Sunday, June 22, 2014

M is for Magical Names

Magical names, Craft names, Witchy names – whatever you want to call them, have a special significance to many.    While not everyone chooses one, many do prefer to take on another name while practicing or attending events.  There are many reasons for this. 

Some people choose a special, new name because they feel it fits their newfound selves. Others may choose a magical name because they don’t want to be ‘outed’ by having their real name in groups, on forums, or associated with Paganism in any other way.  There are also a few who just wanna be ‘cool’.  Come on…you know it’s true.

Names, preferences, and beliefs and practices change over time, so it isn’t unusual for a magical name to be changed once it no longer ‘fits’ its owner.   There is also the phenomenon of Ravens, Morganas, Willows, Wolves, and Ambers in the Pagan community.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve encountered who went by Raven or Wolf or had a name that included one (or both, ahem) of those monikers.

There are many, many methods for choosing a name.  Numerology is used by some.  Magical names that reflect the owner’s path are also used.  Yet another method is meditation and allowing the name to just come, perhaps as a message from a personal deity.   Whatever name you use, it should be one that is carefully chosen and not just a “flavor of the month” that you’ll grow out of before you’re ready to change your socks.  Of course, if that’s your style, far be it for me to judge, of course!  

This brings me to my name.   When I first embarked on my path to the Divine, I had a different name.  You’ll probably laugh.  One day, I was in that state between asleep and awake, and a name came to me.  It reflected my personality and my intentions.  My brain said to me, “Greenlady”.   Not Lady such-and-such, mind you, but adopting a Lord or Lady title is something rookies tend to do.  It resonated with me…sort of.  I didn’t really use it, though.   I felt strange having another name.  I didn’t feel it the way I wanted to feel it 

 So I went without for a long time.

I don’t believe magical names are necessary at all.  In fact, for a lot of people, they may not even be desirable.  I never thought I HAD to have one, but I did like the idea of being called something other than by birth name, which I consider rather boring.  It doesn’t really fit me either.  I like my surname, but my first and middle names are just ‘meh’. 

Fast forward a few years to a non-practicing Pagan-flavored Agnostic woman living in Istanbul, absorbing local culture and customs (and fooooood!).    Wait, let me go back again.  Further back, to middle school English class.   We read the myth of Persephone, and I became enamored.  The name Persephone was – and still is – very beautiful to me.   I explored this story a bit more and read more about mythology.
Later, I became a huge fan of one of her symbols – the pomegranate.   I had had a few pomegranates before moving to Turkey, but there they are plentiful and more flavorful.  Juice stands press these gorgeous fruits into a dark red juice that is tart on the palate.   I began to connect with this symbol of Persephone, of the womb, of  life and rebirth. 

I couldn’t just call myself ‘Pomegranate’ though, now, could I?  That would be silly (she said facetiously). 
Nar.   The Turkish word for pomegranate is nar.   Now, I may not be Turkish, but I consider that just an accident of birth.  It’s a country that I really love, a beautiful country with a long and colorful (and often bloody) history.   I was learning the language, and food vocabulary is what we learned first.  After all, teachers gotta eat, right?  

The pomegranate is a sacred symbol in many belief systems, and I identify with its season of fall.  I explored the symbolism a bit more, and it just felt right.  I am Nar.   Nice to meet you. 

Let the Countdown Officially Begin!

Yesterday we observed the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  From here on out, days get shorter.  The temperatures may soar for a few more months, but there will be cooler weather soon.  Even though we are in the middle of summer, my eyes and my heart look to autumn, my favorite season.

Autumn is truly the season of the witch, and although I love cooking dishes using summer's bounty, I look forward to the harvest holidays the most.  Autumn is the time I enjoy most of all, before the biting, bitter cold of winter.  It may seem like the season of dying for some, and I suppose it is, but it is when I come to life.  It is when I feel the strongest connection to the earth, when life turns inward for a season of introspection and inner growth.

Then there is Samhain...Ah, Samhain. Beautiful, wonderful Halloween/Samhain, followed closely by the Day of the Dead.  It's a time of remembrance and feeling a stronger connection with those who have come before.  It is a time to revel in the mysteries of the wise and aged, a time to take their wisdom to heart and put it into practice.  Plus the cobwebs and dust in my house look like decorations!  Ha!

What season do you like best?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Touched by his Noodley Appendage

High five if you got the Flying Spaghetti Monster reference.

Now, on to the noodle salad!

I know I've mentioned this before, but I suck at food photography.

This makes a LOT.  I'm going to a potluck, so I needed a good amount.

