Vacation Time is Over!

Hi everyone! I'm back in the blogging business.

I had a wonderful vacation, long and eventful. Not all the events were "positive" in the sense that they made me feel happy cheerful thoughts, but they were all positive in the sense that they got me to grow and to understand things. They were learning experiences, and as such valuable.

Plus, of course, there were many happy cheerful thoughts and amazing things that I've enjoyed every second of, and, to be frank, the aftermath has me a bit restless and unwilling to settle back into the groove.

In cases like that some external circumstances can be very helpful. So, profiting of today's full moon and of the fact that it's September (damn, already!) and some of my favourite vegetables are in season, I'm going to dive headlong into Kitchen Witchcraft tonight and make some preserves! They may be slightly more magical than my usual. We'll see.



And for those of you that could use a reminder:
Preserves - part I
Preserves - part II

Summer Solstice Feast

The Summer Solstice has come!

This will be a short post, because I'm busy this season. And apparently so are a lot of other kitchen witches, to judge by the amount of questions I got on the lines of "I'll be hosting a Solstice festival/coven meeting/get-together/party, what can I serve?"

And since I'll be doing the same thing, I can still help you. Here's some quick ideas for your Summer Solstice Feast.

Not pictured: goat cheese and fresh mint frittata because I'll be making it later.


1. Go regional


A good Solstice Feast will celebrate whatever is naturally available in the region you are in. This is what the Summer Solstice is about - the climax of the natural cycle, the vitality and energy and fruit of natural processes. So just choose whatever is in season where you are at the moment, which is easiest achieved by going to a local greengrocer and just seeing what's there. Supermarkets have stuff imported from all around the world, but the slightly dirty shop on the corner doesn't.

In my case, this means strawberries, sweet cherries, french beans, fava beans, early tomatoes, young potatoes, things like that. Maybe some early opal plums if I have the money.

2. Go light


Contrary to winter celebrations, a good Summer festival should leave you energetic and ready to dance. Light foods are definitely preferable - fruit salads, simple vegetable affairs - because that's the summer feel. Leave the thick cream and lard-with-onions for the time of frost.*

3. Go personal


Festive meals are best if they mean something to the feast guests, or at least the host. For instance, on the picture above you can see a bowl of couscous with cucumbers and tomatoes. This is definitely not usual for my region or culture, but it means something to me, being a version of tabbouleh I was introduced to during one important summer.
I will also be making a frittata (egg-based Italian dish) for a similar reason, and also because it resembles the sun, being a golden disc. Plus, it's delicious.
And I will also make young potatoes with dill and onion, fried on butter and served with sour milk, which is a very traditional summer food in my culture. Thus including both things important to me personally and to the people I come from.

Oh, and also, ice cream. Seriously. It's summer. Eat ice cream. Do it.

[*If you happen to have bad weather on Solstice Day, you may like my "Bad Weather Beltane" ritual ideas, they're adaptable to Summer Solstice as well.]

How To Make Delicious Soup - Any Soup

Hey, readers! The month of May is always a little hectic around here, and I only just found some time to sit down and notice that we're in full swing of vegetative seasons. Soon, our tables will be full of wonderful vegetables, and our bodies will be better prepared to accept light meals.

Add to that the desire to look better in summer clothes, and we're heading straight to the only sensible conclusion:

Soup.

Soups are great, filling meals which are also much lighter and easier on your figure than most of other stuff we eat, especially if we have all those amazing vegetables at our disposal.

With that in mind, I've decided not to give you another specific recipe, but something more universal:

Tips For a Delicious Soup - Any Soup



1. Soup-creams... or not?

I love cream soups, and I will usually blend the everloving hell out of anything. My recipes show that plainly. In most cases, though, this step can be omitted without much harm to the dish.

However, you can also have the best of both worlds: just take out some of the vegetables before blending, and add them back in afterwards. You get a smooth taste and something to get your teeth into at the same time.

2. Stir-frying - your best friend

Most soups will be better if you stir-fry your vegetables first. This can be done in the pot you will use for boiling so no additional work required. Adding a little bit of oil makes soup richer, and various types of oil add their own taste to the mix. 

