kitchen witch

Notes from the Apothecary

March, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: Dill

Feathery and fragrant, the herb dill is so much more than just a flavouring for fish dishes or pickles. This magical herb has been used for centuries as a medicine, and as a potent tool for magical practitioners. From a muscle toner for Greek athletes, to a medicine for treating boils, this versatile herb is truly fascinating.

The Kitchen Garden

You can find dill growing wild, so if you manage to harvest a few seeds, or purchase some from your local supplier, you could cultivate a little patch of dill yourself. It likes loose soil with good drainage, and you can plant the seeds directly where you want the herb to grow, ideally in a sunny spot. It’s an annual or biennial, which means that at most each plant lasts two years, or two growing seasons. However, it self-seeds, which means that you should get plenty of fresh seedlings the following spring.

The delightful, tiny yellow flowers are a real draw for bees, butterflies and other essential pollinators, so planting dill will definitely increase the number of visitors to your garden. Conversely, dill helps repel aphids and other pests, making it a great companion plant to cabbages, lettuce and many other food crops.

If you don’t have a garden, or quite frankly, the time and energy to grow herbs, dill is widely available at grocery stores as well as herbal retailers.

For culinary purposes, it’s normally the leaves that we’re talking about. Small amounts of leaves can be cut from each plant, so that you don’t kill the plant by harvesting. If you have more leaves than you need to use immediately, put some in a sandwich bag and pop them in the freezer. Don’t forget to label them!

Dill leaves can be added to salads, cheese (such as cottage cheese), soups and other foods as a garnish and to add flavour. Leaves or seeds can be added to a bottle of vinegar to create a unique, flavoured condiment.

The seeds are also used, primarily for flavouring the liquid that pickles are soaked in. Hence the term ‘dill pickles’.

These are but a very few of the culinary uses of dill. It is used all over the world in dishes from curry to crayfish. Because of this, it is relatively cheap, and very easy to get hold of.

The Apothecary

Charlemagne had dill tea made available for his guests who dined with him, to aid their digestion and prevent hiccups. It has been used as a ‘gripe water’ for infants, helping relieve colic and gas, but obviously don’t feed herbal remedies to children without consulting a pediatrician first.

It is normally the seed of dill that is used medicinally, as it has high amounts of the oil anethol, or anethole, also found in anise and caraway. Mrs Grieves recommended it as a stimulant and for easing stomach issues, flatulence and simply as an aromatic.

Modern research has found that the active oil has antimicrobial properties, which are effective against some bacteria, fungi and yeast. It’s even been found to be effective against salmonella in some instances.

It can also be used as an insecticide, which probably explains why it’s effective at repelling certain unwanted critters in our gardens.

Wash your hands after handling dill and don’t use the oil in massage. It causes photosensitivity so can lead to burning. Don’t take if pregnant or breastfeeding, as it can affect the uterus.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Mrs Grieve notes that during the Middle Ages, dill was used by magicians in spells and in charms against witchcraft. If this is true, we can surmise that there is a protective aspect to dill, particularly against supernatural or magical attack. Dill can be used in a poppet to provide protection to the person you are visualising. You could carry a sprig to ward off negative intentions towards yourself, or sprinkle some seeds around yourself and visualise a wall of light rising up from the seeds, protecting you from all harm.

In the bible, the Scribes and Pharisees are berated for paying a ‘tithe’, or tax of rich goods, but neglecting their morals and ethics. One of the items in the tithe is dill, along with mint and cumin, so we can assume that dill was very valuable. This can be translated magically into using the herb for money spells, perhaps a little in your purse to protect your existing funds, or used in a little pouch with other herbs to draw wealth towards you.

Both Culpeper and Cunningham assert that the plant is ruled by the planet Mercury, which one can also extend to include the god the planet is named for. This reaffirms the wealth and money connection, as the Roman god Mercury is strongly connected to financial gain, especially commerce and trading. He is also associated with eloquence, so dill could be used to help you find the words you need in a tricky situation. Linking the two, a charm made with dill is ideal for a sales person, as it will boost the holder’s communication skills and promote wealth coming to them.

Cunningham also states that placing dill in the cradle protects a child, which most likely links back to the herb having been used in children’s medicine for centuries. A sachet under the mattress where the child cannot reach it, or even under the bed or cot itself would be best for safety.

Home and Hearth

Sprinkle dried or fresh dill leaves or seeds around the boundary of your home to keep out unwanted visitors or negative energy. Walk widdershins (anti-clockwise) whist doing this if you feel there is an existing energy you need to banish. Walk deosil (clockwise) if you are wanting to boost the current mood or atmosphere in your home. You can boost the power of this simple spell by adding elemental energies, if appropriate to your path and beliefs. Sprinkle water, salt for earth, carry a candle for fire and walk the boundary again holding a lit incense stick to represent air. Don’t try and carry them all at once! Juggling candles and incense might seem impressive but actually it just leads to burnt fingers and clothing. If you are not mobile, hold the dill or have it near you, and visualise your energy surrounding your home or sacred space.

Once a year (I would do this at Imbolc as I have the idea of early spring cleaning firmly ingrained in my psyche) sweep the boundary and refresh your protective ward.

I Never Knew…

There is a superstition that burning dill leaves will cause thunderstorms to clear up.

Image Credits: Anethum graveolens by Forest and Kim Starr via Wikimedia Commons, copyright 2007; Dill seeds by o Alanenpää via Wikimedia Commons, copyright 2008.

