Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunday Leftovers - Protective Onion and Leek Quiche

I was going to write a bit more about the leek and onion quiche yesterday, but I ended up getting abducted by a horde of drunken Turks instead. Actually, no, that isn't true. This time I willingly traveled to them,instead of having them come to Sariyer to whisk me away. I had a nice little trip to the Asian side of the city on a ferry. I love how I can use a ferry or sea bus to travel from one part of this city to another!

Anywho, back to the quiche. According to Cunningham's Wicca in the Kitchen, eggs have also been used for protection. In Egypt, eggs were held in the hand while reciting protective chants. The Egyptians also consumed a diet heavy in beer, bread and onions, so in a rather roundabout way, this recipe could be used in honor of the ancient Egyptians, I suppose. Heck, why not. Get creative! Quiche is also an appropriate food for Beltain.

I took some pictures of the process but my camera isn't that great. I'm afraid you'll have to suffer through my mediocre attempts at photography.

Pate Brisee (That's crust, y'all)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup chilled shortening, cut into small cubes
1/4 - 1/2 cup ice water

If you have a food processor, this crust is super easy to put together. Put the flour, salt and fat (mmmm....two kinds of fat) into the food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the ice water a few tablespoonfuls at a time, pulsing in between. To test, pinch a little bit of the dough together. If it sticks together and isn't crumbly, it's ready.

Turn the mixture out onto a board or table and gather into a ball. Flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for an hour.

After an hour, divide the dough into two pieces. (I actually used the whole thing for my 10-inch dish. The crust was a little thicker, which is how I like it.) Using a floured rolling pin and a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out into circles about 1/4 or 1/3-inch thick. Place in a buttered pie plate and poke holes all over the bottom. This will let steam escape and keep the pastry from being puffy.

Heat the oven to 375. Put a buttered piece of foil or parchment into the bottom of the crust and weigh it down with a handful of beans or a couple handfuls of rice. You can buy an expensive pie weight if you wish, but you probably have extra rice or dried beans lying around the house. You can't eat the beans or rice after, but you can store these items in a jar and reuse for future crusts.

Bake for 10-15 minutes.


While the pastry was busy chilling, I started making my filling. I used:

2 leeks, split down the middle and sliced into thin rings **
1 1/2 white onions, thinly sliced
1 - 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
4 eggs
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper to taste

**Note on leeks: Leeks are notorious for being hard to clean. I find that the easiest way to get rid of the deep-down grit is to split them down the middle and slice them into the pieces I want to use. I discard the tough green tops. Then, put the slices into a bowl of water. The leeks will float and after a few minutes, all the grit will sink to the bottom. Use a strainer to scoop out your clean leeks.

Melt the butter in a skillet and add the onions and leeks. Cook on low, low heat until the leeks and onions have caramelized. The smell is just fantastic! They will become soft and brown and beautiful. Season with salt and pepper.

While I was cooking the veggies, I envisioned them releasing their protective energy. I sort of "smudged" myself with onion vapor. Yum. :)

When the crust has blind baked for a while, remove it and remove your homemade pie weight. Spread the onion and leek mixture onto the bottom. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream. Add salt and pepper. Pour over the leeks and onions and pop into the oven. Bake until set.

I didn't notice exactly how long mine baked. It seemed as though it were perfectly set after 15 minutes or so. Maybe it was because I had the oven on for a while. Whatever the reason, it baked quickly and was soon firm and lightly brown on top and OMFG delicious.

I served it with simple spinach, lightly sauteed with a smidge of butter, 2 small cloves of garlic, and a grating of fresh nutmeg. It was a truly decadent, delicious meal.

B.C. - Before Caramelization

Go ahead. Put your nose to the monitor and sniff. I won't tell!

Butter adds flavor and makes a flakey crust. Shortening makes it super tender.

I couldn't resist a light sprinkling of Parmesan.

I obviously need better lighting in my kitchen...

