how it makes them feel and how it’s a part of them (also, it turns out, I have a cycle, too. No one warned me this would happen, but it does, and it’s wonderful and awful and I love it). And, through all this, it is easy to say that I don’t care about passing.

But I do care. People treat you one way if you’re trans, but they treat you like anyone else if they think you’re cis. And, it can mean my safety.

Getting misgendered is a sharp stab that comes into my heart. It feels like an attempt to invalidate my identity to the world around me. Whether it’s subconscious or not, it says to me that even though the person they are seeing is wearing a skirt or makeup and has visible boobs, they don’t care and want to let you know that you are who they say they are. When it happens within earshot of others, my blood turns to ice.

It is one thing to own my identity and feel rooted firmly in my real gender. But, often it feels like it is a courtesy given to me by cisgender people. And, sometimes, it feels like they’ll take it away.

In the spring, I’d decided to change my hair. I had the same haircut since before I’d transitioned. I guess I’d been nervous about changing something that was seen as a signifier of female. So, I got brave and bold and got bangs.

After about a week, I noticed that I hadn’t been misgendered. I’ve made the joke that it feels like my face finally makes sense. If you’re trans, that joke is hilarious.

I still do get misgendered. It’s just far less now. Maybe bangs helped me reach a new level of I Don’t Care. Ugh. Privilege is gross.

I used to be afraid of showing that I was strong. I’d pretend that it was really difficult to carry the laundry or to lift my own suitcase. I’d be afraid that I’d be seen doing something like carrying the groceries and someone would scream that they just saw a man wearing makeup.

After my first time with LA LAW, I didn’t care anymore. I’d lift my own suitcase. And everyone else’s while I was at it! I was Big Barda! I was Bull Nakano and Becky Lynch! Finally, I get to be Pippi Longstocking, like I’d always wanted to be.

You are an actor and member of small performance art theater. When and how did you get into acting/performing?

I was a theater kid in high school. I got very lucky in my junior year when I found the one elective that had a space open. It turned out that I loved acting. It felt like a piece that had been missing.

Not a whole lot came from it afterwards. I didn’t consider studying acting at all. Then, a friend asked me to help be the run crew for a show at Sacred Fools. That was fourteen years ago. I didn’t really start getting serious about pursuing this career until after I came out. I don’t know how to want to do anything else.

Tell me about a few of the personally rewarding aspects of participating in a theater group/company.  

My wife and I met in the theater. Certainly, that’s one of the most rewarding aspects.

Getting on stage and becoming someone else and collaborating with other people to make a thing that makes people smile or feel—these aspects have a spot in my heart, especially with the laughter. Laughter is one of the most honest things a person can feel, and it makes people feel really good when they laugh. The sound of laughter coming at me from something I’ve done makes me feel like I’m doing something right on this planet for other people.

You can choose your friends, and you can choose your family, too, sometimes, even if you don’t intend to. If you’re queer, sometimes you definitely end up needing to choose your family. I’ve found friends that I’m very close to and people who are family. We’re there for each other always. They’re theater nerds like we are.

Do you feel small theater is important to or has an impact on the larger Hollywood industry? Is it more about the craft of acting that is important?

Certainly, it sometimes seems that the prejudices in casting and representation so prevalent in Hollywood influence the theater community. After being told I did good work in a callback, I’ve had producers tell me I’m not being cast because the show isn’t about “topics like that.”

Obviously, so many of us want to be able to work in film and television. However, there are so many actors and so few opportunities. Theater is fantastic in that you get to actually perform and collaborate with other artists to design and produce something that will affect someone in any way. You grow as an artist from so many people putting so much of their souls together to make one thing.

What are a couple things  you find challenging about theater acting and how do you handle these challenges? 

Yeah, it’s hard to be trans, a lady, and brown if you’re an actor. People are often only willing to see you in certain roles. And then are often reluctant to produce works that call for people who aren’t specifically stated as being white, straight, and cisgender. It can be hard to even get an audition sometimes. People still even list breakdowns of characters as Male, Female, and Transgender.

I don’t know how well I handle it. It is pretty easy to feel dragged down. The best way I know is to keep charging forward the best I can. I’ve created my own work in the way of a performance artist routine that’s kind of like a vaudeville routine. And, also, through the opportunities I’ve had with LA LAW. I keep looking for places where I can fit. This helps sometimes.

You and your wife have been married for twelve years, an impressive amount of anniversaries compared to many relationships. How do you feel marriage—working at a long term, committed relationship—has changed you for the better? In what ways has marriage to your wife challenged you to grow? 