Noodle Salad:
* 1 package extra firm tofu, pressed, dried, cut into cubes
* oil for frying
* 1 cup shredded carrot
* 1 cup shredded Napa cabbage
* 1 cup sugar snap peas, cut into small-ish pieces
* 1/2 cup green onions, sliced
* 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced into strips
* 1 16-oz. box angel hair pasta

* 1/3 cup lite soy sauce
* 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
* 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
* 2 tablespoons brown sugar
* 2 cloves garlic
* 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled

Put the garlic and ginger in a food processor and pulse until chopped.  Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse to combine.

Cook the pasta until just al dente.  Drain.  I rinsed mine a bit, but you don't have to.

If you are using the tofu (and you can certainly leave it out), deep fry in oil until cubes are crispy and golden.  Drain on paper towels.

In a very large bowl, combine the vegetables, pasta, and tofu.  Toss with the dressing.  

Optional: Add a tablespoon or two of furikake (Japanese rice seasoning).  There are many varieties available. I used one with toasted sesame seeds in with the seaweed.

Feel free to use gluten-free pasta.

Glad Midsummer!

A very happy summer solstice to all!  It's overcast and a bit spritzy here today, but hopefully that will clear up for tonight's celebration.

 I'm about to start potluck preparations. I decided to take some chicken legs and a noodle salad.  The noodle salad will be vegan because there are a few vegetarians in the group.  I am going to do an Asian-ish noodle salad.  The idea is in my brain, but I don't have the exact measurements yet.  I will post the recipe once I work things out outside of my mind.

The chicken legs are going to get coated in a sesame-orange-ginger-pineapple glaze.  The noodle salad will be made with regular ol' angel hair pasta and cubes of fried tofu, some Napa cabbage, shredded carrot, red bell pepper, green onions, and sugar snap peas.  I'm going to make a sesame-ginger dressing for it, and I will probably sprinkle on some furikake, too.   Mmmmm!  I'm excited to get the cooking started!

I hope you all have a lovely celebration, whatever you do!  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Money and Magic

Money has been on my mind a lot lately.  There's never enough of it to go around, never enough to cover every single bill that needs to be taken care of.  It's a situation, one that makes me lose sleep and cry from time to time.

In the past, I have written about ways to save money in the kitchen, and I do my best to use a lot of those methods.  Still, there isn't much I can do to make my electricity bill lower (I've tried) or the cell phone plan, or, or, or...

I looked at my bank account this morning and saw that the car insurance had cleared.  The water bill is next.  I barely have enough to get gas in the car and a few crappy grocery items.  Payday for the Aussie is the 26th.  For me, it's the 30th.   What's a girl to do?

Sometimes people turn to magic to help with money woes.  I do and don't.  I've been known to whip up a batch of Prosperity Shortbread Cookies from time to time (actually my go-to "get a job" cookie recipe), but as for doing spells to get money, I steer clear.  Why?

Well, it has been my experience - and that of others I've spoken to - that the Universe is not particular.  You can be specific, but it still does what it wants.  If you're not specific, look out!  You might be in for quite a ride.   No, the Universe isn't terribly particular in HOW it helps when you ask it for help.

To illustrate further, a dear friend related a story to me of a man who needed a certain amount of money.  He prayed.  He did spellwork.  He did this and that to get this amount of money, and it worked.  Sort of.  It worked in such a way that it made me want to avoid money magic for the rest of my life.  Let's just say it involved a horrific auto accident in which he remained in the back seat, while his legs joined the driver in the front seat.  He got his money, but at what cost?

I don't do spellwork for money because the money might come from a source I'd rather it didn't.  An inheritance, for example.  I'd rather not have anyone die just so I can get a few extra dollars.  I'd rather not win a settlement from an accident that leaves me disabled, either.  I'm gonna pass on that and just rearrange my retirement funds to get the money I need in order to get caught up on the bills, bills, bills.

If you are in need of a small amount to help you get through the month, I think it's all right to burn that green candle.  Leave out a dish of sesame seeds.  Plant a money plant.  Visualize a little extra coming in from somewhere or something.  Then, you must take some action to make it happen.  Again, the Universe ain't too damn particular, so you kind of have to take matters into your own hands for those small amounts.   Have a yard sale.  Put something on eBay.  Practical steps of that type are what you need to take to make it happen.   Don't depend solely on magic for anything, really.  That's been my stance for a very long time.