Sometimes you just have to take care of yourself. :)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ah, Sunday

I'm off tomorrow too! As most of the population of this country is Muslim, our holiday calendar is a bit different. We've been off since Thursday for Kurban Bayram, the sacrifice holiday. Today I gave my kitchen a thorough scrubbing and burned some rosemary for extra cleansing. Now I'm drinking some Turkish coffee (I'm still trying to prepare it just right. I'm getting better!). I think I will make a leek and onion quiche for dinner.

It rained earlier today but now the sun is out and the sky is a light blue, decorated with a few scruffy clouds. I'm sitting my apartment listening to the 100 greatest hits of 1986 and enjoying the hum of the dryer.

The leek and onion quiche is today's protective magic recipe. Leeks and onions are both ruled by Mars and their element is fire, making them excellent protective foods. They may not be ruled by the Sun, but fire-ruled ingredients will make a nice dish for Sun-day.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Leftover Magic

Thanksgiving leftovers? Never fear, the kitchen witch is here! I wasn’t able to enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving feast this year, but I am still here with ways for you to use up some of the leftover food you may have, and stir up some witchin’ in the kitchen to boot.

The following soup is just the thing to lift you out of the post-Thanksgiving slump. In fact, it’s good for helping lift you out of the winter doldrums, so it’s a good one to hang on to until spring. Plus, being a spicy soup, it’s good not only for warming and protection, but you can also serve it at Imbolc.

Curried Pumpkin Soup

First, let’s talk about that pumpkin. As we have discussed before, this is an excellent symbol of the harvest. Its round shape represents fertility and abundance. The seeds are also symbols of fertility and can be toasted and eaten, or dried and marked with runes for divination. If you like to do things the slower way, maybe you’ve purchased a pumpkin and roasted it yourself. If so, good for you. Roasting the pumpkin intensifies the flavor and brings out a lovely sweetness. If you’re short on time, however, canned or raw pumpkin will work just as well. This recipe is partially about the spice.

2 medium onions, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ tablespoons fresh ginger, finely minced or grated
1 hot red chili, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 ½ cups pumpkin (used canned or roasted, whichever you have)
3 cups water
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth
1 14-oz can coconut milk
3 tablespoons butter or oil
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, melt butter and cook onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, chili, and spices. Stir to coat everything with the spice mixture and cook 2 more minutes.

Add the pumpkin, water and broth and simmer, covered for about 30 minutes. Add the coconut milk and continue simmering for another 5-10 minutes. Puree the soup in batches in your blender or use a stick immersion blender to blend until smooth and creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve hot. Soup can be thinned with a little extra water or stock if it’s too thick for your liking.

Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro leaves if desired.

Not in the mood for soup? You can also turn this into a satisfying, chunky curry to serve over rice. Use cubes of roasted pumpkin instead of canned, and omit the water and stock, keeping the coconut milk.

Dark Goddess Series, Pt. IV - The Callieach

Picture is from from The Goddess Oracle and is the property of Thalia Took (www.thaliatook.com).

The Cailleach, or Veiled Woman, is a Celtic hag goddess, associated with places in Scotland and the Isle of Man. There she is seen as a winter spirit, whose behavior on February 1 predicts the weather for the coming year. In other lore she is the symbol of winter that holds spring captive, by keeping Brigid prisoner inside a mountain. Upon her escape, spring returns.

Other lore features The Cailleach Bhéirre as a hideous old woman in search of love. If she finds love, she turns into a beautiful woman.

Druidry.org has this to say: “The early Celts savored the dark side of life. They embraced war like a lover, plunging into battle naked, singing gloriously boastful songs. They were fearless in the face of death, which their belief in reincarnation taught them was “…but the center of a long life.” It was not uncommon for a man to lend money and agree on repayment in a future lifetime. Their day began at dusk; the new year at Samhain, the festival we know as Halloween. Darkness was associated with new beginnings, the potential of the seed below the ground. In Celtic mythology and folk-lore, the wisdom of darkness is often expressed by powerful goddess figures. Whether in the natural, cultural or individual context, their role is to catalyze change through the transformative power of darkness, to lead through death into new life. A Dark Goddess of nature, particularly in Scotland, is the Cailleach, a name that came to mean “Old Wife”, but which is literally, “Veiled One,” an epithet often applied to those who belong to hidden worlds. To this name is often added Bheur: ‘sharp’ or ‘shrill’, for she personifies the cutting winds and harshness of the northern winter. She was also known as the daughter of Grianan, the “little sun” which in the old Scottish calendar shines from Hallowmas to Candlemas, followed by the “big sun” of the summer months.”

