A Pet-Safe Mistletoe Craft

Today I’m writing about Mistletoe, the legendary plant of love and friendship. As it is toxic to animals and small children, I’m going with a safe felted alternative for decoration.

Mistletoe is the name for a range of hemiparasitic, toxic plants that live off host trees in a variety of climates around the world. The one we know best is the European Mistletoe, an evergreen with paired leaves and white, waxy berries in clusters of two to six.

A tree infected with Mistletoe

There are many uses to Mistletoe, and more being studied medically, including cancer treatment, arthritis, high blood pressure, epilepsy and infertility. It is used in folk medicine as a sedative, to lower blood pressure, help heal broken bones, and reduce tumors. Caution must be advised for any internal usage of this toxic plant, and a doctor should be kept aware of your consumption.

From a mythical point of view, the plant has been important for thousands of years, usually as a male fertility symbol. The Celts referred to the berries as the semen of Taranis, the god of thunder, while the Greeks called them “oak sperm.” During Saturnalia, the Romans hung Mistletoe indoors as a symbol of peace and love.

In Medieval times, Mistletoe continued to seen as a sign of fertility and love, while simultaneously a deterrent against witchcraft and unwanted spirits. The custom of kissing u see the mistletoe was in full force, though it may have been started by the Romans, or even as far as the Druids.

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe was continued into the Victorian era by the serving class, who made the rules that a man could kiss any woman standing under mistletoe, and that it would be bad luck for her to refuse it. Every time a kiss was granted, a berry would be plucked, and once the berries were gone, no more kisses could be stolen by it.

Magically, the uses of Mistletoe are myriad. Keeping a bit of Mistletoe on you is an excellent bringer of good luck and fortune, and protection against evil. It drives away negative forces and attracts positive ones. In love spells, it draws potential love to you. It can break hexes. Mistletoe is also associated with spiritual development.

A Pet Safe Craft: Felt Mistletoe

You will need:

  • One or two shades of green felt. I used wool felt mostly because they came in the colors I liked. If you are only making one bundle, then a few of those precut ~8.5×11″ sheets will be fine.
  • Small white pom poms (I used half inch)
  • Thin red ribbon
  • Fabric glue (I ended up using Gorilla Glue, an overkill, because I couldn’t find my fabric glue)
  • Fabric scissors
Enough branches for 3 bundles

I freehand cut the branches with paired leaves. I did it in three sizes: one long 4-pair branch, one shorter 4-pair branch, and one short 3-pair branch. I didn’t bother with a stencil because I thought the variation made it more natural. Don’t be too thin on the stems or where the leaves come together!

Once they are cut, you will gently and slowly pull at the felt to stretch the stems and give the leaves a slight cupped curve.

Put the three branches together by their top stems and glue the tips, with a loop of ribbon on the bottom. Let dry completely.

Once it is dry, you may tie the ribbon as you like and maybe add a dot of glue to keep it tied.

Once the ribbon and bow is dry, now you can start fussing with the leaves to twist and tangle them to give them a naturally fluffed appearance, with the leaves draping down. Get a sense of how you want it to look after the berries are attached. Hold it up often to see how it hangs.

I did the berries in two parts, so that they could dry before I flipped it over to do the other side. Mistletoe berries come in clusters of 2-6, along the stem. You can use the positioning of the berries to help fluff up the leaves or keep a tangle in place. And if you need, a drop of glue here and there also helps keep things looking good

There you go! You can make quite a few of these assembly-line style and they make nice early season gifts.

The Kitchen Witch

Copyright Sarah Burns Studio

I strongly connect to Kitchen Magic, otherwise known as Cottage, Home, or Hearth Magic. A lot of my posts tend to be about food magic, for example. So I wanted to spend a little time talking about what that means.

A Kitchen Witch blends the magical with the mundane by bringing the craft into ordinary domestic life. They bring hearth and home into harmony by utilizing their skills in enchantment, healing, protection, and cleansing, in normal daily activities. Even the basic tools of everyday life can be imbued with magic. Living with intent, and paying attention to details, are what make this witch such a powerhouse.