Also, evaluate your reasons.  Why do you need the money?  Were you frivolous earlier in the month?   Or did something big and unexpected come up, like a car repair or a home repair?  Did a pet have to go to the vet?   For me, it's a chiropractic bill that my insurance didn't fully cover.  It's a cancelled satellite bill (Suddenlink finally came through and I was able to drop that awful Frontier bullshit).   It's home repairs and owing my parents back payments for the trailer because the Aussie was out of work and I wasn't able to give them anything.   I haven't been buying crazy shit that I don't need; I've just been trying to survive.   (Okay, maybe Internet isn't a necessity, per se, but I do have to work at home sometimes, so it sort of is...)

Anyhell,  it boils down to this:  Avoid the temptation to do money spells for big amounts.  Little bits of prosperity magic should be fine.  Just remember to do your part, too.  Don't leave it all up to magic.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Revision

I received some very helpful feedback from a reader, and I have slightly revised the outline.

Home Blessings
Family Celebrations  (including baby blessings, birthdays, etc.)
Honoring the Goddess (including Maiden, Mother, Crone celebrations)
Honoring the God (Oak King, Holly King, etc.)
Passing Beyond the Veil

The sections will be organized by season, so as to use as much seasonal food as possible.  

Yes? No? Better?  Let me hear from you!  


Monday, June 16, 2014

The Project - Feedback Requested!

Dear Readers,  as I mentioned in an earlier post, I have decided to combine a bunch of unfinished cookbook projects for the kitchen witch into ONE (unfinished) cookbook for the kitchen witch.   I'm going through recipes and brainstorming new ideas, but I need your help.

I will really, truly need recipe testers at some point, but I don't know when.

Before that can happen, I need to finalize the sections so I can get organized.  I am going to list the proposed sections of the book so you can (hopefully) give me some feedback.   I am conflicted in some areas. I just don't know if it would be worthwhile to include them.  That's where you come in.

Help?  Please? With a cherry and sprinkles on top? :)

Proposed Sections:

Sabbats (organized by season)
Esbats (organized by season or month)

And then I want to move on to Life Events.  This is where I need help.

Celebrating the Maiden - This is the section that is causing the most problems.  I want to include a section on celebrating a young woman.  This might include *gasp* menarche.   What do you all think?  How do you feel about celebrating such an event?  It doesn't HAVE to include menarche, per se, but have any of you or would any of you celebrate the maiden aspect of the goddess?   It doesn't even have to include an actual, physical maiden; it could just be honoring that aspect of the Triple Goddess.


From there, we would go to:


Home Blessings

Celebrating the Mother (I wouldn't leave out fathers!)  - This would include baby blessing or naming events.

Celebrating the Crone


Passing Beyond the Veil - This would include foods to take to the grieving families as well as foods for remembrance at Samhain, so it would sort of go along with the Samhain section.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.  Thank you so much!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Tonight's Honey Moon

Tonight the honey moon rises.  This moon, not seen in a century or so, is close to the summer solstice.  June is a traditional month for marriages and handfastings, making this moon a perfect time to work on harmony in relationships, methinks. 

If you are joined with a partner and wish to welcome a stronger sense of love, harmony, and even lust into your relationship, tonight is a good night to do it.  There are a variety of ways, of course (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), but one way is through the use of food.

The official statement on aphrodisiacs is that they’re bunk, but who knows for certain?  After all, intent can go a long way.  A moonlit dinner for two featuring some of the foods and ideas from this post could very well increase feelings of love, lust, and attraction.  If you are single, I would consider this a good night to work on drawing your suitor to you (as long as you aren’t being specific and working against someone’s free will, of course!).

Some of the best-known aphrodisiacal foods are oysters, asparagus, and strawberries.  While those may not go that well together to form one dish, they can certainly play parts in a romantic meal. 

Others include:
·         Apples
·         Apricots
·         Arugula
·         Bananas
·         Basil
·         Eggs
·         Garlic
·         Honey
·         Salmon
·         Shellfish such as clams and scallops

Honey Moon Menu:

·         Arugula salad
·         Smoked salmon quiche
·         Stir-fried asparagus with garlic and chili
·         Apples and honey (add a sprinkle of cinnamon)

Don’t forget the wine!  

A simple tomato-basil sauce and pasta will do the trick, as well.  No need to get too fancy. Have some strawberries for dessert. 

Eat beneath the light of the moon, if possible, or turn off the lights and open the blinds to allow the rays of the honey moon to enter your home.  Allow the rays to touch the food.  Feed each other.  Hold hands. Look into each other’s eyes and remind one another of what you love about the other person.  Make some magic together.

If you are single and looking:

Light a pale yellow candle to match the color of the moon, or rely solely on moonbeams. Grab a heart-shaped strawberry dipped in honey.   Gaze at the moon for a while and think about what it represents to you.  What do you see on the surface?  Some see a man in the moon, while others see a lady or a rabbit.  (Hey...rabbits...fertility...) 