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About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

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The Kitchen Witch

March, 2018

Corned Beef and Cabbage

This is not going to be an essay of whether to celebrate St. Patty’s Day or not. I know that many Pagans do not celebrate St. Patty’s day with the righteousness of Jehovah Witnesses not celebrating Christmases and almost every other holiday. I am not one of those people. When I was growing up Catholic in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Saint Patrick’s Day was a secular holiday that was celebrated in my public school – it didn’t have anything to do with the Catholic Church at all – nor did Valentine’s Day, for that matter – another thoroughly secular holiday, only celebrated in my public school.

I am the type of person who believes in celebrating everything. Living in Buffalo, New York, this is really the way it is here – everyone celebrates everything, regardless of religion or cultural background – we are a partying people. Google it – Buffalo rivals much larger cities New York, Boston and Chicago in its St. Patty’s day celebrations. We have two parades on two separate days in two separate neighborhoods and they are both well attended. It’s not all Christians out there wearing the green. Everyone’s Irish – no matter if their last name is Mueller or Paderewski or Brucato or Khun.

I long ago stopped partying as hearty as I could – it just doesn’t work for me anymore. But I still like to eat the traditional foods as much as I can. And whether you are cooking for St. Patty’s Day on the weekend of March 17, 2018 or you are having a group of people over for an Ostara ritual, a plate of corned beef and cabbage is always a springtime delight.

According to my Joy of Cooking, corned beef got its name in Anglo-Saxon England when beef was preserved with salt the size of a kernel of wheat – called “corn” – not the yellow corn that Americans know, that would be “maize” – and unknown to Europe at that that time, anyway. Note the similarity of the words “corn” and “kernel”. “Corning” was a type of preservation so that meat could be kept for months. Salting meats and fish was ancient – every culture has ways of doing this to preserve food through the lean months. The way it was done in the middle ages meant that the meat was much saltier than we would recognize it nowadays – probably much saltier than we would find palatable! Modern refrigeration and brining methods has changed this and the corned beefs and pastramis that we eat today are much less salt and much more flavor than their medieval ancestors.

Usually corned beef is on sale this time of year. Look for either a good-sized brisket or round – I like a brisket because it’s more traditional but a round generally has less fat and will cook down less dramatically. You can get them from a butcher but generally they are prepacked in heavy plastic, with the brine and a small pack of seasonings included.

You can cook it in a slow-cooker – it takes about six to eight hours. I looked up how to do it in the Insta-Pot pressure cooker – it would take 90 minutes for the meat and another 10 or so minutes for the potatoes, carrots and cabbage. But I opted to do it the old-fashioned way – on the stove-top, in a large pot. The package also has instructions on how to cook it.

You need:

a corned beef, between 3-5 pounds.

Enough cold water to cover the meat.

Contents of the seasoning packet.

4 to 6 small white or red potatoes, or larger ones, cut into quarters.

Several small white onions or a larger one, cut into wedges.

3 to 5 carrots, cut into pieces.

Half a cabbage, cut into wedges.

Take the corned beef out of the packing and rinse it off. Set it in the pot and cover with cold water. Add the seasoning packet. Put on the stove and bring to a boil.

You don’t have to do this, but I do: I add a stalk of celery, a carrot and a piece of onion to the water. Just for added flavor and general food magic.

When the water comes to a boil, turn it down to a simmer. You’ll notice that there’s “scum” on the top of the water, so take a spoon and skim it off and discard it.

Now – some recipes say to cover the meat and let it simmer for several hours – some say to leave it uncovered. I personally always cover my corn beef as it cooks. Once in a while, I take the cover off and poke it with a fork and turn it over. But generally, I leave it alone and go about other business.

After two or so hours, you will notice that the meat has shrunk quite a bit! The aroma of the corned beef spiced should be drifting through your kitchen and making you hungry for dinner. This is when you should remove the celery and carrot and onion that was added when you first started – if you did add them. If not, just add the potatoes, carrots and onion wedges.

Cover the pot again and after about a half-hour to forty-five minutes, add the cabbage wedges. These only take fifteen minutes to cook! Dinner is almost ready! Set the table!

My son was over the day I cooked this and I almost forgot to take a picture of a fixed plate of the finished meal! We were having such a good time together, as we always do. But here is it:

Naturally, that’s my small plate and not the large one I prepared for my son. I should have taken a picture of that plate but he had it almost finished before I had mine even served up!

Anyway, this is a meal that always satisfies. I usually take the leftovers and make corned-beef hash – just chop everything up and fry it all together with a little butter. But that’s if there is any leftovers! Usually the meat gets all eaten up and there’s just a few potatoes and carrots left and a wedge of cabbage. There’s never any complaints when I cook up this meal.

So try this one out. It’s wicked easy – it practically cooks itself! If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is! Brightest blessings this Ostara season!

References

Rombauer, Irma S. and Marion Rombauer Becker. Joy of Cooking. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1975.

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Dex and Ken. “How Do You ‘Corn’ Beef?” https://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2153/how-do-you-corn-beef/

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About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.

The Kitchen Witch

February, 2018

5-Ingredient Insta Pot Rotisserie Chicken

My sister Sue bought me an Insta Pot Pressure Cooker last year for my birthday. I have to admit that until recently, I haven’t used it too much. In my last apartment, there wasn’t enough room for it on my counters – let’s face it, I had no counterspace whatsoever. And I first moved back to Buffalo, I was in the grip of a pretty strong depression that I am just coming out of. I haven’t felt much like cooking – or eating – since I live in a town famed for local food, I have been doing a lot of eating out.

