Winter Solstice Brew

Infused liquors are great around the holidays, and require basically nothing more rigorous than a bit of chopping and some pouring.

This vanilla and citrus infused brandy will be perfect around the Yule fire, and will also make a killer sidecar.

Now, truth be told, I may have left this a bit too late this year. It needs 2 weeks of brewing, and then 1-3 weeks of mellowing after it’s strained. So, if you start now, it will be just about ready for Yule. But then again, it’s not like you won’t want to drink it after the holiday, because you will.

And did I mention how easy it is?

The ingredients

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You’ll need a bottle of decent brandy. Don’t feel like you need to go crazy (probably won’t want to use a bottle of $80 cognac), but you’ll want something that’s fairly good quality because this isn’t like cooking. You’ll definitely taste a poor brandy in this. I used Courvoisier, because you can’t really go wrong.

You’ll also want an orange, two vanilla beans, some star anise, half a cinnamon stick and a clean quart mason jar.

Making the brew

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Cut the orange into fourths and drop it into the jar. Add your cinnamon and anise, then slice open the vanilla beans and   pour in the brandy. Yeah. It’s that easy.

One important note, though: Make sure you pour enough brandy to cover every bit of the fruit and spices, particularly the ends of the vanilla beans. Exposed spices might mold.

Let it mellow

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Once you have it all put together, cap the jar tightly and put it in a cool, dry, dark place. I put it in my pantry. For the next two weeks, take it out and shake it once a day.

At the end of the two weeks, strain out the fruit and spices, and then return it to the jar and back into the pantry (or wherever) to mellow for 1-3 weeks.

Enjoy on Yule, New Year’s Eve and whenever you need a nice pick me up.

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Holiday Simmer Pot

There is no better time of the year for simmering up some magic – and some great scents – on the stove.

This holiday simmer pot not only smells heavenly, but is chock full of all kinds of good stuff that you want to draw in at this time of year (or any time of year, really).

As always, keep safety in mind and don’t let your simmer pot go unattended or let the water get too low.

You can get creative with what you use in your simmer pot, depending on what you’re trying to manifest.

Here is what I used for this pot:

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Orange – Used for drawing and attracting, it’s also a symbol of abundance. I cut up a whole orange for this pot.

Cranberries – The quintessential American holiday fruit, cranberry doesn’t have a huge history of magical properties, but as a water fruit, it’s considered to have some of the same feminine properties of assisting with communication and emotions. It’s also considered protective. I tossed in a handful of fresh cranberries.

Cloves – Since I made this pot right after a thorough space clearing, I tossed in some cloves for not only banishing negativity but attracting what I want to bring in. It’s got a bit of protection, too, so that’s always good.

Rosemary – I added a sprig of fresh rosemary from my garden for remembrance, as a reminder of those who aren’t with me at the holidays anymore.

Cinnamon – Since I’m looking for a bit of luck and prosperity, I tossed in a stick of cinnamon. Cinnamon is also activating, helping all the other fruits and herbs to do their jobs.

Vanilla – I always add a glug of my homemade vanilla extract to a simmer pot, because I like having something that I made myself as a part of the spell. Plus, it smells yummy.

Sea Salt – This is another usual ingredient in my magical simmer pots, adding a grounding element.

Kitchen Witchery: Almost Homemade Skillet Rosemary Rolls

Every hearth witch knows the power of home cooked food – particularly homemade bread. But not every hearth witch has the time to make bread or rolls from scratch.

These rosemary rolls have become almost a signature dish of mine, and they could not be easier or more economical.

I start with a bag of inexpensive frozen rolls. The kind I purchase (and make sure you’re getting the rolls in dough form and not ‘brown and serve’ type already made rolls) comes with about 24 rolls in a bag and is often on sale for just a few dollars.

I get out my trusty, 1920 cast iron skillet, which holds about 12-13 rolls. I usually start about 4 hours before I want rolls, to give them plenty of time to thaw and rise. After arranging them in a skillet, I just cover them with a cloth and wait.

