Witchy women

Witchy women

I have a girlfriend with an affinity for “witchy” friends. She and the girls in her circle are a touch hippie. They tie dye clothes in their backyards, have a penchant for handmade soaps and scented candles and hell if they don’t have crystals on their windowsills.

Witches Altar tarot readings

As we are over nine months into a global pandemic, most of us have had to deal with a COVID birthday. My girlfriend is not one to let a birthday go by uncelebrated. There are two things she loves to do on this occasion: Eat at a hot new restaurant and meet with psychics. Or get her palm read. Something witchy. When COVID hit, a chic restaurant was out of the question, as girlfrinds who are semi-isolated would have to gather indoors, sans masks.

Laura Lee's RVA
Comfort food

However, she didn’t see why COVID should have to deprive her of a witchy good time. We gathered in her backyard, Adirondack chairs spaced six feet apart around a roaring fire. We ordered take-out from Laura Lee’s and tucked into a decadent chocolate cake.

I brought marshmallows for the fire and goodie bags to keep things festive. And a book about Salem to stay on theme. But the highlight of the night was the tarot card reading with Maria Badillo of The Witches Altar. She could not have been more acommodating to our safety practices. She wore a mask, and gave a tarot reading on the far side of a large table, for social distancing. To accommodate all anxiety levels at this time, The Witches Altar also does tarot readings via Zoom. We’re glad Maria came in person. She pulled candles out of her bag along with the cards, and took time to explain the spread to each of us.

tarot reading

As we sat around the fire sipping peanut butter whiskey and pretending not to eavesdrop on our friends’ readings, I marveled at how strange it all felt. The faces were familiar, but socializing in peron felt new. The rythm of life has changed quite a bit thanks to COVID, but it also helps you to better appreciate things, like witchy little gatherings under the stars. Nights when you and your friends carry on almost as if there weren’t a global pandemic. It’s the best way to be reminded that our circumstances are only temporary, and that better days are ahead.

Bonfire of the Bon Vivants

When I hosted a casual bonfire (for 55!) in my back yard, I didn’t account for it to be the coldest day of the year. But to live well, one must worry less. Les bon vivants know that all too often happy anticipation rolls into anxiety. Just look at what’s expected of brides-to-be; tears, tantrums, mood stabilizers. When in reality, brides should be planning one of the biggest bashes they’ll ever have. But I digress.

The point is, things happen, like rain, or in our case, freakish subzero temperatures that came out of nowhere. We had to concede that yes, this would be an indoor/outdoor party. I cleaned the house, lit candles and played Chet Baker. 

the blonde mafia, defrosting

How to keep the crowd circulating indoors and outdoors? That’s easy – put the bar outside! It was perfect, really. When our cooler and fridge were overstuffed with beers, the outside temps were just as cold! In addition to beer, we made a signature cocktail. It stayed hot in the crock pot, to battle the elements. It was apple cider with salted caramel whiskey, topped with whipped cream and Ghiradelli caramel sauce. 

salted caramel whiskey-spiked cider

We also borrowed a second fire pit to spread the warmth. Guests grilled their hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire, but I kicked the experience up a notch. I had a S’mores Station, where ingredients were encased in elegant glass, preventing guests from having to fumble with packaging.

We created a hot dog toppings bar, with ingredients that ranged from the expected (grilled onions, Sri Racha, homemade chili), to the adventurous (cranberry chutney, pineapple, homemade habanero sauce).

endless toppings for the hot dogs

And I can’t resist adding an activity or station, so I created a “Happy Fall, Y’all! photo wall, complete with furniture, pumpkins, colored leaves and stringed lights. 

Ryan scores the epic photo of the night

Though the kids enjoyed the outdoor ball pit, hammock, tree swing and toys, the night marched on and the air got chilly. I called to the kids out back that we would play a Christmas movie in the living room. They tore across the yard and fell stone silent in front of Stick Man, curling up on the furniture. 

a nod to Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy, guests cozied up in fresh blankets

As the crowds dwindled, so did the fire. The last few friends wandered into the living room, and the conversations went deeper. Bonfires are great because they can be woven in between major holidays, like Halloween or Christmas. Plus. people have to cook their own dinner (hot dogs) and dessert (s’mores). But then you reward them with an elaborate topping bar because the late and great Nora Ephron is still in your head reminding you that people love to play with their food. Almost as much as you love to serve it to them. 

Happy holidays.

Without the 3 on the right: Xenia, Sylvester & Nabeela, I’d have been in the kitchen all night
no matter the party, the kitchen gets cowded
devil is in the detail (or tangled in our grape vines)