She is depicted as a crone with the teeth of a wild bear and/or the tusks of a wild boar, or she is seen as a one-eyed giantess. Her appearance, frightful as it sounds, makes sense, as she is the guardian spirit of reindeer, swine, deer, wild cattle, goats and wolves.

On November 1, a festival known as 'Reign of the Old Woman Cailleach' is celebrated annually in the Celtic countries (in Ireland it is known as 'Day of the Banshees'). ‘The End of Cailleach’ is also observed. It is held on the eve of Imbolc (Jan. 31 or Feb. 1), This fest signals the start of Imbolc and the end of winter.

Thalia Took, author and artist of the incredibly gorgeous Goddess Oracle Deck, says this about The Cailleach: “ Getting the Cailleach in a reading indicates a time of winter. Peer into the darkness to find the old and ancient bones. What do they cage? What new thing can they support? Is the Cailleach holding beautiful Spring captive, or will time transform the Hag into Spring Herself?”

What does this mean? Again, this is another goddess telling us to take time to look deep within, to face our darkest fears and realize our darkest desires. Only then can we begin to grow and flourish. We must first face the darkness of winter before we can bask in the light of the spring.

To observe The End of Cailleach at the end of January/beginning of February, prepare an altar or table with a bowl of snow (or freezer frost!) as a symbol of Cailleach. You can place candles around the bowl or in the bowl. Use red, orange, and yellow candles to welcome the sun. You can do this before your Imbolc ritual, or find a way of combining the two if you so choose. For Cailleach, I would use ice blue and dark blue candles, as well as black and white. Give thanks for the time of introspection, as well as the gift of life during the long, cold winter. Give thanks for the release of Brigid, so spring can come.

Root vegetables
Irish soda bread
Preserved meat, such as ham

Roasted Winter Vegetable Soup (Zedral Z)
1 small winter squash, peeled, seeded, cut into chunks
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
2 gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, or ½ teaspoon dried
4 tablespoons oil (olive, Canola, etc.)
Salt and pepper to taste
Homemade vegetable or chicken stock (or store bought), or water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In an oiled roasting dish, combine the vegetables. Toss with oil, rosemary and salt and pepper. Roast for 40-50 minutes, until vegetables are fork-tender and the flavor has intensified.

From here you can either transfer the vegetables to a soup pot with 5-6 cups of warm stock and puree with a hand mixer, or use a blender to puree the vegetables and broth together in a blender. You may reserve some of the chunks of potato, carrot and squash for the soup, or puree it all until smooth. Reheat gently.

Irish Soda Bread - recipe from Cooking by the Seasons by Karri Ann Allrich

2 cups unbleached all-purpose (AP) flour
4 tablespoons (T) sugar
1 teaspoon (t) baking powder
½ t baking soda
½ t sea salt
1 cup currants
1 T caraway seeds
1 free-range egg
½ cup canola oil or melted stick margarine
2/3 cup milk or almond milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a round cake pan with stick margarine. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, currants, and caraway seeds. Whisk together. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, and milk. Pour into the dry ingredients and combine with a wooden spoon, until moistened. Batter will be a bit sticky.

Mound the batter onto the pan, forming a rounded-shape loaf in the center of the pan. Smooth out the surface as best you can. With a sharp knife, cut an equal-sized cross into the center-top surface, about ½ inch deep, and sprinkle lightly with flour.

Bake on the center rack for 25-30 minutes, until the loaf is a golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Place on a wire rack and cool before serving.