But as the weather has gotten less conducive to getting out and about, I have used the Insta Pot a few times and I am beginning to learn how it works. One thing I do know – I have a lot to learn. Not only is this a pressure cooker but it’s a steamer, a slow-cooker, a deep-fryer and it even bakes cakes!

In the past few months, I have made my mother’s famous meatloaf dinner – the moistest meatloaf known to man, with potatoes and carrots, cooked in only ten minutes! I made a fifteen-minute chicken cacciatore. At Thanksgiving, I did the acorn squash in the Inst Pot – using the steam application – they were done in four minutes! To perfection. Honestly, I’ve never had acorn squash so deliciously good.

I am on literally dozens of recipe email lists – my inbox is constantly full. I can’t remember when “5-Ingredient Insta Pot Rotisserie Chicken” passed through my email but I know I thought that it sounded fabulous and the picture certainly looked appetizing. I saved it – I even printed it out – and of course, promptly forgot about it. And this very morning – as I live and breathe – I received a recipe for “Insta Pot Vegan Cabbage Detox Soup” from Allrecipes Daily Dish. I am definitely going to try that one! Who doesn’t want to drop a few pounds before the end of the winter months? Or just clean out their systems? That seems like a New Moon kind of thing, doesn’t it? Clean out all the toxins to do magic for the coming month? I love that idea!

Soon after the New Year, I was doing my annual reorganization of notebooks and files and closets and just about everything. Somewhat of a spring cleaning but it happens in the beginning of January. Here in Buffalo, we’re generally more or less snowed in during the winter months – this is a very hard winter, this year – so rather than sit around and watch movies on Netlix or Hulu and munch out, it’s more productive to clean out closets and attics and basements. So, during this process, I found the printed-out recipe of “5-Ingedient Insta Pot Rotisserie Chicken” that I had printed out months ago and I decided to make it. One of the supermarkets near me had roaster chickens on sale for 99 cents a pound, so that worked out perfectly.

As usual, I assembled the ingredients that I would need before I started. I counted six ingredients but maybe the author of the recipe wasn’t counting the chicken. I didn’t have onion salt so I used celery salt. Since it called for two teaspoons of either of them, if onion salt had been on my shelf, I probably would have used a teaspoon of both of them. I didn’t have garlic puree but I always have garlic powder. The recipe didn’t call for pepper but I could not imagine not using freshly ground black pepper. That’s a incredible exclusion, IMHO.

I took the chicken out of its packaging and put it in a mixing bowl. There were giblets, but I put them into a bag and set them into the freezer for future use. Then I whisked together the olive oil, the celery salt, paprika, garlic powder and freshly ground black pepper. It’s really thick. Almost a paste. I was thinking about thinning it out a little bit but I thought – this is the first time using this recipe, let’s see what happens. You know – like when you do a spell the first time. You follow the instructions exactly.

(Except that I didn’t follow them exactly – I added freshly ground pepper!)

After mixing this up, you pour this over the chicken. Since it was so thick, it didn’t really pour very well and I spread it over the entire chicken using my hands (yes, I was wearing gloves) to make sure the seasoning was evenly distributed.

I let it set for a little while so the seasonings could soak in. If I hadn’t been so hungry, I would have stuck it into the fridge for a half an hour to let it marinate. Yeah, I know – the recipe doesn’t say to do that but it just makes sense to me. I was also thinking about other seasonings you could use. Perhaps a mixture of ground parsley, oregano and rosemary with the garlic powder and onion/celery salt mix – or lemon-pepper with the garlic powder and onion salt – and certainly there has to be a way to do this barbecue-style. The possibilities are endless.

Meanwhile, I plugged in the Insta Pot and put a few tablespoons of olive oil into the basin and pressed the Saute app. When the display reads “Hot”, it’s ready. Carefully set the chicken into the hot oil, breast side down, and brown until it’s golden. This should take about five to seven minutes. Then flip the bird – sorry! I couldn’t resist! – and brown the other side. This shouldn’t take as long – five minutes tops.

Once the chicken is browned on both sides, add the chicken broth and cover. Seal the lid and twist the vent toward “sealing”. Set to Manual High Pressure for 25 Minutes.

This is the hard part! You hear the steam and you see it coming out of the vent. And you an hear the broth boiling inside of the pressure cooker. And you watch the numbers ticking off the front of the pot – it seems like they go so slowly! But think about it – twenty-five minutes for a fully roasted chicken isn’t any time at all! You can have pre-dinner drinks with your guests, set the table with your family or take a nice shower by yourself and relax while your dinner is cooking.

Turn the vent to “vent” and let the steam escape. Once it’s all gone, carefully open the Insta Pot. Lift the chicken out – I had to use two utensils to manage it – and set it on a platter. I admit that the picture in the recipe looked better but I was quite pleased.

I served mine with a baked potato and steamed broccoli.

The chicken was so tender, I could cut with my fork. It was really moist and super flavorful. I was disappointed in the skin (I admit it) but I rarely eat skin anymore so that’s not really a problem. But I would say that next time I would use a little more olive oil in the basin of the Insta Pot when I am sautéing, and leave the chicken in there a minute or two longer. Let it fully brown.