You can also control the taste you get by how much you fry them - lightly seared, or nicely crisp? Bell peppers soup and onion soup are two dishes that can be changed very much just by this simple technique.

3. Vegetable combinations

Recipes are always at hand nowadays, in books or on cooking blogs, but if you're on your own, you can still come up with something by following the simple rule of always combining a milder kind of vegetable with at least one spicier kind: leeks and potatoes, chili and tomatoes, onion with absolutely everything. Seriously, onion is like the wild card of cooking. Carrot is an interesting case, because carrots can be mildly sweet or very spicy depending on a variety.

4. Colour tricks

The only problem with vegetable soups is that sometimes you get a bland bowl of stuff that doesn't really look very well. This is easily remedied by small additions that may not influence the taste but will do wonders for the looks. The easiest colour tricks are:
  • some mild carrots for the orange-ish hue,
  • a little bit of turmeric for a golden hue,
  • onion peel for a very nice gold-brown effect (use the nicer, tender peels, not the dry and dirty outer layers)
  • a piece of beetroot for a pinkish hue, good for greenish, ghastly soups.

5. Pretty serving bowls

If you have trouble convincing yourself that soups can be fun, just think how many odd and fun things you can use to serve them in. Cocktail glass? Teacup? How about you use the ladle to drink straight from the pot, Panoramix-style? Now try that with a steak. Go on. I'll wait.


Bad Weather Beltane

It's the May festival, and I can hear my teeth chattering. It's raining cats and dogs, too.

So what do you do when the weather is really bad on a day that should entail making bonfires and partying?

This picture from
dangthien3010.wordpress.com
This problem is not limited to Beltane. All sorts of "vitality and joy" rituals are constructed in a way that really, really does not mesh with squelching boots. Nothing is more hopeless than finding you cannot make any flower wreaths because the plants are sulking.

This is my case this year, but I devised the Bad Weather Beltane ritual ideas some time ago. They're indoor practices that are useful when the weather is bad, but also when you are a solitary witch and don't fancy walking your park alone at night, or don't have a place to go in your area, or have mobility problems... or when, for any other reasons, you need to perform in your house what you would much rather perform underneath a starry night and majestic tree crowns. They're solitary rites, but you can easily adapt them for more people.

(In this post, "Beltane" will serve as shorthand for "occasions that - broadly speaking - celebrate vitality, reborn nature, plants, flowers, full spring and early summer, long days etc." Hopefully, whether you celebrate Beltane specifically or not, you can still find something here.)

GENERAL TIPS

  • Wear summer clothing. If you are indoors, you are hopefully warm and safe, so profit of that. In spite of the sky outside, wear your summer clothes - a flowery dress, white linen trousers, shorts, whatever feels like Summer. Go barefoot. Give the weather a hint.
  • Use fresh, Summer-y scents. Incense, or essential oils, or just some perfume sprinkled in the air - something to make you feel how you would be feeling if it wasn't for that pesky rain.
  • Work with sounds. Music that makes you think of hiking trips or bonfire parties, or, in a pinch, even actual birdsong and nature sounds, they're all on YT. Sure, they're not the real deal, and some people prefer to avoid them completely because of that, but once you get into your ritual you may find the sounds complement it nicely, even if they do come from your laptop.
  • Draw the curtains. If the weather is really bad and depressing, it may be better to just cover the windows and forget about what is outside for a moment, as  you create a small pocket of incoming summer in your room.

SPECIFIC RITUAL IDEAS


1. Fire

The most obvious element for these purposes, and a very fun one. You can't have a huge bonfire in your living room, but usually you can still enjoy some indoors fire rituals. It only takes some responsibility.

  • Fire bowl:

You will need: a heat-resistant bowl, a trivet, and some stuff to light on fire.

This is the simplest ritual of all. You just put your stuff in the bowl, put the bowl on a trivet, and light the stuff on fire. It doesn't have to be big, it will feel huge indoors anyway. Remember that there will be a lot of smoke, too.