Cut the bread into wedges and serve in a basket, with plenty of butter or margarine.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dark Goddess Series, Part III: Hecate

I know I'm a bit late for the Night of Hecate but I've been very busy at work. Please accept this slightly late post and know that you can certainly honor Hecate at any time. :)

Who is Hecate? Today’s Witches and Pagans associate her with the crossroads, magic, witchcraft, and ghosts. She has also been associated with everything from childbirth to dogs. During the Hellenistic period she was depicted as a three-faced woman. The earliest depictions of Hecate, however, were of a single-faced goddess. Some neo-Pagans refer to her as a crone goddess, although this conflicts with her former characterization as a virgin.

Hecate was a pre-Olympian goddess, the only Titan Zeus allowed to retain any authority once the Olympians took over. Often classified as a moon goddess, Hecate actually reigned over the earth, sea and sky. Her ability to create storms or to hold them back made her the protector of sailors and shepherds.

Like her cousin, Artemis, Hecate retained her independence and solitude, remaining unwilling to give up this independent nature for the sake of marriage.

Another similarity between the two goddesses is the presence of sacred dogs, although the dogs, much like Hecate herself, were thought to each have three heads and the ability to see in all directions at once (and even the past, present and future). Hecate is depicted as either a beautiful woman with three heads, or a woman with the heads of a snake, a boar, and a horse.

Hecate became Persephone’s friend and confidant during the latter’s time in the Underworld. Her ability to see into the Underworld made her comfortable in the presence of those who would normally be shunned by others. Her friendliness toward Persephone gained her a permanent invitation to Underworld from Hades.

Hecate was not only called upon to help ease a mother’s labor and to aid her child’s transition into this world, but she was also called upon to help the dying make their journey. Hecate is there to help us when we have a journey to make. She waits at the crossroads, waiting to help us find our way.

Now that you have a tiny bit of background information on Hecate (and there is so, so much more that could be said, believe me!), it is time to think about how to honor her in the most sacred room of the home: the kitchen.

The first step is to thoroughly clean the kitchen. Scrub the grease off the stovetop, wash and put away the dishes, sweep and mop the floor, and take out that smelly trash! Next, spiritually cleanse the area.

Rosemary is one of those all-purpose herbs and can be used for protection and cleansing as well as remembrance and love. However, it is ruled by the sun, and as Hecate is a moon goddess, you may wish to find something a bit closer to the cool, silvery energy of the moon. Cleanse the area with sage, which is more traditional, and light candles of black, white and silver. Welcome Hecate into your home in the way you deem fit. If you need help finding your way, or have something you wish to be rid of, ask for her assistance. Again, you the words that you deem appropriate.

Some suitable offerings for Hecate are moon foods: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, coconut, lemon, lentils, melon, milk, mushrooms, potatoes, and pumpkins.

Some ideas (recipes provided upon request):
Lentil salad with lemon and cucumbers
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Potato-cauliflower soup
Potato-mushroom gratin
Pumpkin soup

Another suggestion is to leave some food outside for stray neighborhood dogs, or make a donation of dog food to the local animal shelter. Do this in Hecate’s name in honor of her sacred hounds.

A Tale of Thanksgiving

Actually this is a tale of giving thanks, as opposed to the holiday of the same name. This story is about Samhain, about giving thanks for life and for the harvest, and about remembering those who have passed. I know it's a bit late to be sharing a Samhain story, but it will be even later by the time it is actually finished.

I will continue the story on my own. I trust you will let me know if you wish to read more. 'Tis a rough draft, so there may be some spelling errors that I have missed. If you read this and find any, let me know. I'm terrible at catching my own errors, especially after reading other people's writing all day!


Samhain. The end of the harvest. Maya knows it is almost time. She has been preparing all day and is eagerly anticipating the ritual. It will give her a chance to recover from her labors. All day she has been tying bunches of rosemary, sage, and thyme into bundles. The herbs were grown in pots around the perimeter of the house and brought inside when the weather turned cold. The fragrant herbs hang from the rafters of the kitchen to try, their earth aroma filling the air and mixing in with the smoke from the fire.