I couldn’t have figured out who I am without her help. Certainly, I wouldn’t have felt confident enough to explore my identity without her support. Coming out is scary.

I’m terrible at communication, sharing what I feel and think. This isn’t helpful in a marriage. Working on it has been a difficult process. Growing emotionally has helped me engage with her and the world in a healthy way.

Learning patience and a willingness to listen to the needs of someone who is not me has come hard. I really wouldn’t have been able to come out without her. Learning to be honest and open with her means I learn to be open and honest with myself.

Any final thoughts to share? 

For all that I’m feeling empowered and confident and joyous, I’m scared a lot these days. More than usual. Every year more and more trans women of color are killed. I’m past the average life expectancy for someone like me. Every day I’m alive feels like a statistical anomaly, and it makes me mad. It makes me impatient with creeps, too.

As much as my mortality is the constant background noise, it occupies so little of my mind. I just try to be careful. Most of my headspace is about monsters from history, and trying to figure out which bits of local lore I tell people is real or imagined.

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Dial In:

Marian was recently cast in her first film role in the upcoming Just a Little Bit Longer. On August 19th, she’ll be performing in Fast n’ Loose at Sacred Fools.

Find out more, including her podcast, click here to find Marian’s website!

Kitchen Witch: Michelle Pauline’s Chimichurri Bitches!

 

Michelle’s veggie campfire tacos graced lovingly with Chimichurri Bitches!

Michelle Pauline’s Chimichurri Bitches!

Prep time: 30 minutes

Welcome to Kitchen Witch’s Food Alchemist, my new guest chef feature. For this inaugural post, I’m psyched to share Chimichurri Bitches! sauce.

Guest chef Michelle Pauline is the star behind this particular creation. A visual artist, sculptor, and art instructor, Michelle is also a top-notch culinarian. Her take on classic Argentinian chimichurri verde, Michelle’s recipe offers a variation that includes cilantro.

A mistress of grilling & cooking on an open campfire (or any dang fire she can tame with a metal grate, her fire resistant gloves, and a foil baking pan), Michelle debuted her Chimichurri Bitches! at our annual artist-girls camping trip this past June. And, my Goddesses, were we treated to the deliciousness of her foodie mastery. Super happy campers, indeed!

Chimichurri Bitches!

A spectacular condiment on anything (seriously, our morning scrambled eggs leapt at the chance to be so bathed), Chimichurri Bitches! was, simply put, the crowning statement of Michelle’s campfire tacos, a dinner offering that paired well with the incredible sunset descending on our campsite. As one of three vegetarians in our troop, I about wept after the first bite of toasted corn tortilla crammed full with a combo of perfectly roasted sweet potatoes, red and yellow bells, jalapeños, and tart tomatillos slathered in Chimichurri Bitches! perfection.

Yay! Campfire peppers a’ roasting!

While the parsley version is a superb homage to traditional chimichurri, I am a devotee of cilantro. This tangy goodness is perfectly tailored to leave a luscious bite of jalapeño and red pepper flake on the tongue, while the bold earthiness of the cilantro and parsley with the oregano enhances main dish players, such as caramelized roasted veggies and, per tradition, grilled meats (from the raves of the carnivorous campers, the chicken tacos were bomb diddy). It is the best chimichurri I’ve spooned over anything!

Nice grill marks! Michelle, Cheryl, and Avonel scooped coals from the campfire into a BBQ at the cabin to grill the chicken breasts…just a little S&P for seasoning.

Like its creator, this sauce is unpretentious, big-hearted, adventurous, unique, and just a bit mischievous. Cheers to Chimichurri Bitches!, campfires, sunsets, and super rad girlfriends. Thanks, Michelle, for the recipe that follows!

Chef Michelle prepping a plate o’ tacos for me!

Ingredients:

1 bunch flat leaf parsley (see option variation below)

8 cloves garlic

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Juice from a 1/4 lemon

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 roasted jalapeño

1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (this can be done to taste, but it needs at least a little bit)

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

Option:

Add 1/2 bunch cilantro instead of parsley

Make:

Roast jalapeño by pre-heating a frying pan or seasoned cast iron skillet over high heat. Add jalapeño pepper, turning pepper to sear each side. You want them charred but not burnt, as they will get bitter. Continue until the entire skin of the pepper skin becomes blackened. The flesh should feel soft to the touch (be careful when you test—hot stuff!). Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let them sweat a bit to cool and then peel and remove the stem (see note on the seeds below).