But hey! It was great for a first time and I’m real happy with the results! And there’s plenty leftover! I’ll be eating chicken for a few days for sure! Maybe make a chicken soup – or maybe a chicken pot pie – who knows? The possibilities are endless!

The recipe follows. If you don’t have an Insta Pot Pressure Cooker, there’s instructions for doing it in a regular slow cooker or in your oven.

5-Ingredient Insta Pot Rotisserie Chicken

1 5-lb whole chicken

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for browning the chicken

2 teaspoons onion or celery salt

2 teaspoons paprika

1 tablespoon garlic puree or 1 ½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 cup chicken broth

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, onion or celery salt, paprika, and garlic. Pour over chicken.

  2. Drizzle a little olive oil into the Insta Pot, then press the Saute button. Brown the chicken (breast side down) until golden, about 5-7 minutes. Flip and brown 3-5 minutes more. Pour chicken broth into the Insta Pot. Cover, seal the lid, and twist the vent toward ‘sealing’. Set to Manual High Pressure for 25 minutes.

  3. Allow to depressurize naturally, about 15 minutes. Once the floating valve drops, twist the venting knob to allow any last pressure to escape. Remove the lid and transfer chicken to a serving platter.

  4. For Slow Cooker: Place in a slow cooker and cook on Low for 6-8 hours.

  5. For Oven: Bake at 250 degrees F (120 degrees C) for 5 hours or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 180 degrees F (82 degrees C).

References

http://www.kichme.com/recipes/5-ingredient-insta-pot-rotisserie-chicken

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About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.

The Kitchen Witch

January, 2018

Bountiful Beef Salad

I eat salad every day. Usually for lunch, but sometimes for dinner, my salads are small meals in and of themselves. My base salad is a bowl of mixed greens, sliced red onion or Vidalia, slices of seedless cucumber, garbanzo beans and chunks of cheese – usually sharp New York State Cheddar, but sometimes Colby-Jack or Swiss. Depending on what I have on hand, I may add chunked or sliced tomatoes, salad shrimp, pieces of cooked chicken, ham or turkey, albacore tuna, avocado, sliced green pepper, celery, carrot or whatever other strikes my fancy.

One thing I always thought was strange – you see salads with almost every kind of meat on them but very rarely a salad with beef. I suppose souvlaki is a kind of salad with beef on it – or lamb – but generally, salads just don’t come with red meat on them.

Until I heard of “Bountiful Beef Salad”. It was back in the days of AOL – perhaps you remember when AOL was the big thing on the internet – the chat rooms and the screen names – I had several screen names, including “Saladqueen999” and “luvapl40” – and I eagerly joined recipe clubs, along with so many other groups that are now defunct. But I still have the recipes that I printed out. “Bountiful Beef Salad” is one of these.

As usual, get out your ingredients before you start.

I have to confess, I didn’t have the exact ingredients as listed in the recipe but I have never let that stop me from making a dish if I wanted it – and salads are easily changed to conform to what you have on hand. I have to say that I did miss the avocado but it was a delicious salad so don’t let the lack of an item get in the way of making this!

Just put it together. Make a nice base of salad greens first.

Then add the rest of your vegetables. I’m not particularly anal about this, but generally I add the onions, then the cukes, then the tomatoes, but sometimes I mix up the order. I don’t want to get too OCD about it!

The beef I used was from a leftover round roast I had a few days ago with my son. This is actually the fifth meal I made from the leftover meat! I rarely eat red meat anymore but when I do, I make it last! This salad works with leftover roast meat or with steak – it’s really good with grilled steak. The charred meat is an excellent counterpoint to the crisp greens and sweet tomatoes. Whatever kind of red meat you use, make sure it is sliced very thin

I had a hard-boiled egg, so I added that and some chunked swiss cheese.

k

And then the topping – Thousand Island dressing. You can use whatever dressing you like, of course but Thousand Island dressing really makes this salad! And it was what called for in the original recipe.

Here’s the original recipe:

Bountiful Beef Salad

½ pound cooked roast beef

2 tomatoes, sliced

1 avocado, peeled & sliced

3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced

¼ cup red onion rings

1 10-ounce package mixed salad greens, washed & dried

Thousand Island Dressing

Arrange meat, tomatoes, avocado, eggs & onion over the greens on a platter. Serve with the Thousand Island dressing. Serves 4.

As you can tell, I did tweak the recipe just a bit, since I was only serving myself and I didn’t have any avocado on this particular day and I used a Vidalia onion instead of the red onion called for in the recipe. And I added chunks of Swiss cheese. But these are small changes.

This is a wonderful main-dish salad that is great for lunch and wonderful for dinner, especially if you accompany it with a creamy mushroom soup and some crusty bread. All you need is the beverage of your choice and viola! Meal magic!

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About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.

The Kitchen Witch

December, 2017

Mexican Wedding Cakes

When it comes to holiday cookies, Mexican Wedding Cakes are among my very favorites. I do have to admit – I only eat the ones that I make myself. The reason is this – I use my mother’s recipe and her recipe is the only one that has honey in it. Every other recipe for this little snowball of a cookie omits this important ingredient and the result is a dry, crumbly cookie. I know people who hate Mexican Wedding Cakes and refuse to eat them because they’re like eating “rolled up dust and nuts,” as one of my boyfriends once complained.

But these cookies will melt in your mouth and your guests will beg you for the recipe.