The cauldron bubbles over the fire, adding more delicious smells to the atmosphere. The flickering light from the fire causes shadows to dance upon the wall. Maya knows that spirits are also beginning to dance around the room. They too are awaiting the ritual. She knows that her grandparents are somewhere nearby; she can feel their presence. They have been waiting all year for this invitation to supper, for a chance to be remembered again.

Taking a bone-handled knife, Maya gathers a few sprigs of rosemary and lays them before her on the wooden table. She pauses for a moment, knife on the table beside the herbs. She smiles. “Remembrance,” she whispers, then proceeds to finely chop the rosemary. She hums a little tune to herself as she chops, a tune that her grandmother used to sing to her. A tear, small and shiny as a crystal, rolls down Maya’s cheek and mixes in with the rosemary. It is a tear brought on by the happiness of the memory.

Maya’s mother soon returns with her two sisters and their husbands. They have been picking apples at a local orchard and gathering a few acorn squash. Maya’s aunt Dilara sweeps into the kitchen, cheeks rosy from the cold autumn afternoon, and greets Maya with a hug and kiss. Wordlessly she places a small sack into Maya’s hands. She peers inside and gasps with delight at what she sees: chestnuts! She flings her arms around Auntie Dilara and thanks her for the treat. “They will be perfect with the squash, Auntie!” she exclaims. “Grandpa’s favorite dish.”

“Mine too!” Dilara winks at her niece. She crosses the room, pulls an apron off the peg, ties it around her waist and begins preparing the chestnuts.

“It smells wonderful in here,” Dilara’s husband remarks. “Kudos to you, Maya. Most people don’t know how to put a big fireplace like that to good use!”

“My little Maya is a true kitchen witch,” Maya’s mother said, affectionately squeezing her daughter’s shoulders. “She knows how to keep a coven happy.”

A little embarrassed by the praise, Maya ducks her head and resumes work. The rosemary will she minced earlier will go into biscuits to be served with the bubbling stew. She has prepared a special feast with magical ingredients to mark the evening’s ritual.

The coven, comprised mostly of family and friends of the family, plan to hold a Dumb Supper in order to honor their beloved dead. In the living room an altar has been decorated with pictures of the deceased, along with flowers, candles, and special mementos. Food will also be offered to them during the meal, which will be eaten in silence.

The table for the Dumb Supper is draped in a black cloth. Special black dishes, only used once a year, have already been set upon the table. Everything is black, including the clothing to be worn.

Maya had been working all day to prepare the stew made from pork and apples. This represents prosperity as well as love. It According to her mother, her great-aunt made the same dish every year, to bring luck for the coming year. The rosemary in the bread symbolized remembrance, which was the main purpose of the evening’s event. She would also prepare acorn squash stuffed with grains, vegetables, and chestnuts, to represent the final harvest of the year.

Dilara places the chestnuts in an old cast iron roaster and places them in the embers. Soon the smell of roasting chestnuts adds its special memory-evoking aroma to the air. Maya pauses during the rolling of the biscuit dough to breathe in the smell. She recalls earlier autumn festivities and can almost feel the chill in the air as she remembers her father carrying her through the pumpkin patch in search of the perfect pumpkin to carve. She can smell the fallen leaves mixed in with the smell of chestnuts being roasted in a small pit, along with freshly pressed, spiced apple cider. She takes a deep breath and sighs.

Dilara, noticing her niece’s sighs, looks at her and smiles. She knows the power of smells and how they can bring back memories of past events and remind people of loved ones. Taking the chestnuts out of the fire she brings them back to the table to cool. As they cool she takes a biscuit cutter and begins to help Maya cut the biscuits. As she begins to cut, she leads Maya and the other women in the kitchen in a chant:

Hoof and Horn, Hoof and Horn,
All that dies shall be reborn,
Corn and Grain, Corn and Grain,
All that falls shall rise again!