Peel garlic cloves and roughly chop using a food processor (or blender).

Add the fresh herb of choice (parsely or cilantro) to the processor and pulse to roughly chop.

Toss the rest of the ingredients into the processor and blend up, but not too much. You don’t want to make the herbs bitter with too much processing.

Transfer to a jar and let this baby marinate in its own juices for a day. This shit is good on anything! Even cardboard.

Note on jalapeño seeds & heat–they are hot: if you don’t want as much heat in your sauce, once the pepper has cooled, remove the seeds…..tee hee, I said, “heat in your sauce”!

Sorry not sorry :)…I just had to post the sunset!

The Crew! I love how the fog rolling in made us look like a doom metal band. I’m on the far right, looking like a thug in my Crocs – lol!

Content & photos by Tess. Lotta (© 2017 Tess. Lotta)

Recipe by Michelle Pauline (© 2017 Michelle Pauline)

#RadWomenUnite: Fred Los Angeles

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I am psyched to feature Freddie McCullough for the next installment of my Rebel Beauty Project. Fred Los Angeles, as many know her, is a veteran of the LA and Northwest rock, punk, and queercore scenes. She has a knack for finding ground on the best side of all upsides. This magic owes its success to an easygoing, sociable charm and honest graciousness, qualities that underscore the work ethic of a serious musician dedicated to her craft.

At just 13 years old, Freddie began drumming in local swing and country music bands, a determination that later landed her at the Musicians Institute in LA and under the instruction of pro drummers like Joe Porcaro. After honing her chops in Los Angeles, Freddie made her way to Seattle in 1993, where she served as a founding member of the groundbreaking all-female punk band Rubber, as well as played in various bands, including the originative all-female Pink Chihuahua.

I met Freddie while also playing in the Northwest music scene, and, to my glee, she accepted my invite to play drums for Bobbitt (as in Lorena), a feminist metal band that I was forming with local Seattle vocalist Tonja Renee Hall.

Freddie headed back to LA in 2007 and jumped right back in with bands Kim D and The Killer Bees, Charlie Don’t Surf, and Kittenhead, and she has never stopped. Endorsed by District Drum Company, Freddie currently plays drums for Sapphic Musk and The Derolinas, as well as teaches private drum instruction, volunteers for Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls, and does session and recording work.

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What is your history with the drums? Why this instrument?

I tried piano, guitar, and accordion, but I didn’t have the patience to get past the rudimentary stuff. One day, I came home from school and my dad’s band was rehearsing in our living room. I had never really seen a band live before and had probably only seen a drummer on TV once or twice. I was blown away and immediately zoned in on the drummer.

So with a little bit of begging and pleading, I had about a year’s worth of lessons, and I just gained what I could listening and jamming to my mom’s records. I really loved Lou Reed, The Boys, Elvis Costello,The Talking heads, and the Ramones.

I’ve spent a lot of time playing punk rock, and I really, really love that genre—fast and interesting stuff. But, I grew up with a lot of R&B and pop. As a drummer, pocket and feel are important and exciting to me.

Do you think it is important for drummers to seek formal music education?

Oh yes, but I also think it’s an individual choice. For me, there wasn’t any question in my mind that I wanted to develop further than I could take it on my own, and the timing was right to take advantage of a great program. But, again, it really depends on the individual.

I’ve also known very successful killer drummers that are self-taught. It’s great to have mentors and inspiration. Music isn’t really something that you do alone, especially when you’re developing.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a drummer and how have you personally overcome some of these challenges?

One of the hardest things I found was having a place to practice on the kit without disturbing others. You need a dedicated space. There are times I find myself without that.

Also, keeping it fresh and interesting has been another challenge. That means getting out of your space and watching and learning from others and listening to new or old great music….and playing gig’s….rock on!

Back when we were playing together in the Seattle 90s and early 00s, rock music was saturated with misogynistic and sexist attitudes toward women musicians. Have things changed? Is it just within certain communities, or are there some positives you’ve noticed about how female musicians are embraced in the larger rock music scene? 

Your are not always going to be accepted, but you could say the same goes for anyone. Still, while sometimes it was just hard to fit in with the guys, I have met and worked with many awesome dudes who totally support and are great friends and musicians.

Best thing, really, is practice and play as well as you can and hang and play with people you like that stretch your abilities and have fun.