You only need seven ingredients: soft butter, honey, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, flour, and chopped nuts.

 

Place the butter in a large bowl and cream it well.

 

Then you add the honey and you mix it well. I use an organic honey made from wild flowers that I bought at a farmer’s market and it smelled HEAVENLY.

After that, add the confectioner’s sugar. It’s a good idea – if you have the equipment – to sift the sugar before adding it to the creamed butter and honey mixture. It’ll make mixing it in and making a uniform creamed unit that much easier.

 

Don’t forget to add the vanilla! I forget it all the time and have to add it at the end.

Sift and add the flour. I add a little at a time to make it easier to mix in. It seems dry but if you mix it well, it should have the consistency of Scottish Short Bread.

You have to chop the nuts very fine. I used to have a food processor but I gave it to my son so I did it the old-fashioned way, with a cutting board and knife, which seems more witchy anyway. I prefer pecans but I used walnuts this time because I was on a short budget. Either one works fine.

After mixing in the nuts, put the dough into a container and chill it at least six hours. I usually put it in the fridge and go back to it the next day. There’s always something else I need to do.

Raw dough alert: this dough tastes AWESOME. If you are the kind of person who eats raw dough, it’s really easy to end up with half or less the amount of cookies you’re supposed to have. And there’s no eggs to worry about. So be warned.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375. Roll the cookies into little balls about the size of small walnuts. Depending on the size of your pan, you can bake twelve to fifteen cookies on each pan.

Bake them for ten to twelve minutes, depending on your oven. You want the bottoms to be lightly browned and the rest of the cookie to be golden. When you take the cookie tray out of the oven, let it set for a minute before taking the cookies off the pan or else they will crumble into yummy pieces of cookiness and you’ll be forced to eat them.

While they are still warm, roll them in a bowl of confectioner’s sugar. Again, be very careful – these are fragile cookies! I usually set a paper underneath the cooling rack to collect any sugar that falls off to make clean-up easier.

When they cool, roll them in confectioner’s once again. Sometimes I add a few sprinkles of red crystals so that some of the cookies have a more festive look. These cookies keep really well if you put them in an air-tight container.

So try this recipe! I guarantee – you will never go back to whatever Mexican Wedding Cake recipe you were using before! And please – have a wonderful Yule season! Brightest Blessings!

 

My Mother’s Recipe for Mexican Wedding Cakes

Cream together: 1 cup soft butter

2 tablespoons honey

½ cup sifted confectioner’s sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Add: 2 ¼ cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

Mix in: ¾ finely chopped walnuts or pecans

Chill dough at least 6 hours.

Preheat oven to 375. Roll dough into balls the size of small walnuts. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until bottoms are lightly brown & cookies are golden overall.

Let sit a minute after taking out of the oven. Roll in confectioner’s sugar and again when they have cooled. Makes 2 dozen cookies.

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About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.

Notes from the Apothecary

November, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Nasturtium

 

 

My seven year old suggested this beautiful flower for November’s Apothecary notes. He planted some seeds towards the end of summer, and despite us worrying that it was a little late for our reasonably cool climate, they flourished, and I have seen many more across my home town this month, trailing out of gardens like fire tipped vines.

 

Confusingly, the Latin name nasturtium refers to a type of watercress. Whilst delicious, I am going to ignore the watercress in favour of tropaeolum, the plant we commonly refer to as nasturtium. The plant originated in South America, and was imported to Mediterranean Europe at least as early as the 16th century, although there are some anecdotes about the round, shield-like leaves being used on trophy poles in Roman times, which would indicate it left South America much earlier than the 16th Century.

 

The Kitchen Garden

There are about 80 species of nasturtium, but for our purposes I’m going to concentrate mainly on tropaeolum majus, the species most people will have in their gardens with the round, plate like leaves and bright yellow, orange or red flowers that start with a funnel flaring out into five, flat petals. The joyous thing about this plant is it is entirely edible. The leaves and flowers can both be eaten raw, and have a slightly peppery taste, which is similar to rocket or indeed the watercress that gives the plant its common name. The seed pods can be pickled, and have been likened to capers when used in this way.

 

For those who grow their own veg and herbs, plant some nasturtiums alongside your plot, as they will help keep away some pests, and even encourage ‘good’ predators, such as ladybirds, who will eat aphids and help keep your crops healthy. Also, cabbage white butterfly caterpillars love nasturtium, and the butterflies will often lay their eggs on the nasturtiums and ignore the cabbage plants; a behaviour which can be of enormous benefit to gardeners and farmers.

 

The Apothecary

 

 

The flowers are relatively high in vitamin C, yielding about the same amount as parsley but with much more dramatic presentation! Vitamin C is great for boosting the immune system and is necessary for cellular repair.

 

Older remedies include mixing nasturtium with flax and honey, to remove pitted nails. (Dioscorides, Materia Medica). Mrs Grieve discusses the benefits of the oils of watercress, which are similar to what she refers to as the ‘true’ nasturtium, or Indian cress. She advises these oils can be used for promoting appetite, cleansing spots or blemishes on the face, and as an antiscorbutic; a food to prevent scurvy, which is backed up by the high content of vitamin C in the flowers.

 

The plant has also been indicated as a tonic for urinary tract infections, coughs and chest problems and as a mild antiseptic.