The women start softly, then increase in volume and tempo until Maya’s mother and aunt Maggie are happily twirling about the large kitchen, emphasizing the words of the song with hand gestures and elaborate movements that make everyone laugh. Their commotion draws the uncles into the kitchen and they join, stomping their feet and clapping their hands. This is what Sabbats were about in Maya’s family – everyone together, enjoying life and celebrating the wheel of the year. Maya, beaming, adds another happy autumn memory to her list. She has much to be thankful for.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Open to Suggestions

If anyone has a dark deity s/he wants to see here, please let me know. I have a couple more on my list, but I'd like to explore some of the lesser-known dark gods and goddesses. Whaddya got? Lay it on me!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kitchen Witchin': A Video

Here is my feeble attempt at making borek, or something that I hope at least resembles borek.


Yufka - pastry
Spinach (cooked with onion)
White cheese

Not pictured: BUTTER

Making Borek from Hari Scruff on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dark Goddess Series, Part II - Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga (Baba Ye-gar) is prominently featured in many Russian tales. She is the stereotypical evil witch in appearance, with the long, down-turned nose, pointy chin, and numerous warts. Known also as “Old Bony Legs”, this fearsome hag flies through the air in a mortar, using the pestle to propel herself, and sweeping her tracks with a silver birch broom.

Baba Yaga lives in a house that is perched on chicken feet. The gate around her house is topped with human skulls and she is known as an eater of children. She has a very short temper, yet in some stories she has a helpful side.

She is also the keeper of fire, and the skulls around her home have a fire in each of them. In some stories the fire is green. She has three horsemen – a white rider on a white horse, a red rider on a red horse, and a black rider on a black horse – who represent day, sunrise, and night, respectively.

In one of the more famous stories, a girl named Vasilisa is sent to Baba Yaga by her stepmother. Vasilisa’s mother died some time before, but not before giving her daughter a magical doll. Sent by the stepmother to get coal for the fire, Vasilisa ends up spending several days in Baba Yaga’s house completing tasks such as separating poppy seeds from soot. As in Cinderella, Vasilisa is rewarded and the stepmother and stepsisters are punished in the end.

Vasilisa can be seen as the Maiden who must come into womanhood by completing certain rites of passage –i.e. the tasks Baba Yaga asks her to complete. Baba Yaga herself is, of course, the Crone. She is seen by some as evil, but to others she can be a source of wisdom and help, much as other Crone or dark aspects of the Goddess.

Baba Yaga is the arch-Crone, the wise one, the symbol of the death that we must all face. She is also a symbol of transformation, represented by the mortar and pestle she uses to fly. A mortal and pestle grinds course grains and seeds, wearing them down to reveal the newly transformed material. A poppy seed, for example, is transformed into oil, which is its next phase. So are we transformed through death and rebirth, from one incarnation into the next.

There are so many more things that can be said about this scary woman, but you can look into her information and wisdom on your own time if you wish. Does she really eat children? Is she really as terrifying as she is made out to be? Stories say that those who seek her of their own free will seem to fare better than others. I do not know.

Baba Yaga: The Black Goddess: http://www.mythinglinks.org/BabaYaga.html
More stories of Vasilisa and Marusia: http://www.oldrussia.net/baba.html

Now, if you are in the mood to honor the Crone and her wisdom, you can set aside the 20th of January to honor Baba Yaga/Baba Den, as they do in Bulgaria. Grandmothers, doctors, wise women and others who help bring children into the world are also honored on this day. Children visit and take them flowers.

For Baba Yaga or Baba Den:

Decorate the altar or table with birch branches to represent the broom she uses to sweep away her tracks. If you have a mortar and pestle, place that on the table as well. Burn sandalwood or patchouli incense. Place geraniums on the table and light candles in black, white and red. Do these also if you wish to request her aid in banishing.