But, yes, things have changed in a positive way. I think we are more accepted, and there are more of us, especially within certain communities. In the larger rock music scene, we are being embraced, and things are definitely getting better. Women musicians are way more present, available, and involved. It’s not 50/50, but we are showing up with skills, and that is the bottom line ultimately.

What do you think has brought about some of the positive changes? Would you agree that our generation of punk feminist musicians are part of the changes you see today?

Most definitely. I think the Riot Grrrl scene and female musicians who were shaking things up spawned activism and workshops. There was also a coinciding feminist presence in the spoken word scene with people like Tara Hardy, Annie La Ganga, and Michelle Tea bringing in even more activism and workshops.

Right around that time or shortly after, Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls came into being, and it’s become such a natural phenomenon. I don’t think we’ve ever had as many resources and safe cool places for women and girls to try out their creativity and build community.

Is that what inspired you to get involved with Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls?

Yes! The camp is so amazing, and the people that bring it together and the community that they serve….just rock!  It is a heartwarming and positive experience all around. It is a unique opportunity for the girls. I am thoroughly honored to be involved anytime it is possible. I am always amazed at what happens.

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Click here for my artist statement on The Rebel Beauty Project. Like the Tess. Lotta Photography Facebook page for a heads up on the next Rebel Beauty post, as well as my photo projects. Thanks for supporting indie artists!

Dial In:

Freddie’s website & Reverb Nation page

Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls

 

 

 

The Witch Way: Litha/Summer Solstice/Midsummer – Align and Catch Fire

Fire & Stars in the Sequoias

Litha/Summer Solstice marks the astrological event when the Earth’s axis is aligned with the sun. As a result, we are provided the opportunity to revel not only in the longest daylight of the year, but also a powerful astrological configuration. And, thanks to the full moon on June 9, we are privileged with the opportunity for powerful complementary magic. A full moon ushering in a solstice equals an influential dyadic spark just waiting for us to tap in and ignite.

As an eclectic witch, my spiritual practices often veer from the strict adherence to traditional Wicca. While I embrace many of the correspondences related to Litha, including adding elements to my altars and ritual work that regard the associations that speak to me, I stray from idealizing the virility of a Sun god as the focus of ritual work and celebration of this Sabbat. Instead, my Litha is more about inviting the sun–its heat, illumination, radiance, and transformative power–to do its magic and teach its lessons.

This year, I have the great fortune of a long weekend trip to the Sequoias with a group of female artist friends. One of the things I love about these annual expeditions is the spontaneous magic that happens when chilling around the campfire with a pack of rad, strong women armed with wine, humor, stories, truths, creative insight, and self-reflection. Within that intention, our nightly campfire becomes a ritual space.

Protected by giant Sequoia Devas and surrounded by my sisters, this is my Litha—a time to recalibrate and set alight a freshly realigned inner compass. As the earth rotates away from the sun, the June 21 Solstice will wane, and the dark blue hues of night will begin to pierce the fiery oranges of summer light.

How will you catch the fire?

Kitchen Witch: Uncle Tessa’s Bruschetta

Yum! Tangy bruschetta and a wedge of sharp cheddar–the perfect nosh!

Uncle Tessa’s Bruschetta 

Prep time: 30-45 minutes

I am posting this recipe in honor of my niece, Jillaine. Now a happily married young woman, Jillaine was growing up at the time in my life when I was well imbedded into the punk scene here in LA.

Like my boyfriend at the time, my hair was cropped short, and my typical ensemble was some version of Levis pegged to fit tight, black leather work boots or black canvass lowrider loafers from Kmart, a handmade band t-shirt or a men’s dress shirt pilfered from a thrift store, and a beater leather motorcycle jacket. To the hilariously sharp, smart, and sassy little Jillaine, I registered as a dude.

Armed with her awesome brand of little kid grit, Jillaine defied all adults who tried to correct her when she referred to me as Uncle Tessa. Of course, all her younger cousins, quite assured that the slightly elder Jillaine knew her shit, followed suit. And, to this day, I am Uncle Tessa. I absolutely would not have it any other way.

One holiday season a few years ago, the now adult Jillaine invited family members to give her our go-to fave recipes. She then compiled these into beautiful scrapbooks that she gave to us as gifts (right?! I told you she is clever). This bruschetta recipe was my contribution.

As an assertive antipasto, I enjoy the tangy pop of the cherry tomatoes against the juicy smoothness of peeled tomatoes. The firm red onions and fresh basil show up nicely due to lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. I like it piled high on crusty bread, as is traditional bruschetta. But, being punk rock and all, I add a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese, instead of an Italian variety.