 

The Lab

Some green veg, yellow carrots, and eggs contain a substance called lutein, which may have a function in maintaining healthy eyes. The humble nasturtium (the species with yellow flowers) stands alone in this field of research, as having the highest yield of lutein of any edible plant that we are aware of currently. This is an amazing fact, and if more research is done into the benefits of lutein in humans, the nasturtium could end up being a very important medical plant indeed.

 

The Witch’s Kitchen

The nasturtium is an extremely hardy plant, putting up with dry soil or soaking conditions, and even surviving altitudes of over 10000 feet. The roots live through freezing winters even when the leaves and flowers die away. This plant represents ‘toughing it out’; storing up your energy reserves for when they’re needed and biding your time. They are the knowledge that sometimes we face setbacks, and that’s OK. It’s OK to fall back, regroup, re-plan or approach a difficult problem from another angle. They also represent tenacity, wilfulness, and never giving up, all associated with the element of fire which is often attributed to this plant with its glowing, sun-like flowers.

 

The associations with sun can be drawn out in many ways; for example, you could leave these flowers as an offering for Lugh, the Celtic god with the shining visage who is often seen as a sun god. He is also a master of all trades and skills, from martial arts to music, so the nasturtium here becomes a symbol of versatility and prowess.

 

Experiment with the flower, and the leaves, and see how they speak to you. Remember, the leaves and flowers will fade and wilt once picked, so time your plant-picking so you can use the parts as soon as possible.

 

Making a meal with the nasturtiums can be a magical affair, using the flowers to bring the warmth of the sun into your meals, and the leaves to bring a peppery spice which also speaks to us of fire, heat and the passions of creativity and love. Focus on your intent whilst cooking or preparing your dishes, or murmur blessings over the meal as you decorate it with the glorious flowers.

 

Home and Hearth

Nasturtium flowers make a great addition to the south of your sacred space or altar, especially at this time of year between autumn and winter, when other bright flowers may be less available. The flowers can be pressed or dried, and used as a permanent representation of the sun to last you throughout the winter. You could keep one of the orange flowers between the pages of a journal, and use it as a focus for meditation, which is particularly useful for those who suffer from seasonal adjustment disorder, to remind yourself of the returning spring and that there is colour and brightness even in the darkest months.

 

The leaves grow on long creepers, and although they are not evergreen, if collected before they wilt, you can use these creepers much like ivy to decorate your house or magical areas; a symbol of the green that lives even in the depth of winter. Nasturtium leaves have the added bonus that as well as being decorative, you can chuck them in a salad and eat them!

 

I Never Knew…

The nasturtium is actually a brassica, just like cabbage!

 

*Image credits: Wikipedia

 

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About the Author:

 

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

For Amazon information, click images below.

 

 

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

 

Notes from the Apothecary

October, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Pumpkin

 

 

It’s that magical time of year again, where anything that can be fragranced or flavoured seems to take on the aroma of a combination of vanilla and pumpkin, with the emphasis on the sweetness of this gorgeous gourd. But why do we revere the pumpkin at this time of year? The answer comes from Irish Celtic history, and the seasonal nature of the fruit (yes, it’s a fruit!) itself.

 

The Kitchen Garden

Although the pumpkin, like other squashes, originated in North America, it can now be found all over the world. It’s classed as a ‘winter squash’ due to the fruits ripening around autumn and winter time. This is one of the main reasons it is so widely in use throughout Samhain and into the Thanksgiving and Christmas/Yule periods.

 

The fabulous thing about pumpkins is that so much of the plant is edible. You have probably eaten the flesh at some point, either in pies, soup or puddings. You may even have eaten pumpkin seeds, which are tasty roasted and salted or used in baked goods such as bread. But did you know you can even eat the flowers of pumpkins? The only downside to this is, if you eat a pumpkin flower, it cannot then be pollinated and grow into a pumpkin!

 

In Korea and some parts of Africa, even the leaves are eaten. In Zambia, they are boiled and mixed with groundnut paste.

 

Pumpkin is great in sweet or savoury food, and can be combined with other squashes easily. A touch of chilli adds a fiery zing, and other warming spices such as cinnamon transform a very earthy plant into a symbol of fire.

 

Growing pumpkins requires a good bit of space, and although you can start them off indoors, they really need moving outside onto a large pile of compost where they can spread out. We only grow our squashes on the allotment, as there simply isn’t room in the garden; not if we want to have space for anything else!

 

The Apothecary

Because the pumpkin was only discovered upon the exploration of North America, some of the older herbals don’t cover it in great depth. In Mrs Grieves’ Modern , she lumps the pumpkin in with watermelon, although she does clearly state that it is a very different plant. She says the pumpkin is sometimes known as the melon pumpkin, or ‘millions’; a term which has certainly gone out of fashion today.

 

She states that in combination with other seeds such as melon, cucumber and gourd (Grieves cites this as cucurbita maxima, a south American squash), an emulsion can be formed which is effective for catarrh, bowel problems and fever. She also tells us that melon and pumpkin seeds are good worm remedies, even for tapeworm.

 

For our furry friends, high-fibre pumpkin can be added to the diet of cats or dogs to aid digestion. It is also sometimes fed to poultry to keep up egg production during the colder months. Always speak to your vet before changing your pet’s or livestock’s diet.

 

The Witch’s Kitchen

 

 

Pumpkins appear throughout folklore and fairy tales, often in themes of transformation. Think of Cinderella, whisked off to her ball in a coach which only a few minutes before was a giant pumpkin. The pumpkin is a symbol of our hearts’ desires, travelling towards our goals and the transformation of dreams into reality.