Suitable kindling can include old matches, dry plant stems, herbs. Try to avoid paper, because it gives a huge but brief fire and unpleasant smell.

  • Fire walk:

You will need: a number of white candles, and a fire source.

Put a white candle in every room. (These can be ordinary tealights.) Throw open all the doors so you can see and pass easily from room to room. Take another candle into your hand and light it. Walk into each room and light the candle in there using the one you carry. At each lighting, you can say, or chant, sing or think a blessing of your choice. Or not. It's up to you.

  • Fire walk, there and back again:

You will need: a number of white candles, a fire source and a tray.

Do as above, but prepare a tray in the room you started in. Once all the candles are lit, go back to where you started and take the tray. Walk the rooms once again, collecting your candles on the tray, and carry your armful of light to where you want it most: your kitchen, or bedroom, or bathroom if you are planning some bath rituals next.

  • The Path:

This image from patheos.com
This is a bit of a risky ritual that I really enjoy, but it entails putting candles on the floor, walking past them and throwing cloth around them, so use your own judgement and knowledge of your situation to judge. (Also, always do that.)

You will need: a number of candles, and two shawls/scarves/pieces of cloth in different colours or patterns. One to represent the passing darkness and winter (so a white one, or blue, or black, or whatever works for you), and the other to represent the new light and vitality (red, or flowery, or a pattern of suns, or leaves, you know).

Choose a place in your house where you have enough space to walk in a straight line for at least a few paces. Set your walking path with candles (use candles that stay still, tealights or pillar candles are best) and light them. Place your "light" shawl at one end of the path. Go to the other end of the path, and wrap your "dark" shawl around yourself.
Slowly walk the path of the candles towards the other shawl. You can sing, or pray, or chant whatever you want. Also watch out not to kick the candles. When you are midway on the path, take off the dark shawl, turn around, and toss it back as far away as you can (making sure it won't land on the candles and kill everyone!). Walk the rest of the path, and wrap yourself in the new shawl.

SAFETY FOR FIRE RITUALS: always keep some water handy in case something does catch fire, preferably in a wide pitcher that gives a big gush (and not a small bottle that plops out a small stream).
Avoid putting candles straight on the carpet - put them in jars, or go where you have tiled floor, or at least use saucers.
If, for any reason, fire and candles are really unsafe in your house (pets, children, a disability, anything) you may like LED candles. I was pleasantly surprised about them, if they're well done they work.

2. Water

Water is life, and vitality, and incidentally also relax and cleanliness. Very good choice for these occasions.


Use cosmetics that smell of the sea, or invigorating, citrus smells. A luxury version is performed by a friend of mine, who always goes to a spa resort for Beltane, swims himself to exhaustion and then lays about in a jacuzzi. You can try that, too, if you can afford it.

  • Potions:

Preparing a potion to drink as a ritual is the most kitchen witchcrafty thing you can do, and much simpler than running around throwing rags onto candles.

Good ingredients for Beltane potions include orange, lemon and lime juice, pineapples, fresh ginger, hibiscus, honey, rosemary, mint, and rosehip.

3. Food

Special food is the core of any celebration. I don't think there exists any culture that doesn't prepare special dishes for holidays. And, well, Kitchen Witchcraft obliges.


  • Fruit


Bad weather should not necessarily mean you can't get seasonal fruit. Maybe it will be a little more expensive, or maybe imported from a warmer country, but that's fine. Make a little Beltane feast of berries, or a fruit salad, a cocktail of fruit and yogurt. This can count as the potion, too.


  • Spring and Summer dishes


If there is a dish that you associate with these seasons, you'll know it better than I do. Why not prepare it? For me, these are roast potatoes with rosemary butter, and even though I can't make them in a bonfire, my oven does a pretty good job. Or penne primavera, that one is cool too.

4. Music and Dance

Another common element of Beltane celebrations, and one that can be easily done indoors. If you can't go and light fires outside, how about throwing a house party, with some thematic dishes and music? I know you didn't really need me to tell you this.