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When ready, I brush them with a few tablespoons of butter, then sprinkle on coarse sea salt (regular table or Kosher salt doesn’t work as well) and then add a sprinkling of finely chopped fresh herbs. I prefer rosemary, but I’ve tried these with thyme and a combination of herbs, so choose herbs that go with what you’re serving. You can certainly use dried, but fresh is always better if you can get them.

Then just pop them in the oven according to the directions on the bag (18-20 minutes for mine), brush them with butter again when they come out and voila: you have a skillet of amazing rolls that warm hearts and fill bellies, and took up very little of your precious time.

These are great at the holidays, by the way, since they mostly just sit by themselves until you’re ready to bake them, but bring a real wholesome feel to the table.

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Kitchen Witchery: Potato Leek Soup

With fall (finally!) starting to settle in, the farmer’s markets are starting to change. You can still get berries and tomatoes, but we’re starting to see more potatoes, apples, grapes and other autumn harvest foods.

Not a minute too soon, I say.

I made this soup from some organic leeks and Yukon gold potatoes I picked up at the farmer’s market. It’s more of a method than a recipe, but I’ll try and set it out. The good thing about soup is that it’s pretty forgiving, and you can adjust on the fly to make it the way you want.

Note on leeks: If you haven’t worked with them before, you don’t use the green parts of leeks; just the white part. And after you cut them, be sure you wash them thoroughly (I swirl them in a big bowl of water), because dirt gets stuck between the layers.

Potato Leek Soup

1 1/2 to 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
3 leeks (white parts only)
Olive oil
Butter
1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, or water.
1 cup whole milk (optional)

Rinse the potatoes and cut them into fourths (or halves if they’re small). Cut off the “bulb” at the very bottom of each leek and the green leaves, then cut the leek in half lengthwise. Placing the leek cut side down, slice into very thin half moon shapes. Transfer to a large bowl or colander and rinse thoroughly, swirling the leeks around to be sure you get any dirt.

Over medium heat, melt a good knob of butter and add a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Add the leeks and cook, stirring constantly, until they begin to turn translucent and slightly brown. Add in the thyme and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.

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Add four cups of stock or water (I used half and half, because I didn’t have enough chicken stock) and the potatoes. Turn up the heat and bring to a roiling boil.

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Lower the heat to low and cook until the potatoes are soft. This could take 30-40 minutes, so check often after about 20 minutes or so by poking them with a fork.

Take the soup off the heat, and use a stick blender to puree. (I suppose you could do this with a regular blender, but I’d do it in small batches since it’s hot.) Return to low heat and stir in the milk, if using. Season to taste with salt and pepper and heat through before serving.

Note: The milk is entirely optional; I like it because it adds a creamier texture. But you could easily leave it out, and by using vegetable stock or water, this would be a great vegan meal.

Kitchen Witchery: Mabon Altar Oil

Special altar oils – used for anointing people and tools and fixing candles – are a great addition to a Sabbat altar. You can purchase them in a lot of pagan shops or on Etsy, but like many other hearth witches, I prefer to make my own.

Most recipes for altar oils require essential oils, and that can get a bit spendy. I prefer instead to to infuse my oils with natural herbs and other ingredients appropriate to the season.

There are two methods for infusing oils: First, you can put the ingredients and oil together in an airtight container, and let it sit in a darkened place for at least a moon cycle. But when you don’t have time, you can use warmth to infuse the oil. Just heat the ingredients on a very low flame for about an hour, cool down and then decant into a special jar.

I developed this Mabon oil based on a recipe from Scott Cunningham that used similar herbs in essential oil form, but I used olive oil as a base. The great thing about this is that it’s entirely edible until added to the jar with Frankincense resin. In fact, this made about 3 ounces, and I kept two in the fridge for later use – in cooking or other altar oils.

Mabon Altar Oil

1 green apple, sliced
1 sprig rosemary
1 small handful dried chamomile flowers (and more for the bottle, optional)
3 oz. olive oil
Frankincense resin
Dried rosemary for the bottle (optional)

Slice the apples horizontally so that each slice has a five pointed star inside. Add to a wide saucepan along with the rosemary and chamomile. Pour over the olive oil.