The key word to the mind of a Kitchen Witch is Intention. Whether solitary or in a group, Kitchen Witches layer their life in small spells, repeated daily as they do their normal activities. Basic domestic chores can become ritual. Cleaning a room becomes a consistent way to maintain protective wards and clear out negative energies. Washing clothes allows them to bless the garments their loved ones will wear. Their entire home is a sacred space.

Who doesn’t have a favorite spatula?

Kitchen Witches tend to be practical above all, so they are capable of creating their own ceremony and sanctifying their own tools. The broom is not just a symbol, but something to be used for practical purpose. It doesn’t have to be a specially made item, or from all-natural materials. It’s up to that witch what works for them.

Herbalism is also a huge part of Kitchen Witchery as well. Like a Hedge Witch, they might use herbs medicinally and make lotions or tinctures, as well as being central to food magic.

In creating food magic, you must first determine your goals, and decide by what means you hope to achieve them. There are many options, from a baked good, tea or other drinks, a spice blend, or maybe an entire meal.

Please note that when you prepare something for another to eat, you are literally asking them to ingest your intentions. There is a moral responsibility in that, so whatever your path, I ask you to bear in mind whether the spell, not just the food, is being taken with informed consent or not.

Image from Plated

When you know these things, start by considering the very base ingredients that are already required. A baked good requires some form of flour, for example, be it grain, plant, or nut based. Does the recipient have dietary restrictions that must also guide your recipe?

Then you can open up your herbal encyclopedias (I like Scott Cunningham and browsing the internet for this) and cookbooks and start your research. Ingredients don’t have to have the exact same meaning, they just need to be in harmony going in the same direction. If it’s going all over the place, there is no focus, and the energy will dissipate.

Another thing to consider is seasonal ingredients, for these reasons: One, seasonal produce just tastes better. Second, they naturally coincide with the seasonal Sabbats and their magic.

Quick note: Write everything down! Doesn’t need to be in a fancy journal. I use a plain spiral college ruled notebook for most of my recipes. Write ideas, feelings as you work, as well as results and notes for next time.

You can Charge ingredients as well, by chant and meditation, by the moon, or by crystals. Always check before using any gemstone, crystal, or metal, as some are not food/heat safe (like garnet or malachite), or if they might dissolve in water and leave shards (like Selenite).

These are some of the ways in which you begin to Layer your spell. Layering is a technique of building up smaller spells or energies so that the final Working is especially powerful and multifaceted.

Here’s an example:

  1. You can make butter at home, it’s actually very easy. Butter has a nurturing, gentling quality, and it is one of the few animal fats we can get regularly that does not have to harm the animal. While making the butter, in choosing the dairy cream’s source and taking the time and energy, you empower this ingredient beyond what you could buy in the store.
  2. Now you might make homemade bread. Maybe you use an old recipe that has sentimental value, or one a friend recommends, or have a sourdough or friendship bread Leaven you’ve been maintaining. Even if you use a bread machine, you are still imbuing that wheat, salt, yeast, and water with your goals. Bread is a beautiful symbol of abundance and growth. Both wheat and salt can represent bounty and financial wealth.
  3. Your combine this bread and butter, and now the spell has two strong parts working in harmony as a personal blessing. Perhaps combine it with a tea you made, that takes that wish of growth and abundance, and amplifies it, or provides a tighter focus: are they wanting that financial side of growth, or was the bounty they were hoping for more one of fertility?
  4. For the sake of the example, if they are hoping for a child, maybe you can consider the time of year for this purpose as well, like making the bread and butter and serving it to them for Beltane, a time of fertility and love.
  5. Add this to other spells and an amulet for them to wear, and you can build it into a very potent Working.

Imagine, now, what you could do with an entire holiday meal. The cleansing of the space, literally as well as metaphysically. Decorating with meaningful symbols and color, and using essential oils for scent to inspire a mood. The food may have started over a month ago, when you planted the seeds to the oregano you’re using tonight. It all builds up and comes together. Everything has meaning, especially the celebrations of normal life. Layering is building up multiple meanings into a whole conversation.

Multigrain Sourdough Bread

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This recipe was based on the ingredients and techniques that would have been available to the Nordic people in the middle ages, as no written recipes exist.  I did it for an event held by a local medieval reenactment group.  This is also when I made the butter.  Check out my Magic of Bread and Leavening post if you don’t have a sourdough starter ready.