But it doesn't stop there. Beltane is about vitality and energy, and it may be a good occasion to do things you don't normally do. Go to a concert, to a club, dance, meet new people. They don't have to be festive events. No one has to know you're doing this as a ritual, too.

5. Sex


This image from inlingua-edinburgh.co.uk. What? I wasn't going to post porn.
In many mythologies in many cultures of the world, intercourse between deities is associated with the Earth's awakening and a new vegetative season. It's a pretty obvious association.

Some Beltane rituals may involve symbolic representations of this idea: pictures or statues of deities having sex, or more metaphorically putting daggers into chalices, things like that. Or people being drunk and dancing naked, or even having actual sex themselves.

I will not be listing specific examples of sex-related ritual elements here, for the simple reason that Beltane celebrations do not have to be sex-related. They can be, but they do not have to be, and frankly I find the idea of "we must bang today because my spiritual practice compels me to" to be very tacky. (Also, the whole holy-sex-because-fertility thing is alienating to people who are not straight, and those who simply don't want children or worship pregnancy.)

If you want to celebrate Beltane by grabbing your SO and rocking their world, that's a pretty good idea because it's best done comfortably indoors and you can incorporate other stuff I wrote about. But I'm never going to tell people "go and have sex now." And definitely not how to do it.

How To Grow your own Herbs - Part 2



Hey! How's that horticulture going? Better, but you'd still welcome some more practical tips? I knew it.

It's all very well to say "don't stress" and "choose wisely," but then what? Sooner or later you'll have to get down to business, plunge your hands into the soil, and... go back on the Internet looking for answers for all those new questions you now have.

But don't worry, 'cause I'm here for you.




Kitchen Witchcraft's Horticulture Tips and Tricks


1. Use DIY conservatories


One of life's great tragedies is that not everyone can have a beautiful and slightly spooky Kew-Gardens-Grade walk-in conservatory (greenhouse) in art nouveau style. Some of us have to make do with other things. These other things may not be as pretty or impressive, but they get the job done and they will be a tremendous help to you, especially if you live in slightly colder climes.

These three types of DIY conservatory I've used are all effective, work for small spaces including balconies and windowsills, and they come with bonus upcycling.

  Old windows 


My mother's house got new windows last year (finally!) and instead of throwing the old ones out, we used them to make this small plant nursery thing. It works great. All you have to do is find a spot with a sensible amount of sun, and secure the windows so they don't move. Then cover the sides (in our case, with a sturdy plastic sheet, but a bit of a board or old tiles or whatever work just as well). The point of a conservatory is to keep warm inside so you can't leave a gaping hole in there.



  Plastic containers 


A really simple and effective way of helping your seeds out is to simply get a container of transparent, colourless plastic, and upturn it onto a flowerpot. That's it. Instant conservatory. You only have to remember to match the size and shape of the thing to your pots, because any gaps will let the heat out and defeat the purpose. And when too much moisture collects on the inside, you have to wipe it off.



  Plastic bottles

This is a way to have an individual mini-conservatory for a single plant. It's a good idea when you've brought it from a nursery, planted it in one of your pots, and don't want the transition to be too harsh for it. You simply take a transparent, colourless bottle of a desired diameter and cut it to the desired height. Then you pop it down onto the plant, taking care not to tear off anything. The advantage of this system is that you can open/close the cap to let moisture evaporate easier on hot days, or even to water the plant. This is also a great way to apply pest control sprays only on the one plant that needs it, and prevent the pests from spreading out, or at least makes it more difficult. Sort of a quarantine chamber.


Note: your home conservatories don't have to be DIY. If you feel like it, go ahead and buy the adorable things available at shops. Whatever you prefer.


2. Don't sneer at commercial fertilisers and treatments


Homemade stuff is great, but not all of us have the time and the knowledge to make it right. Or the facilities. Concocting the organic pest control spray from fermented nettle leaves will not be easy if you rent out a room from a cranky landlord. Plus, various plants do have various needs and you may be able to save yourself a big headache if you just buy a dedicated fertiliser that was composed for the specific plant and its needs.