 

We mustn’t forget that the coach turned back into the pumpkin at midnight! This reminds us to enjoy what we have while we have it, to grasp the opportunities in front of us as we never know when they might disappear.

 

A piece of pumpkin or pumpkin seeds on your altar represents autumn moving into winter, the final harvest and goals of self-sufficiency; whether literally through living off the land and growing your own food, or through honing your passion into a craft that can support you.

 

I will have pumpkin seeds at north in my sacred space, to remind me of all the ‘seeds’ I have planted this year which I hope will grow into greater things even through the cold months; ideas for songs and poems, research into my ‘magical birds’ book, and plans to save money in preparation for our new baby. These are my seeds, and I need to nurture them. Just like the pumpkin, they need care, attention and feeding! Pumpkins need compost, sunshine and water, whereas my ideas need hard work, time and commitment.

 

Home and Hearth

The archetypal ‘Jack O’ Lantern’ most likely comes from the Irish and Scottish Celts, who would have carved a face into a turnip or swede, placed a light within and used this as an amulet to ward off evil spirits, or possibly as a guiding light for ancestral or guardian spirits. When colonists came to America carrying these traditions with them, they found the larger and softer pumpkin; a much better vehicle for the carved totems! And so the pumpkin became the new guiding light of Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve and eventually, Hallowe’en.

 

It’s only the seeds that you need to remove from a pumpkin in order to leave a space for the light inside, and you can keep a few of these seeds to try and cultivate your own plants next year. If you are able to do this (and I appreciate not everyone has the space to grow a pumpkin plant- they are quite large!) this will create a cyclical connection between this year’s and next year’s magic, cementing continuity and your own connection to the turning season.

 

If this simply isn’t practical, keep a few of the seeds on your altar or in a sacred space, as a reminder of the different stages of life reflected in the changing seasons.

 

If you scrape some of the flesh out as well as the seeds, keep this and cook with it at Samhain. You are making the most of your pumpkin, using as much of it as you can to avoid waste, and you are connecting your magical lantern to your Samhain feasting.

 

The lantern can be placed in a window, or on a doorstep if it is safe to do so. If you use a naked flame such as a candle or tealight, please be aware of animals and children, especially during trick-or-treating! The last thing you want is some small child setting themselves on fire or spilling hot wax on themselves. A great alternative is one of those LED candles which you can now pick up very cheaply.

 

 

 

 

The lantern guards your space, keeping away unwanted visitors, and guiding your ancestral spirits to where they need to be, including back beyond the veil once the period of Samhain has passed.

 

I Never Knew…

The word ‘pumpkin’ originates from the Greek word pepon, which means ‘large melon’, which may explain how it sometimes ends up under the melon section in older herbals!

 

Image credits: Pumpkins Hancock Shaker Village, public domain; Photograph of a homegrown pumpkin species, “Atlantic Giant”, (cucurbita maxima), copyright Ude 2009 via Wikimedia; Nathan looking at Jack O’ Lantern display in Benalmadena, copyright 2016 Mabh Savage.

 

***

 

About the Author:

 

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

 

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

 


 

Positively Pumpkin

September, 2017

 

It’s easy to feel swamped by pumpkin everything in the autumnal landscape but pumpkin to some of us is quite a modern thing.

 

 


While there were definitely pumpkins for sale in my childhood they were expensive and certainly not the size and multitude they seemed to be in the US. No we had turnips (which is as exciting as it sounds) and last year I thought I’d carve one to honour the ancient Irish tradition. I was even using Dremel and it was still a nightmare! It fought me the whole time, it refused, it spewed gross out me, it was a serious fight and took me 3 hours over 2 days to carve one! I swore never again, but as the pumpkins rotted away within weeks to a sticky stinky paste my turnip hanging up shriveled and look, well a like severed head. In fact it hung out through rain, rain and some frost all the way until Beltane!

 


I haven’t sworn off pumpkins (though many Brits still are not sold on them) I do have the advantage that I got gifted a load of canned pumpkin.

 


Again pumpkin pie isn’t really big in the U.K. at Samhain time. That said, I like it a lot. However I think it’s much under-rated in sweet and my personal preference, savoury food. You can eat the pumpkins for sale around Halloween, though they are breed to look pretty not taste good you can wash and slice, steam or roast them up a treat. You can wash and dry the seeds and toast them and eat them too! Where I give measurements of pumpkin, I’ll be using mostly canned because I have it but you can always use fresh cooked pumpkin.

 

 

 

In the U.K. we use a lot of dried fruit. The reason for this is natural dried fruit has a high sugar content and was used to sweeten before mass produced sugars were available. Things like spices and raisins were also medicinal. Often used to add warmth into the body living in a rather cold, damp and windy climate. This is why treacles (molasses) and dried fruit are common in everything from bara brith (a Welsh sweet bread loaf) Christmas puddings, Christmas cake and mince pies. Molasses is also known for its medicinal properties being as it is high in iron, B vitamins and Magnesium. Many sweet treats were a way to get these health benefits into children who might refuse otherwise. Parkin is a traditional sweet treat from the wet and windy areas of Northern Britain, eaten around the Autumnal time of year. It has more treacle than my pumpkin recipe, and more ginger but I wanted to have that smoky warming quality in my bread. I also added white chocolate and dark chocolate chips because again our British palette prefers less sugar and I didn’t want to make a loaf you wouldn’t want to eat! I also had to get the giant bag of chocolate chips out of the cupboard to reach the flour and stuff and it seemed rude not to! You could leave out the chocolate and use dried fruit soaked in something boozey, like a rum or brandy or strong black tea. This recipe makes two regular loaves.