It was a hearty bread with strong flavor, but not really identifiable as a sourdough.  I had someone tell me they were very picky when it comes to bread, and they loved this.

Multigrain Sourdough Bread

Utilizes a small-medium Dutch Oven, roughly 8-10″ wide.

Plan for 11-19 hours before actual baking (which is another hour), not including the soaker’s overnight.

Soaker

  • 1 Tbsp each millet, rye, wheat bran, barley, buckwheat
  • 3 Tbsp rolled oats (not quick)
  • 2 Tbsp flaxseed
  • 2 Tbsp hempseed
  • 3 Tbsp chopped hazelnuts
  • ¾ cup (155g) boiling hot distilled water

Mix together and soak overnight. (If you are in a hurry you can microwave it for a minute or two, then cool completely.)

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Dough

  • ¼ cup (50g) sourdough starter, previously fed, bubbly and active
  • 1 ⅓ cup (300g) warm distilled water
  • 2 ½ Tbsp (50g) raw honey, gently warmed and dissolved into the water
  • 3 cups (400g) whole wheat bread flour (I accidentally used a stone ground whole wheat flour, not a bread flour, and it worked fine)
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt

Preparation

  1. In the early evening, mix the starter, honey and water in a large bowl.  
  2. Add the flour and salt.  It will be shaggy at first.  Fold and mix until fully incorporated, may seem dry.  I used a strong spatula at this stage rather than my hands.
  3. Keep working the dough 3-4 minutes.  
  4. Cover with a damp towel for 30 minutes.  Keep near 70-80°F conditions.
  5. Mix in the soaker, folding and kneading for 2 minutes to incorperate.
  6. Cover with damp towel and rest 30 minutes. 
  7. First Folding: Grab portions of the dough, stretch and fold over, multiple times. It is still a fairly moist dough at this point.
  8. Cover with damp towel and rest 30-45 minutes.  
  9. Second FoldingGrab portions of the dough, stretch and fold over, multiple times. It is still a fairly moist dough at this point.
  10. Cover with damp towel and rest 30-45 minutes.  
  11. Third Folding:  Again, grab portions of the dough, stretch and fold over, multiple times. It is still a fairly moist dough at this point.
  12. Bulk Fermentation: Cover with a damp towel and rise overnight at 70-80°F for 8-14 hours.  Time depends on temperature of kitchen.
  13. It is ready when it appears dense, it jiggles when the bowl is moved, and it has doubled in size.
  14. On a floured surface, shape into a round, using a dough scraper, seam side down.  Let rest for 10 minutes
  15. Line an 8-inch bowl of banneton with floured cloth.
  16. Make a taut surface as you shape into a round boule.  Transfer quickly into the bowl, seam side up.
  17. Cover with a damp towel and rest 30-45 minutes.
  18. Preheat oven to 500°F.
  19. Prepare cooking pot or dutch oven by cutting a few parchment paper circles to fit the bottom.  Multiple layers help prevent extra browning. A thin layer of rough grain beneath the bottom parchment can also help give some space between the dough and the pot.
  20. When the dough is ready, turn out into the cooking pot seam side down.  Score with sharp knife.
  21. Place, lidded, into oven on center rack, and immediately reduce temperature down to 450°F
  22. Bake lidded for 20 minutes.
  23. Remove lid and bake additional 30-35 minutes.  (or 15-20 if split into two small loaves in separate pots)
  24. Bread is done when internal temperature reaches 190-205°F
  25. Transfer to wire rack.
  26. Cool 1 full hour before serving, as the inside is still cooking until then.

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The Magic of Bread and Leavening

bread dough
A Basic Sourdough on the Rise

I love making food from scratch when I can, because by allowing yourself to be involved from as early as possible, you have that much more time to imbue it with your energy and intentions.

I’ll go over the history of bread and leavening agents a bit, then talk about making a sourdough starter.  I love using sourdough leavening because it is so straightforward to start all by yourself.  You don’t need to buy a premade starter or know somebody.  Because you name it, and feed it regularly to maintain it, it kind of develops its own self and energy.

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Multigrain Sourdough Bread

History First!