However, when using commercial fertilisers:
  • always buy a small batch first and see how the plants respond to it 
  • read up on whether or not it can be used for edible plants 
  • for aromatic herbs especially, choose dedicated fertilisers "for herbs." It sounds like a silly cash grab, but other such substances can and did change the taste of my herbs, whereas a dedicated one didn't. 

3. Provide Drainage


Good drainage is when the excess water from your plant can flow out of the soil and elsewhere, to evaporate and/or be drank up by the plant later, when it's done with what's in the soil. Only plants native to swamps and tropics handle soggy soil and too much water well - for the rest of them, their roots will rot and the plant will wither and die.

The best way to provide drainage is to plant the herbs in something that has holes in the bottom, and put that in another receptacle that will catch the water as it flows out. This can be a saucer, or a tray, or another, bigger pot. Whatever you prefer. Personally, I plant mine in simple plastic containers with holes, and put those in pretty pots and old tea kettles and vases and whatever tickles my fancy.

If you absolutely cannot have holes in the bottom for whatever reason, then start the planting by making a thick layer (at least 3-4 cm) of gravel, expanded clay or similar material at the bottom of the pot. Put the soil and the plant on top of that. Don't use sand for the purpose because it's too fine.

4. Water From Below

Except for plants that explicitly like being doused in water or sprayed, most of them prefer to draw the water from the ground up. Like they do naturally. It's much better to supply your plants with water from underneath, so that roots are forced to burrow for it and can expand and keep the plant upright. If your plant always gets its water from the surface, all the roots will be near the surface too.

This is easily done when you have holes in your pots, as per #3. You just pour the water onto your saucer or into the outer pot and are done with it.
In other cases, you may have to dig a small hole somewhere to the side of the pot so that the water flows into it. You can also stick a "pipe" into the soil (a bit cut off from a garden hose, for instance) and pour the water into it, let it seep into the soil that way. Not all plants will like that, though - for some, this can make the soil too cold for their roots, for instance.

5. Mess about with your plants


It's tempting, especially for people who flirt with the whole Mother-Nature Druidry Cottage Herbalism thing (and that's certainly me and probably some of you, too) to leave the plants to their devices and let them do their thing.

And for many plants, this can be totally OK, but every once in a while you'll have those that do need to be taken care of. If you see leaves are bitten and disappear at an alarming rate, it's no use hoping the plant can deal with it. You need to deal with the caterpillars for it. If you see leaves with signs of sickness on them, best tear them off and throw them away.
Some of the more typical things you may want to do for your plant:

  Prop it up

It may be a creeping vine in need of a frame to climb, or an overlong, thin stem that needs support. So give it some. You can buy frames and poles (usually of bamboo) in gardening stores, or you can use sturdy sticks you can find, or those thin bamboo skewers for the small pots. Avoid metal things because they may rust in the soil and the plant may not like it.

When providing your potted plant with a pole, always stick the thing right next to the pot edge. It may seem a better idea to have it right next to the plant, but then you risk damaging roots. And if it's right by the edge then it's better stabilised.

  Patch it up

Sometimes, stems break, and then there's nothing for it but to put it in water and hope it will take root. But sometimes they only break a bit, hanging limply but with the inner fibers intact. In these cases, it may be worth it to use a bit of tape to patch it up, adhesive-bandage style, keeping it together. This happens quite a lot with my ampelopsis, and I usually wrap it with a bit of paper tape, putting a small bit of tissue over the tear just so the glue doesn't get into it.

  Cut it up

It may break your heart to cut bits off of a plant that is doing its best to grow, but sometimes this may be a good thing. Maybe a particular branch is too heavy, and the stem is sagging under its weight. Maybe you want it to branch out to the sides, too. Maybe a part of it is ill.

If you need to cut up your plants, try to use as sharp a knife as possible so that you don't leave a jagged, haggard wound.

🌱🌱🌱

Ookay, you may possibly know more than you wanted to now. Get planting!