 

 

 

Spiced Pumpkin Bread (Sweet)


Much like banana bread you can use this batter to make muffin shapes should you desire, you’ll need to adjust the cooking times accordingly.


1 can of pumpkin
115 grams of butter or replacement
3 eggs (or 2 large duck eggs)
250 grams golden granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp fine salt
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp allspice
230 grams self-raising flour
1 tbsp. rye flour
1 tbsp. treacle (molasses)
¼ cup white chocolate chips
¼ cup dark chocolate chips.

 

I creamed my butter and sugar together and beat with a balloon whisk (feel free to use a mixer) and add my spices. Adding your spices to your fats allows the essential oils naturally within them and flavours to develop more deeply. I added my pumpkin puree and eggs one at a time. I then added the treacle.


In a separate bowl I mixed my salt, flours and baking powder whisking to aerate and remove lumps. Then slowly folded with a spatula into the wet mix. I wanted to give a nod to Parkin’s rich nutty flavour without adding fine oat meal to the mix, which is why I add the rye flour. This again is very high in iron and B vitamins but it also gives a really great depth. This gives the loaf a deeper darker flavour to it.
I then gently mixed in my chocolate chips and dived the mix between two greased loaf pans.


I then put them into a pre-heated oven at about 180 C for thirty minutes or until a tooth pick comes out cleanly.


Shoo away your children and partners until cool enough to cut sensibly. Great as a desert alone or cold with sharp Cheddar cheese. It should last well if kept in a cake tin or airtight container for about a week, but good luck with that!

The Kitchen Witch

September, 2017

Harvest Stir-Fry with Shrimp

 

     If you are like me, you either make too much pasta or not enough. Generally, I err on the side of too much. So I often use leftover pasta in stir-fries. Pasta reheats fabulously in the stir-fry pan, and absorbs the flavors of the cooking oil, vegetables and other seasonings.

     The other day, I went to the farmer’s market in Downtown Buffalo. I bought these wonderful purple and pale green peppers, as well as cherry tomatoes and zucchini. I decided to use them in the stir-fry with the leftover pasta. I also had onion and shrimp.

Here is the recipe and how you prepare this yummy stir-fry:

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium zucchini, cubed (about 1 cup)

1 purple pepper, diced (about ½ cup)

1 pale green pepper, diced (about ½ cup)

¼ cup diced red onion

13-15 cherry tomatoes, halved

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

2 cups leftover pasta, broken into pieces

¼ cup white wine or chicken broth

10-12 medium cooked frozen shrimp, thawed, with tailed removed

Fresh parsley and basil to taste.

     Heat the olive oil in a heavy cast iron pan or wok until just about smoking. Add the vegetables and toss in the hot oil. Season with salt and pepper and keep moving in the oil. Add the leftover pasta and stir it in well. Add the white wine or the chicken broth, stirring well. Add the shrimp, then the parsley and basil. Toss a final time and serve. With a salad, this is a perfect light dinner for two people.

Enjoy! BB!

The Kitchen Witch

August, 2017

Sauteed Zucchini with Onions and Mushrooms

 

Since my last posting, I have moved into a new home and I finally have a real kitchen again! It’s so nice to have counter space and storage space! I am still getting settled but I have lots of plans for magical meals and witchy ways to make your culinary life more charming.

It’s the height of the summer harvest season and everywhere you look, there’s zucchini! Your garden is overflowing with the bountiful green squash, at work, your co-workers bring in extras from their gardens, every farmer’s market has baskets filled to the brim with zucchini and summer squash both.

There are literally hundreds of zucchini recipes – from stuffed baked zucchini to pickled zucchini to zucchini salad to zucchini bread – and every one of those has a dozen subsets of recipes – honestly, you could make a zucchini dish every day of the year and never repeat yourself. There’s even a mock apple pie recipe using zucchini – which I have never made – but it tastes like the real deal. All you need is vanilla ice cream.

One of my favorite ways to use zucchini is to saute it with onions and mushrooms. This is a recipe I got from my mother. Of course – like so many of her recipes – it’s not actually a recipe at all – it’s just something that she did. I learned how to make this simply by watching her do it.

It’s wicked simple. All you need is:

1 to 2 tablespoons of butter &/or olive oil &/or a mixture of both

1 or 2 zucchinis or a zucchini and a summer squash

1 small onion or half a large one, sliced

2 cups sliced mushrooms

¼ cup white wine

Sea salt & freshly crushed black pepper to taste

You start by melting some butter in a pan – or heating some olive oil – whatever your preference is – I use a mixture of the two. While this is happening, slice your zucchini. I generally use a mixture of zucchini and summer squash, because I like the look of green and yellow in the pan. Slice your onions and if your mushrooms need slicing, do them as well.

Toss all of the vegetables into the bubbling butter-oil mix and saute until just tender-crisp. Add the white wine and stir until it cooks off. Season with sea salt and freshly crushed pepper and serve.

This is a great side dish to any meat or fish. You can also put it on top of pasta or rice for a vegetarian meal.

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