There are no bread recipes from ancient times or the middle ages, because bread making was so common you may as well have been writing down how to boil potatoes.  They only bothered to record what they thought was complicated or special. The earliest clear instructions were written by the French in the sixteenth century. So what we know is gathered from a mix of written snippets and archaeological evidence. 

We know that bread-making was tremendously varied in the use of ingredients, using all kinds of available grains, seeds, nuts, and produce. The oldest remains come from flatbread unearthed in the Black Desert in Jordon from around 12000 BCE.  There have also been grinding stones with grain remnants from 30000 BCE found in Australia and Europe, which suggests bread making.

Cultivated yeast is a modern invention, and has only been around for about 150 years, so all forms of Medieval yeast bread used one of two agents:  Barm, or Sourdough. Both use a bacterial culture called Lactobacillus in combination with microorganisms and yeast to create the rise we love in our bread.

Barm is the skimmed foam off the top of freshly made fermented liquids such as wine (must) or beer, and can be used to start the next batch of alcohol.  Countries with a larger brewing industry use more Barm for their bread, like England.

The relationship between brewers and bakers has been a close one for thousands of years, connected by the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a precursor to the commercially available baker’s and brewer’s yeasts of today.  In bread, it is sweet and rises quickly. 

Sourdough is made with wild yeasts, and the flavor is much stronger and more sour, with a slower rise.  100% rye flour breads must use sourdough, as there isn’t enough gluten content for cultivated yeast or Barm to function properly.

Forms of sourdough are known to have been baked as early as 3700 BCE in Switzerland, but has likely been around since the cultivation of grains in the Fertile Crescent several thousands of years prior.  It has traditionally been utilized more heavily in wine-drinking countries like France. 

Families tend to their Sourdough Leavens (the fermented slurry of water and flour) and portion them out to their children when they move out on their own, and to friends as gifts.  Some claim a long heritage for their particular Leaven and have their own rules and ingredients. Amish Friendship Bread, for example, is a form of sourdough Leaven that uses milk and sugar (for medieval reenactment purposes, sugar was not available in the middle ages).

How To Make Your Own Sourdough Leaven:

Sourdough is begun fairly simply with a starter known as a Leaven, which is a mixture of distilled water and flour (more on flour later) left to ferment and daily ‘fed’ more water and flour.  A more liquid Leaven results in a more sour flavor than a stiffer Leaven. A balanced mix would be about 4 oz of each.

This is placed in a glass or food safe plastic bowl that allows room for expanding (up to three times is usually safe).  It is given a breathable lid of cheesecloth, fabric, or a paper towel and held in place with a rubber band. It should be placed where the temperature is fairly consistent, and ideally between about 71°-86°F. For me, that is my Hestia altar in the summer, and in the winter it is kept inside the oven, the heat off, with just the light on. I also have to lay something lightly over the top to shade it from the oven light, or it gets this skin on top that has to be removed.

After a day or two, bubbles will be seen on the surface of the Leaven. It will start to get that classic yeasty, sour scent. When it’s at full rise, the scent is sweeter.  Learn those smells, because its how you will be able to tell if it’s healthy later.  You can even taste it if you want, some bakers do.

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Bubble, bubble…

Every day while you are building it up, up to half the Leaven will be discarded (this is to maintain slow growth rather than ending up with way too much Leaven than can be used or stored), and another 4 oz each of water and flour is mixed in.  Some people swear on sticking to a careful schedule of feeding at the same time of day, while others are more lax, but missing a day altogether can result in an imbalance in the micro culture. On the 4th and 5th days, you can even double the feedings to every 12 hours when it is at its lowest point.

The Leaven culture that is being fostered here is a delicate one.  The symbiotic relationship between the wild yeasts and Lactobacillus relies on both being strong enough to edge out other microorganisms that constantly threaten to take over, including molds.

The kind of flour used does matter.  Organic, unbleached, unbromated flour contains more microorganisms than more processed flour.  Bran-containing flour has the highest amount of them, as well as a wider variety of minerals. As long as it is a grain-based flour, it can be used.  If you care about having ‘local’ microorganisms, then use locally sourced flour. 