Banitza – Phyllo pastry with cheese

10-12 sheets phyllo/filo pastry (you can purchase this in the freezer case of the grocery store)
1 lb/500 gr. Brined white cheese, such as a mild feta
½ stick butter, melted
3-4 eggs
1 cup soda water
Pinch of salt

Butter a medium-sized baking dish. Put on a layer of pastry and brush with melted butter. Keep the rest of the pastry sheets covered under a damp cloth so they don’t dry out.

Sprinkle the crumbled white cheese onto the pastry. Cover with another sheet of pastry and repeat the process.

In a bowl whisk together the eggs, salt and soda water. Pour onto the banitza and allow it to soak in.

Bake at about 425 F for approximately 40 minutes, or until the banitza is golden brown and has risen slightly. Allow to cook for 30 minutes before serving.
You can add sautéed spinach to the cheese, or even sautéed cabbage.

Accompany this dish with mushroom stroganoff, buttered poppy seed noodles, and maybe a nice roast chicken with walnut sauce. This menu is a mixture of Bulgarian and Russian recipes, but you could skip the banitza and make (frozen) piroshky instead.

Oh, and don’t forget the vodka.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

After the Darkness, Light

It’s the dark half of the year and seasonal depression is kicking my ass. I could try to fight it but I know I would ultimately lose, so why not just go with the flow? Since I’m in a dark mood, I’ve decided to look at some of the darker aspects of the Goddess and work on dishes to honor them.

We shall begin with Kali, a goddess to whom I have long felt a closeness. Kali, whose name means “black”, is the Hindu goddess of time and change. She has often been looked upon as violent and bloody, and this concept of a goddess of annihilation still carries some influence. However, she is also viewed as a redeemer of the universe, and some new devotees look upon her as a benevolent mother goddess. In reality she is all of these. She is the beginning and the end, the creatrix and the destroyer, the one who births you and the one who removes you from this life.

Kali is the consort of Shiva, upon whose body she is often depicted standing. Kali, in her role of destroyer, became drunk from drinking the blood of the dead and found it impossible to stop her dance of destruction. Mythology tells us that Shiva lay down in front of her in an attempt to stop her. Another version states that Shiva was but an infant when he is sent onto the battlefield to stop her. She ceases her rampage and picks up the infant Shiva to comfort and nurse him. This is Kali in her mother goddess aspect, as aspect which is not as widely recognized in the Western world.

The lesson she has for us is similar to that of other dark goddesses: life cannot exist without death. If we are to accept her blessings in life, we most also face the terrors of the grave. This is an easy concept to pay lip service to, but when you really start thinking about it, or are actually faced with the prospect of meeting Her in death, it becomes quite different. I believe those who truly struggle with certain ailments – mental as well as physical- are closer to this reality than they would like to acknowledge. Suddenly the thought of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth is not so comforting. It becomes a rather frightening concept, or at least one that causes nervousness, discomfort, and worry.

What are we to do, then? We cannot avoid death. Our end is just as inevitable as it has been for everyone else who has walked upon this planet. I think it best to accept the fact that all of us must meet the same fate, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to happen anytime soon.

When I get into one of these dark, introspective moods and over think my own mortality, I find it best to do something to get my mind off things. I hit the kitchen. That’s what kitchen witches do, is it not? In the kitchen I am more at ease and am able to release some of my anxiety and some of my thoughts of the cold lonely grave and embrace life and joy through cooking.

When I want to open myself up to Kali, to receive any wisdom she wishes to pass my way, I cook up some Indian food. One of my favorite dishes is rajma masala, which is full of ingredients that are ruled by the element of fire. Fire is a good representation of Kali, as it an element that can destroy and purify at the same time.

*Note: Followers of Jainism and Vaishnavism , as well as devotees of Krishna, do not use onions and garlic. Instead, they use asafetida. As far as I know, Kali has no problem with onions and garlic.