Enjoy! And, cheers to you, Jillaine! I will always be your Uncle Tessa.

 

 

Ingredients:

4 large tomatoes – peeled, seeded, and chopped in chunks (when priced right at the grocery store or farmer’s markets, I use heirloom varieties. In general, I use the organic tomatoes-on-the-vine variety).

1 cup cherry tomatoes – halved then halved again and seeded

11 large basil leaves – chiffonade (how to below)

3 large cloves garlic finely chopped (1-2 tablespoons to your liking). Reserve 1/2 tablespoon

1/2 cup diced red onion (or more if you, like me, dig onions)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Juice from 1 small lemon (2 tablespoons)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Coarse sea salt

Fresh ground pepper

Loaf of crusty bread

Ready to peel! Super juicy…

Make:

To peel tomatoes: prepare a bowl with ice and water. Bring a pot of water to a boil and, one at time, add the tomatoes with a slotted spoon. Watch them closely and, once the skins split, spoon them out into the ice bath. They are now ready to peel, seed, and chop.

Slice the cherry tomatoes in half, halving them again to make quarters. Remove seeds.

 

Basil – the queen of fresh herbs!

Chiffonade: pile up basil leaves, roll the pile together, and chop into thin ribbons.

Combine tomatoes with cherry tomatoes in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and gently toss/stir until all ingredients are well distributed, adding coarse salt and fresh pepper to taste.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes to let flavors develop.

Bread prep: If you are experienced with your chef’s knife, create a garlic paste by piling the reserved garlic on a cutting board with a pinch of coarse salt. Mash the salt & garlic combo by sliding chef’s knife over it, dragging the combo along the cutting board, using a bit of pressure to mash it together. Scoop garlic mash back into a pile and repeat. Combine mash with olive oil in a small bowl and mix with a fork to distribute garlic into oil. Brush on wedges of crusty bread and toast.

Alternatively, if you are not as confident with your chef’s knife, just rub a whole garlic clove on toasted bread and drizzle with olive oil.

Recipe & photography by Tess. Lotta

The Witch Way: Beltane – They are Us

Dandelion in the Sequoias

Here’s to wishing….remembering that we are human. We suffer, love, lose, win, hurt, heal, push, acquiesce. We get crushed by sadness and are transformed by joy. We live. We die. Together. Inevitably.

Though our experiences are vastly different, we are each one of a species. Yet, as we use our differences to create lines between an us and a them, we forge an egoic position, as Eckhart Tolle would say, that weakens the bond of our common humanity. In that moment, we sacrifice our Higher Selves to strive for an identity that casts us as superior, more important, right.

Beltane, a fire Sabbat, reminds us to celebrate life with each other and ignite within ourselves our instinctual need to create and nurture love and friendship—community.  It seems an act of the Universe my weekend has shaped up to include a Beltane ritual tonight and parties with friends on Saturday and Sunday. Hells yeah!

I feel grateful and excited to celebrate my humanness with other humans under the fire of sun, stars, and moon. No lines drawn. No us or them. Just a circle cast in which all are welcome. Here’s to wishes come true.

Happy Beltane!

 

#RadWomenUnite: Courtney Cook

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Courtney as Debbie Harry

For the second installment of the Rebel Beauty Project, I am excited to share my photography collaborations with the talented actress, singer, and writer Courtney Cook. I met Courtney through a friend, and, instantly, I wanted to shoot her.

Cook’s charm is part sharp intelligence, a dash of girlish toughness, easy humor, and a good amount of earned confidence, qualities that speak to her life experience. After our first headshot shoot, I knew Cook was the perfect model for Debbie Harry, one of the women I pay tribute to in my female icons series.

A lifelong singer, Cook has lived and performed in New York and Los Angeles, but set aside singing to focus on acting, a move that netted her roles on shows that include “Parks & Recreation,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”

Pulled by the need to sing again, Cook recently performed her first solo show in LA. As a writer, Cook has not only written an award-winning romantic comedy, but also writes a food blog.

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Pursuing a creative passion in the entertainment industry is not for the weak-kneed. What draws you to singing and acting? Does it drill down to simply a career choice, or does the drive come from somewhere deeper?

The drive most definitely comes from somewhere deeper! I’ve tried doing other things, and I always come back to singing and acting. I think it’s programmed in my DNA!  Performing feeds my soul, and it’s something I have to do no matter what.