Extra microorganisms can be ‘seeded’ by use of various fruits and vegetables, such as soaking unwashed organic grapes for the culture on their skins, or using the water from boiling potatoes for the additional starch.  This is not a necessary step but something that can be experimented with to see if it affects the rise or flavor, which is a debated topic.

wild yeast
Teeny Tiny Civilizations

The starter is usually ready to be baked with five days after it has begun bubbling.  Some days it will expand a great deal and it is perfectly alright to move it to larger containers when needed.  Once it has reached this point, it can be kept in the fridge and fed only once a week or so, and can even go months if necessary if you take time to revive it before using it. 

Set it out and feed it the day before you plan to bake with it.  It should rise up well overnight, otherwise you need to feed it and try again the next day, as it may have gone dormant. 

There are many sourdough bread recipes available utilizing a wide variety of grain flours and techniques, and I’ll be posting some now and again, like this Multigrain Sourdough Bread.  As sourdough Leaven is a slow riser, many of them take up to a full day before it is ready for the oven and may involve a specific schedule of kneading/folding and resting.  It takes planning, attention, and patience, for a delicious flavorful reward.

All About Butter

There is a special magic to simple foods like butter. It has a nurturing and gentling quality, and is one of the few animal fats we can eat without harming the animal. You can cast spells by rolling butter in edible herbs and serving it on bread, baking, or cooking with it. It is multilayered, capable of combining with other food-based spells for maximum effect.

Making butter is also an excellent family-friendly activity for sabbats, and a beautiful metaphor for change and transformation. Butter is an example of when you take one thing, cream, and it turns into two perfectly useful things, butter and buttermilk.

Butter is made using high fat dairy, such as heavy cream. The higher the fat content, the better, so in America, Jersey dairy cows in particular are prized for their butter. Other types of milk, such as goat’s, are also useable. Goat’s milk in particular makes a very white butter, as it does not have beta-carotene like cow’s milk does.

There are many options, all with their own unique flavors and properties.
Finding an edible-dairy-producing livestock animal that associates with your purposes might be an excellent addition to this working. This can include water buffalo, bison, camel, donkey, goat, horse, pig, reindeer, sheep, and yak. Some are harder to find than others, but a start can be finding the closest farm of that type near you, or speciality organic grocery stores. You can collect the cream from raw milk by leaving it overnight in the fridge, and skimming off the cream that has floated to the top in the morning.

When the milk is pasteurized, the butter is called sweet cream, which is what we are generally used to in America. When it is made with raw cream that is mildly fermented by being left sitting for a few days, it is called cultured butter, such as the more tangy variety we call European. Modern cultured butter is pasteurized, but then fermented by the introduction of Lactococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria.

Clarifying butter is a way to extend its shelf life and give it a higher burn point so it can be used in higher heat applications. The butter is gently melted, and all the foam skimmed off and the butter finely strained, to remove milk solids and excess water. Ghee is a form of clarified butter that cooks the milk solids for a while before removing them, giving it a lightly browned, nutty flavor.

The byproduct of butter, buttermilk is the liquid left over after the butter has come together. The buttermilk sold in stores is also cultured (fermented by introduction of Lactococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria), which makes the buttermilk thick and produces lactic acid. Buttermilk can be used in baking, in marinating meat, or you can drink it straight.

How to Make Butter
(Makes 2 sticks/1 cup worth)

  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • A medium bowl
  • A large bowl of ice water
  • 1 tsp fine salt or to taste (optional, not recommended if you plan to use for baking)
  • Stand mixer, hand mixer, blender, or clear jar with a tight-fitting lid
  • Small spatula or spoon, cheesecloth (optional)

If using a mixer or blender, start on low speed and build up to medium. First it will look like whipped cream with soft, then stiff, peaks, then it will solidify. It can take between 5-10 minutes.

If you are shaking the jar by hand, it takes much more time. Share the job with energetic children!

Strain out the buttermilk and save for other immediate purposes.

Place the lump of butter into a bowl, and pour ice-cold water over it. Using a small spatula or spoon, press the butter to squeeze out excess buttermilk. Drain the liquid, and repeat until the water runs clear. You can also squeeze it with some cheesecloth. You need to remove all the buttermilk or the butter will not last as long.

At this time, you can add the fine salt and work it through the butter. You may also add in other flavors and herbs as you like.

Can be stored in the fridge for 6 weeks.