Close your eyes and meditate on finding your perfect match.  Again, you do not want to think of a specific person; you want to think instead of the qualities that work with your own. Talk to the Divine.  Let the universe know you are ready for your love.  Your heart, mind, and soul are ready and willing to receive love.  You are worthy of love.   When you're ready, eat that strawberry and visualize.  

Happy full moon, and happy Friday the thirteenth!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

L is for Lammas

L is for Lammas

At Lammas, the goddess is the Grain Mother, the Corn Mother.   John Barleycorn meets his end.  He is cut down, milled, baked into bread and made into alcohol, consumed, and reborn from the earth in seed form the following year.  This is the first harvest, a time to reap what we have sown.   Farmers and hedgewitches are rewarded with the fruits of their labor, and the hopes and dreams that we have ‘planted’ are starting to come to fruition. 

Throughout Europe, the first and last cuttings of grain held special significance.  The first cutting was milled and baked into bread to be shared among members of the community.  In this way, the life-sustaining powers of grain/bread could be given to all. 

As a kitchen witch, this idea appeals to me.  I enjoy feeding people, and I feel especially called to donate to food banks during the harvest holidays. This first harvest holiday gives me the opportunity to dig my paws into some bread dough.  It's in this way that I feel most connected to the harvest because I do not grow or mill grain myself.  

When I bake bread, I really get into it.  I love to infuse the food with my intent - harmony, love, peace, prosperity, etc.  Music helps me raise energy, so I sometimes have my boyfriend drum as I knead.  

I chant:
Hoof and horn,
Hoof and horn,
All that dies shall be reborn
Vine and grain, 
Vine and grain,
All that falls shall rise again

Sometimes I shape the dough into rough sun or person shapes.  Two of my favorites to make during this time of year are rye bread and corn bread. The latter doesn't have to be kneaded because it's a batter, but corn is appropriate to the day. 

For a Lammas table, some local beer and wine accompany loaves of fresh-baked bread.  To make a complete meal, add some hearty beef stew and a nice green salad that utilizes as much fresh, local produce as you can get. 

Rye Bread (Hodgson's Mill recipe) 

This recipe yields two loaves, or perhaps one giant bread dude. 

2 cups warm water
2 envelopes yeast
1/4 c brown sugar

Bloom the yeast in the warm water with the sugar for 10 minutes, until frothy. 

In a mixing bowl, add:

Yeast mixture
1/4 c molasses
3 1/2 c rye flour
1 T caraway seeds
2 t salt
1/4 c melted butter
3 T cocoa powder

Gradually add 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 cups bread flour, one cup at a time, to make a soft dough. 

Knead (and chant!) for 10-12 minutes. 

Put dough in an oiled bowl and allow it to rise for an hour until doubled in size.  

Divide dough in half and gently work out the air bubbles.  Shape into loaves. 

Allow the loaves to rise another hour until doubled again.  Slash the tops.  

Preheat oven to 400 F and bake for 25-28 minutes.  


3/4 c. cornmeal
1 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1 tablespoon (T). baking powder
3/4 teaspoon (t. ) salt
1 cup milk (1 1/4 for buttermilk)
1 egg
2 T. melted shortening

Mix ingredients and pour into greased baking pan (I use a cast iron skillet). 
Bake at 425 for 20 minutes.

You could grill some corn on the cob and add a cup of kernels to this as well.  Delicious.  

Decorate the table with greenery, late summer flowers, corn and sheaves of grain if you can get them.   Orange, yellow, and purple candles illuminate the scene.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Greens for Blues, or...

What to Eat When You’re Depressed

While there is no diet that will cure depression, there are certain foods that are natural mood-boosters that may help pick you up when you are feeling extra low.   Below are a few nutrients that can help relieve some symptoms. 

·         Selenium – Selenium has been shown to improve depression symptoms in elderly patients.  Foods that are rich in selenium include nuts (especially Brazil nuts), legumes, seafood, oatmeal, and brown rice.      Try a bowl of oatmeal with chopped nuts, bean burritos, or grilled shrimp.

·         Omega-3 Fatty acids – These are found in oily fish such as salmon and tuna. 

·         Fruits and vegetables – Anti-oxidant-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables help improve feelings of overall health, which in turn may impact emotional well-being.   Combine the fish and vegetables in a salad topped with salmon or crab. 