Rajma Masala

2 cups kidney beans, soaked over night
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon each finely chopped/grated ginger
1-2 tablespoons finely minced garlic 1
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon asafetida powder, optional
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons red chili powder
2 large tomatoes, finely chopped, or one small can
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 tablespoons ground coriander
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
Finely chopped cilantro/coriander leaves for garnish

Cook the kidney beans until they are soft. Some recipes recommend a pressure cooker but most people don’t have these. You’re more than welcome to use canned kidney beans, which most people can get. They’re safer. If you’re using canned beans, use two large cans.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Add the cumin seeds and let them sputter for a minute. Add the bay leaves, asafetida (if using), garlic and ginger. Stir-fry so the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the onions and fry until lightly golden. Add the rest of the spices except the garam masala. Add the tomatoes. Fry for 5-6 more minutes.
Add the beans and either a ladleful or two of the cooking water, or a 2 cups of regular water. Add salt to taste. Simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add the garam masala last. Cover and turn the heat to low. Let the dish simmer on low heat for another 5 minutes. Garnish with the fresh cilantro leaves. Serve with Basmati rice.

Offer some of this with a prayer of thanks for life. Offer up your apprehensions regarding mortality and ask for a deeper understanding of the cycle. Breathe in the aroma of garlic, onion, and chili and visualize the dish’s ingredients warming you and revitalizing you.

Light flame-colored candles and decorate the table with marigolds or other golden flowers. Share this meal with your loved ones and know that this darkness will pass.

Suggested music
George Harrison: All Things Must Pass
Traditional Indian music

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Samhain and El Dia de los Muertos

Skull of sugar,
Bone of bread,
We offer these gifts
To our beloved dead

I hope everyone had a lovely Samhain. I suppose greetings for the new year are in order. Today is also El Dia de los Muertos – Day of the Dead. This festival coincides with the Catholic festivals of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, which occur on November 1 and 2, respectively. On this day families in Mexico visit the graves of loved ones. The graves are cleaned and decorated with fresh flowers. Marigolds are traditional.

Altars, or ofrendas, are constructed. These will hold a variety of objects including flowers, candles, figures of the Virgin Mary, pictures of the deceased, and the favorite foods and drinks of the deceased. Candy or small toys might be added for children. Offerings of food are also taken to the graves.

Popular symbols of this day are the calacas – skulls made of pressed sugar that are brightly decorated. This is not a festival of grief and sadness; it is a celebration of life and of the end we must all face. La Catrina is another common symbol. José Guadalupe Posada created a famous print of a figure that he called "La Calavera de la Catrina" ("calavera of the female dandy"), which quickly became a popular figure.

Traditional foods and beverages include atole, tequila or pulque, tamales and Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead). The bread is often decorated with bones made from dough.

Many of you may have remembered your ancestors in ritual last night, while some of you may choose to continue the observances through November 2. Last year I posted a recipe for Pan de Muerto. For those of you who prefer a different approach, I offer the recipe for Rosemary Remembrance cookies.

Rosemary, as many of you know, is an herb used in purification. It is also good for remembrance. Rosemary is also used for healing and love, making it the ideal herb for this time of year and for the remembrance of those who have passed through the veil.

You can make shortbread cookies with rosemary, but this recipe is more of a sugar cookie. Use gingerbread men cookie cutters to give the cookies human form, or use animal shapes if remembering pets/familiars.


2 sticks unsalted butter or margarine (non-hydrogenated), at room temperature
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract (optional; use 2 tsp. vanilla if not using almond)
1-2 teaspoons very finely minced rosemary
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla/almond extract. Mix well. Add in the flour slowly and mix on low speed (if not mixing by hand) until dough starts to come together. Sprinkle in the rosemary and gently fold in.

Divide the dough into two rounds and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375. Unwrap the dough on a floured table or counter. Work with half the dough at a time. Keep the other half in the fridge to stay cool. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough. Cut out your people and animal shapes, as well as pumpkins, skulls, bats, or any other shapes you desire. Place the cookies onto a nonstick cookie sheet. Give them room to bake by placing them about ½ inch apart.

Bake the cookies 6-8 minutes, or until lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container if you do not use/eat them all.