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On as low heat as you can get, heat the oil slowly for approximately one hour, or until fragrant. Watch it carefully, swirling often to ensure none of the herb and apple mixture burns. If it begins to sizzle, take it off the flame and let it cool a bit before returning it to the heat.

Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. Strain the oil into a measuring cup through a fine mesh sieve to remove the herbs and apples.

In a dark amber or other glass bottle, add three small pieces of  resin, a sprig of dried rosemary, some dried chamomile flowers and an apple seed or two. Fill the jar to the top with the cooled oil, being very careful to cover any plant material with the oil.

If you have any left over, you can keep it (without the resin or other add ins) in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Kitchen Witchery: Blackberry Jam

Mabon season is also blackberry season, and I love them both! Since my local farmer’s market has huge, delicious berries right now, I thought I’d celebrate the season with blackberry jam.

Jam is the easiest thing to make, though it takes some patience and a bit of practice to get it just the way you like. Still, over the years I’ve learned some things that help:

Let it sit – This is my favorite tip, and I wish I could remember where I heard it. But basically, instead of mashing everything together before cooking and trying to decide the best time to add the sugar, you dump the berries, sugar and lemon juice together beforehand and stick it in the fridge overnight. (Though with blackberries, you’ll want to give it a mash or two to get it going.) The fridge does the work, and the macerated berries are a snap to work with the next day.

Use a skillet – Most of us think of making jams in huge, deep pots…which is one reason it takes so long. I learned through America’s Test Kitchen that if you use a large skillet for small-batch jam, it will cook quicker.

Boil then simmer – Most old fashioned recipes (when they didn’t have pectin in packets) start with boiling the fruit and sugar for five minutes, then simmering for 15-30 minutes, stirring constantly. I’ve found this method very effective.

One to One – Basically, what works for me is one cup berries, one cup sugar, juice of one small lemon. (Remember: sugar is necessary for jam to actually become jam.) I use this ratio based on how many cups of berries I have. For this batch, I had three cups and ended up with one full Mason jar of jam.

Blackberry Jam for Mabon

Note: I don’t use any pectin in this recipe, because I don’t like my jam to get too set. I also don’t process this; it doesn’t make much and I can use it up quickly, so I keep it in the fridge.

2-3 cups blackberries
2-3 cups sugar (you should have as many cups of sugar as cups of berries)
Juice of 2-3 small lemons (one per cup of berries)

Combine the blackberries, sugar and lemon juice in a large bowl, mashing the berries lightly with the back of a fork. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

Pour the macerated berries into a large, non-reactive skillet over high heat and bring to a boil. Boil for five minutes. Lower heat, and simmer – stirring constantly – for 15-30 minutes, until the jam thickens and holds a set on a cold plate.

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I stir constantly while it simmers.

Decant into a clean Mason jar (I warm it first by filling it with hot water and letting it sit for a few minutes) and refrigerate. You should use it within 2-3 weeks, but mine never lasts that long!

Note: Especially if the blackberries are big, they will leave “cores” in the jam. I personally fish these out because I think they interfere with the final look and texture of the jam. Some people also strain out the seeds, but I prefer a more rustic jam, so I don’t.

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I chuck out the ‘cores’

Magickal Housekeeping: Lemon Sink Shining

I love my 110-year old house, Fogvale Cottage.

One way I try to honor it is by keeping as many strong chemicals out of it as I can by cleaning with natural ingredients. Sometimes, this just isn’t possible; we live in the real world, and sometimes you have to bring out the big guns. But 99% of the time, if I can choose natural, I do.

The humble lemon is a definite must have for natural and magickal housecleaning. Not only is it great on all kinds of surfaces, but its magickal properties of cleansing, spiritual opening and removing blockages are perfect.

Today’s tip: Use a lemon to shine your sink.

Cut a lemon in half (I usually get not-so-great looking ones in a bag at the supermarket so they’re more affordable). You can sprinkle kosher or sea salt on the cut half and then use it to scrub your sink or countertop, but I also often make a paste with the lemon juice and some kosher salt and use that to scrub the sink.

It takes some elbow grease, but it’s worth it. It also makes the house smell great!

What to do with the leftover lemon halves? Toss them in a Cleansing Summer Simmer Pot!