·         Vitamin D – Recent studies have shown a connection between vitamin D levels and PMS, SAD, MDD, and non-specified mood disorder.   Vitamin D can come from sunlight exposure (wear sunscreen anyway) as well as diet.  Dairy products such as cheese provide vitamin D, as do beef liver (if you can hack it), egg yolks, and oily fish.   Try a smoked salmon omelet or quiche with Gruyere. 

·         Dark Chocolate – Dark chocolate is heart-healthy and can help boost mood.  Chocolate contains phenylethylamind, a cpound also known as "the love drug" due to its ability to release the same chemicals the human body produces when it is in love.

·         B 12 and Folate – These two vitamins can help prevent dementia and other disorders of the central nervous system, including various mood disorders.   Foods that are rich in these vitamins include beans and greens (folate) and meat and poultry (B 12).  A good way of getting these nutrients together is a big pot of beef and bean chili, a nice serving of steamed broccoli with cheese sauce, or a green salad topped with grilled chicken.

Source: www.webmd.com

Saturday, June 7, 2014

So Many Irons

I'll admit it.  I am totally guilty of starting projects that I can't finish.  I decided not to participate in Blog Every Day in June because I knew it would be difficult to keep up with it in addition to the Pagan Blog Project.  I missed a couple of weeks of that due to lack of inspiration.

But now...Now, I have yet another project.  Bear with me!  I think that this idea might help me organize and combine other unfinished projects into one (unfinished) project instead of, like, 50.  

Some of you actually know me in real life.  For those of you who do, you know that I've been wanting to write a decent kitchen witch cookery book since around 2006.  You'll also know that I've been working on recipes since then, too.  However, life happens.  Lack of funds for cooking and testing happens.  I moved overseas for a couple of years, living in a place with different food, different ingredients that I might not be able to access in the U.S.  Work, work, work always takes up a lot of my time and energy. I haven't had any vacation time in a while, and I won't have any until probably November.   So why the hell am I thinking of starting a new project?

(Because I'm a masochist.)

I've decided to take the recipes I've been working on for a series of seasonal kitchen witch cookbooks and combine those with recipes for other occasions - handfastings, funerals, etc.   I'm going to compile them all into one book of recipes for various occasions and celebrations.   This project involves sabbats, esbats, handfastings, funeral feasts, birth celebrations, croning celebrations, and a couple of other occasions.  

Once again, I will ask people to confidentially test recipes, but not for a while yet.  I think I need a separate savings account just for this project!  Good food is too damned expensive these days.   I may also ask some of you to tell me about the things you like to eat for certain celebrations.  For example, what are some of your favorite ideas for cakes and ale?  Do you prefer morning or evening meals?   I might include some recipes for morning rituals, or I will just keep that project separate.  I'm still organizing.

That's what's going on in my head this weekend. How are you doing?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

L is for Litha

Summer is here!  Time for grilling, catching (and releasing) lightening bugs, and handfastings.  Winter was long and harsh. Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure it was going to end.  But now, it’s summer, finally!  Oh, summer, I am so glad to see you.  Bring on longer days. Bring on the warmer (hotter) temperatures. Bring on the thunderstorms!  We’ve been having a lot of those lately.

Litha, or Midsummer, celebrates the longest day of the year and the power of the sun.  The crops are flourishing from the power of rain and sun.  The earth is alive and kicking and we come together to give thanks for the food that is growing and for a break from the long, dark nights of winter. 
Litha honors the power of the sun and of the God.  Fire figures prominently into this sabbat, and the Oak King currently reigns supreme.   

Summer is my second favorite season, after autumn.  I love this time of year because of the variety of fruits and vegetables that are available.  As Litha approaches, I begin to think more about the strength of the sun and the power of the God.  Without the sun, there would be no life on earth.   This is a time when the Earth Mother depends upon the Sun to help bring forth life.  Litha is a time to honor father gods and mother goddesses.  Fertility is still in the air (and in the ground).

Herbs collected at dawn are especially potent.  Some believe the fairies come out to par-tay at Litha as well.
Colors of Litha are the colors of the sun, of flames, and of the growing plants – red, gold, blue, green.  These colors decorate altars and tables in the forms of candles and summer flowers.  Symbols include fire, summer greenery, and representations of the sun.

My Litha
As a kitchen witch, I delight in coming up with ideas that use the amazing produce this time of year provides us.   I like to use the sun/fire theme in my cooking for this sabbat and make meals that have some SPICE to them!  I want to feel the heat of the sun on my skin and in my bones, to warm myself from the inside out. 
I recommend decorating with strings of dried red chilies and oranges to represent flames and the sun.  Pick a yellow, red, or gold candle to burn in the kitchen on this day.  Put on some lively music – pipes, for example.   The goal is to bring the vibrancy of the season into the kitchen along with the rest of the home. 