With acting, how do you deal with the vulnerability of putting a piece of yourself into a character? Is there a cathartic moment that somehow makes it worth it?

There’s always part of me in the characters I play. I think playing a role gives you permission to be vulnerable; whereas, sometimes in life, we don’t always feel we have permission, and it doesn’t feel safe. It’s fun to let go in a role because it also feels like you’re working through something for yourself.

Shifting artistic focus can bring up a ton of things—fear, liberation, joy. Tell me about your recent choice to shift a chunk of your focus and energy into singing. What tough and/or good pieces have come up for you and how do you feel those are motivating you?

I quit singing for almost 10 years, and fear was one of the reasons. I was a perfectionist, always singing to get something: an agent, a job, a role, etc. I was fearful that I wouldn’t be perfect and get what I wanted from it. It got to where it wasn’t fun for me anymore.

When I started singing again last year, it filled me with such joy! I’m now singing for me and not for an end result, and it’s completely changed things for me! Perfectionism still rears its ugly head sometimes, but I’m trying to not let it take control. I force myself to sing in situations that take me outside of my comfort zone and it’s exhilarating! Usually. Ha!

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Click here for my artist statement on The Rebel Beauty Project. Like the Tess. Lotta Photography Facebook page for a heads up on the next Rebel Beauty post, as well as my photo projects. Thanks for supporting indie artists!

Dial In:

Courtney Cook:

Find her food blog at www.happybellywholeheart.com

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2422874/?ref_=nv_sr_1 

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLZCjugQtH85MuimUFzqbWA

 

Kitchen Witch: Bullet Pesto

© Tess. Lotta

Bullet Pesto

Prep: 30 minutes

I grow monster amounts of basil on our back porch garden, and this rad little recipe is my killer pasta sauce version! Super easy, freaking crazy delicious, and nutritious with whole wheat or a quinoa-rice pasta.

I love my food processor, but, some days, I just don’t have it in me for the clean up. Also, though I have worshipped a Vitamix from afar, I keep opting for photo gear for the money (but, my dream will come true, someday).

So, for crazy busy days when I need an easy clean-up sauce, marinade, or dressing, I opt for my juicing blender—mine happens to be a NutriBullet. I have dedicated the larger container that came with it for marinades, soups, and sauces. I love to mark up anything with a Sharpie!

As my father, Joe “Cap” Lotta, would say, “Mangia tutti” – let’s eat!

When blending in a cylindrical juice blender, you may need to add moisture to some ingredients, like nuts, to get them moving.

Ingredients:

Big ol’ bunch of fresh basil (2-3 cups or large size container at the grocery store)

Extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano (fresh or the classic off-the-shelf mix)

Juice of 1 large lemon

1 cup raw almonds (1/4 cup if not saving-see below)

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (1/4 cup if not saving-see below)

Coarse salt

Black pepper

Room temperature water

2 cloves garlic roughly chopped (less or more, to your taste)

Dry pasta—I prefer rotini to grab the sauce in the ridges

Make:

Roast the almonds and pumpkin seeds together in a toaster oven or stove top in a skillet, stirring frequently until the aromas are released and the nuts turn a richer, slightly darker color. Don’t go too far, as they get bitter. Set aside to cool. Divide out about 1/4 cup of the mixture for pesto and save the rest to add to salads, etc.

Wash and pull basil leaves off stem. I am not a purist on this; if there is some stem, no big deal.

Pre-blend roasted seed/nut combo into small pieces—add a bit of water, if needed, to get it moving thru the blender. We don’t want nut butter—just chunks.

Add all remaining ingredients, starting with a 1/4 cup olive oil and 2-3 tablespoons water. Blend until you have the consistency you like. You can add more olive oil and/or water, S&P, or cheese to your liking.

Refrigerate for about an hour to let flavors develop.

Cook up pasta and ladle out 2 cups of cooking liquid into bowl or measuring cup just before draining the pasta. Drain pasta and return about half of it to the now dry pot. Add back in about a 1/2 cup of reserved liquid. Stir in pesto to coast pasta, adding more pasta as you stir. I like my pasta thick with sauce. If I have any left, I freeze for another recipe.

Recipe & photography by Tess. Lotta

The Witch Way: Spring Equinox – Ostara

Balance.

This is the genius of the Vernal Equinox. Day & night are approximately the same length.

For me, this astrological manifestation of the middle is a reminder of how powerful an impact a pause to suspend thought, breathe, and listen can have in one’s life.

Here’s to taking a deep breath!