Smudge anything and everything with sage first to get it ready to really welcome the God into your home. 

The menu calls for fresh food, food cooked over a fire (grill), and spicy dishes to reflect the heat of the 
summer sun.   Think fiery Indian or Thai cuisine for your menu plans.  Spices and chilies not only kept food from spoiling in the tropical heat, it also stimulates the appetite and the sweat glands, helping you cool off a bit. 

Grilled and chilled vegetables with curry dip
Beef curry  - I am (in)famous for this dish
Mango lassi

Grilled and Chilled Vegetables
3 bell peppers – green, red, orange – seeded and quartered
1 lb asparagus, trimmed
12 green onions, trimmed
2-3 small zucchini, cut into slices
2 Japanese eggplant, cut into slices
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat your grill or use a grill pan on medium-high heat. 
Brush the washed, trimmed vegetables with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper
·         Bell peppers:  8-10 minutes on the grill, turning 1-2 times
·         Asparagus and green onions:  4-6 minutes on the grill
·         Zucchini and eggplant:  7-8 minutes
Work in batches.  Keep the peppers together, and so on.
Remove the vegetables from the grill and allow them to cool to room temperature or chill them in the refrigerator.

Curry Dip
½ cup plain yogurt or sour cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
Juice of ½ lemon
1 garlic clove
2 teaspoons curry powder
Salt and pepper

Combine ingredients in a food processor, beginning with the garlic to chop it finely.  Chill and serve with grilled vegetables.

Beef Curry
2 lbs boneless chunk, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
4 red chili peppers, finely sliced (Serranos work nicely)
1 inch ginger, grated
½ teaspoon ground cardamom (or about 3 whole pods)
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon  (or two whole sticks)
1 ½ tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 whole cloves or 1/8 teaspoon ground
3tablespoons oil or ghee
1 to 1 ¼ cup water

Heat oil or ghee on medium-high heat.
Cook onions 5 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium and cook 10 minutes.
Add garlic, ginger, and chilies.  Cook until garlic is soft and fragrant, 3-4 minutes.
Add the turmeric, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves.  Toss to coat everything with spices.  Cook 2-3 minutes.
Add beef and stir again to coat.
Pour in water.  Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for approximately an hour.  Stir occasionally.
Remove lid, stir, and allow beef to finish cooking until tender, another 20-30 minutes.   If whole spices were used, remove cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon sticks before serving.
Serve with steamed rice.

Mango Lassi
1 cup plain yogurt
½ cup milk of choice – dairy, almond, whatever
1 ¼ cup mango, cubed and frozen
Sugar or honey to taste, optional

Combine ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Sprinkle with cardamom before serving, if desired. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Recipe Time: Mushroom-Parmesan Quick Bread

My boyfriend had a potluck at work, and I was woefully unprepared for it.  I decided to whip up a quick bread (a batter as opposed to a kneaded yeast bread) because I had the ingredients, they come together quickly, and it was really late when I woke up from my nap.  Ha!

It turned out really well.  You could add some nutmeg or thyme or another herb (chives would be nice as well).  Swiss cheese would also be good here, but I used what I had on hand.

Mushroom-Parmesan Quick Bread

·         2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
·         2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
·         1/2 teaspoon fine salt
·         1/4 teaspoon baking soda
·         1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
·         1 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
·         1 1/4 cups mushrooms, finely diced (I used a large portobello cap)
·         1 medium only, finely diced (about a cup or a little over)
·         2 large eggs
·         1 ¼ cups buttermilk
·         4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), melted, plus more for coating the pan
·         2 tablespoons butter or olive oil for mushrooms and onions

·         Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan and set aside.

·         Heat a skillet over medium heat.  Gently cook onions and mushrooms until tender, about 8 minutes.

·         In one bowl, mix together dry ingredients – flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, pepper.  Add Parmesan.

·         In another bowl or large measuring cup, combine milk (if using regular milk, use about ¾ cup), eggs, and butter.  Whisk until smooth.

·         Add the wet ingredients to the dry.  Stir in mushroom and onion mixture.  Do not overmix.

·         Using a spatula, scrap the batter into the loaf pan. Smooth out the top.  Bake in preheated oven for 45-55 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

·         Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

There was a teensy little piece left over from the potluck.  All in all, I think it was a success.  It had a great mushroom flavor, and the Parmesan really stood out, too.  Delicious!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Not-So-Rich Kitchen Witch

Kitchen Witchin’ on a Budget

Have you seen the prices in the grocery stores these days?  Holy cow!   This post isn’t just for kitchen witches; it’s for anyone who is astounded at the cost of food and wants to find a way of eating well without breaking the bank.   I’ll throw in a few witchy things here and there, too, of course.

These days, our money does not go as far.  I’m not even earning as much as I did at my previous job, and neither is my boyfriend.  He was out of work for a while, meaning I had to visit the Bank of Mom and Dad a couple of times – not one of my prouder moments as an almost 35-year-old woman.   

While we haven’t gone without food entirely, we have eaten some pretty craptacular meals during those times.   There has been Spam.  There has been instant ramen.  Now, I like those things once in a while, but by “every once in a while”, I mean a couple of times a year.  

I hope this blog post will provide some practical tips for all of us, myself included. 

Number one may seem like a no-brainer : Coupons.  However, I find that most of the things I buy don’t have coupons.  I buy a lot of fresh produce when I got shopping. I have a juicer that I like to use. I like salads in warmer months.  I adore asparagus in season, and I enjoy cooking with fresh herbs whenever possible.   Coupons are usually available for brand-name products that are heavily processed “junk”.  Think Coca-Cola products, snacks, etc.     Therefore, coupons really aren’t practical for me, and they might not be practical for you, either.  Instead, check out the grocery store circular to see if the things you do buy regularly are on sale.  Also, buy the generic stuff. 

Number two:  Buy things in season.  Strawberries in January are not only a bad idea, they are also more expensive as crap, not to mention tasteless and nasty.   Hit up a farmers’ market if you have one.  We have one, but of course the only time it’s open is when I’m at work.   Who has a market on a Wednesday only?  And from 10-2?  Come on! 
Oh, and did you know that avocadoes freeze well?  I use them in smoothies. Yum!  Buy them when they are dirt-cheap, cut the flesh into chunks, and freeze on a lined cookie sheet. Then just pop ‘em into freezer bags.  You can make guac, too.

Number three:  Buy non-perishables at a cheaper store like Aldi or Save a Lot.  Even Big Lots has things like canned beans, bags of rice, and other pantry staples at lower prices.  

That brings me to number four:  Have a well-stocked pantry so you can whip up a meal on the fly and on the cheap.  

Pantry staples:
·         Broth
·         Beans
·         Rice
·         Powdered or evaporated milk
·         Tomato products – diced, crushed, sauce, paste
·         Coconut milk
·         Bread crumbs
·         Pasta
·         Salsa
·         Peanut butter or another nut butter
·         Cocoa powder
·         Baking powder
·         Vinegars – your choice, but apple cider, red wine, and Balsamic are what I normally keep
·         Oils – again, your choice, but I like olive and grape seed (although it might not be the best choice)
·         Flour
·         Corn (I prefer canned corn to frozen, but that’s up to you)
·         Tuna or salmon if you like it (bleah)
·         Oatmeal
·         Preserves/jam/jelly
·         Olives, artichoke hearts, capers
·         Brown and white sugar
·         Unflavored gelatin

Number five:  Stock your freezer as well.  Vegetables, fruit for smoothies, extra butter, meat that you caught on sale.

Number six:  Menu planning is your friend.  I plan my menus before I shop, and then I organize my grocery list by store section so I don’t forget anything.  I try to cook several things on a Sunday for the week ahead.   Cooking on a weekend saves time during the week so you aren’t tempted to hit a drive-thru on the way home.   That’s not tasty, healthy or cheap in the long run.   Of course, we all do it from time to time.  I’m certainly guilty of ordering Chinese or Mexican takeaways when I am too tired to cook at times.    Still, I try to have plenty of options in the fridge or freezer to reheat.

Number seven:  Invest in a slow cooker.   You can buy cheap, tough cuts of meat and the slow cooker will turn them into velvety deliciousness while you’re at work during the day.  There are lots of free slow cooker cookbooks and recipes online, for everything from Chinese dishes to whole roasted chicken!  It’s amazing what you can do in those things. Even desserts.   Plus, a slow cooker can be just $20 or $30, depending on where you shop.  (I love Big Lots.)

Number eight:  Get creative with leftovers.  Leftover meatloaf?  Toss it with some jarred marinara sauce and serve with spaghetti.   Leftover beans?  Refried beans for taco night.  Leftover roast chicken?  Chicken salad, chicken soup, chicken pasta, casseroles… The list can go on and on.  The point is not to waste the food if you can help it.  Leftovers can get boring if it’s the same thing all the time, so use your imagination and turn yesterday’s meal into something different for the next night or the night after.  I prefer to rotate my leftovers so we’re not eating the same thing two nights in a row.

Number nine:  Herbs are very important to the kitchen witch.  Either buy them in bulk, or, if you have space, buy some potted herbs.  You can dry your own, too.   You can buy lots of different seasonings in bulk from health food stores and online.  I like www.spicesinc.com .  Their prices are decent and the quality is good.

Number ten:  If you eat meat, don’t focus so much on animal protein at every meal.  A few vegetarian meals a week will save you money and improve your health.   Grab some frozen vegetables, canned coconut milk, and some spices and whip up some delicious curry or korma one night.  Add some rice to complete the meal.   One of my favorite Indian dishes is aloo gobi, which is a potato-cauliflower curry.  I wrote a post a while ago about a way of using up those leftovers by making them into something like a frittata.  Delicious!  

Number eleven:  Save room in the freezer for those leftovers that you don’t use right away.  Lasagna freezes beautifully.  Chili and other soups and stews also freeze well.  Just make sure you have good containers and some heavy-duty foil to avoid freezer burn.  Try to use the leftovers within a couple of weeks just to be sure.

Number twelve:  Why buy what you can make?  Salad dressing is easy to whip up using pantry staples.  If you have some free time on the weekend, make and freeze your own marinara sauce.  I haven’t used a cake mix in I don’t know how many years.  Flour is cheap, and so are eggs and sugar.  Plus, if you make it at home, you’re not going to be ingesting weird preservatives and chemical flavor enhancers.  I make my own marinades, dry rubs, salad dressings, etc.

Number thirteen: Think internationally but eat locally.  There are so many cuisines that use flavorful spices and little to no meat.  My favorite is Indian.

Number fourteen:  SET A BUDGET!  Use a calculator to help you keep on track.  Check out those store circulars before you go so you have a rough idea of what you’re going to need and how much it’s going to cost.  See menu planning.

Some of my favorite cheap meals are:

·         Vegetable curry (or chicken if I have some in the freezer) with rice
·         Refried bean tacos
·         Not Quite Falafel – I pulverize chickpeas, cumin, and sauteed garlic and onion in the food processor and serve it in pita.
·         Chili – you can use meat, beans, meat substitute, or some combination.  Chili recipes usually make a ton.  It gets better over the next day or two, and you can freeze it.  It can be eaten with corn bread, turned into taco salad, or made into nachos.
·         Beans and cornbread – I make some black or pinto beans in the slow cooker.
·         Pizza – yes, pizza!  I make my own crust.  Again, flour is cheap, and so is yeast.  I make it on a weekend and top it with whatever sounds good at the time. 
·         Fried rice – This is one way that I use leftover chicken or pork, plus stuff like frozen peas and carrots.  
·         Frittata – Eggs and whatever you have.  You can do omelets or quiche as well.  I use frozen broccoli and/or spinach, cheese, mushrooms, bacon, onions…They’re good for any meal, really.

Chicken thighs are under-utilized by many people, eschewed for the breast meat.  Thighs are cheap, flavorful, and you can do anything with them that you would with chicken breast.  I make things like chicken paprikash to serve over egg noodles.  I make spicy drumsticks instead of wings, too.
Flank steak and skirt steak are usually decently-priced.  If you marinate and use your slow cooker, you can take those tough cuts and make great things.   Crock pot fajitas or tacos are one good example.
Bone-in cuts are usually cheaper. They also taste better.

Ground beef and pork make great meatloaf, meatballs, chili, Bolognese sauce...

Use those cheap cuts, people!  Cook ‘em nice and slow. Marinate them first.  You’ll be rewarded with a lower-priced meal than if you’d used a fancier cut.  Once in a while I will splurge on a nice steak that my boyfriend and I will split over salad, but I tend to gravitate toward the tougher, less expensive bits and pieces when I’m shopping.

In summary, although food prices may be going up and we’re still making the same amount of money (or less), you can still eat well without giving your hard-earned money to Taco Hell or McDooDoo’s.   This is something that I have to remember as well.  My money will go a lot further at the grocery store than at a restaurant, plus there will be leftovers for future meals. 

A lot of these tips are common sense things that you’ve probably read a thousand times before,  yet I think they bear repeating.  I just spent entirely too much money at Kroger, but I have pantry staples, frozen staples and quick meals for work, and enough cooked meals for the week when I’m tired after work and don’t feel like cooking.

Helpful Links:

There are also a bunch of websites that have recipes for budget meals.  Many of these are for four people.  I don’t know about you, but I’m only cooking for two, but that means I can eat at least twice if I cook something once. 

Keep it simple. Keep it versatile.  Use your imagination and make some magic, and maybe you’ll magically see your dollars stretch!