The meandering thoughts of a modern-day hearth witch.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


"One of the infant class I am
With little, easy lessons, set
In a great book; the higher class
Have harder ones than I, and yet
I find mine hard, and can't restrain
My tears while studying thus with Pain"

I had to go to hospital today, after a couple of days of worrying about the increasing pain in my chest and ribcage. My doctor had told me she was concerned about a blood clot in my lung which was a terrifying thought. 

Luckily it isn't a blood clot. It's pleurisy. I say 'luckily' because even though it hurts like hell, there were people there today who will have 'harder lessons than I'. Hospitals are so filled with pain it is palpable; but if this year has taught me anything its that it undoubtedly goes hand in hand with love. To quote a couple more stanzas from my childhood favourite...

There are two Teachers in the school,
One has a gentle voice and low,
And smiles upon her scholars, as
She softly passes to and fro.
Her name is Love; 'tis very plain
She shuns the sharper teacher, Pain.

Or so I sometimes think; and then,
At other times, they meet and kiss,
And look so strangely like, that I
Am puzzled to tell how it is,
Or whence the change which makes it vain
To guess if it be--Love or Pain.
(from 'What Katy Did' - Susan M Coolidge)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Wheel of the Year // Hibernation

Image courtesy of 'Garden of Babylon'

The more I think about it, the more it seems like a blooming good idea.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Hearth and Home // Faerie Lanterns

I have been wanting to do this for ages.

The necessary items were gathered together - an empty jar, a small amount of salt, some strong wire, hedgerow berries and leaves and a pair of scissors. 

Wire was wrapped and looped tightly around the jar, providing a sturdy handle from which to hang the faerie lantern.

Salt was sprinkled in to the bottom of the jar, providing a layer of sparkly 'snow'. 

Twined around the handle, ivy and hawthorn berries bring Nature's Yule offerings and the colours of the season. 

A candle was lit and the lantern is bringing light and cheer to my living room.

I loved making this! So simple yet it brings together my favourite aspects of the season; the berry red and evergreen plants from outside and the flickering light of a candle.


Thursday, 2 December 2010

Herbcraft // Turmeric and Ginger Tea

After yesterday's post about the healing benefits of turmeric, I thought I would share a recipe for turmeric and ginger tea. This is absolutely perfect for warming the body and soul on these bitter cold, wintry days.

You could of course cheat and buy these Pukka Herbs 3 ginger teabags. They are lovely, but pricey and I find there is something 'off' about treating the body to some healing, natural goodness if it comes in a tea-bag which has been made most unnaturally (possibly with a chemical called epichlorohydrin, a compound also used in insecticides,  which when combined with water creates a chemical called 3-MCPD, a known cancer causing agent). 

I know, I know, practically everything today is potentially carcinogenic, but  if I create my tea from scratch using fresh ingredients, it feels less likely to be 'poisonous'. Plus it will save me some pennies. And taste better. will need...

2 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger or 1/2 cm piece finely chopped ginger root
1/2 teaspoon powdered turmeric or 1/2 cm piece finely chopped turmeric root
(optional, 1/2 piece finely chopped galangal root)
2 teaspoons honey
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Simply bring the water to the boil, add the herbs and simmer for 10 minutes. 
Add the lemon juice, strain the tea into a mug or cup and stir in the honey.
Drink warm.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Herbcraft // Turmeric

Only yesterday did I learn about this spice's wonderful medicinal properties and I have made sure it is on the shopping list for my trip out to buy groceries. (Thanks for the tip, Mum!)

Turmeric root is a member of the ginger family (you can see above how similar it looks to root ginger) and is used in South-East Asian cooking readily for its warm, spicy flavour. One of the active ingredients in turmeric is known as 'curcumin' and it is this which makes turmeric one of nature's most powerful healers.

Curcumin is a yellow pigment derived from turmeric.

Images courtesy of

Here are some reasons to ensure you have a jar of powdered turmeric, or some turmeric root, in your pantry at home...

1. It is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent. You can use it to make a paste which can be placed directly on cuts and burns, to disinfect and promote quick healing.

2. It is a natural liver de-toxifier, acting against toxins such as alcohol.

3. It is a potent anti-inflammatory and can work as well as many anti-inflammatory drugs, without the nasty side-effects.

4. It has long been used in Chinese medicine as a treatment for depression.

5. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it is a natural treatment for arthritis and other rheumatic conditions.

6. Likewise, it can aid in the treatment of psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions. 

7. Clinical studies have shown that turmeric may help to slow the progression of Alzheimers, by reducing the build up of amyloid proteins in the brain. 

8. Because of its rich stores of antioxidants, laboratory studies indicate that curcumin is useful in the treatment of many types of cancer. For example, it kills cultures of leukaemia cells; it appears to cause melanoma cells to 'commit suicide', slowing the growth of the cancer; and studies are ongoing to determine the positive effects of turmeric on multiple myeloma. 

Turmeric is considered a 'safe' herb and is used widely in cooking throughout the world. Although overdoing it could lead to an upset stomach, it would seem that a little sprinkle of spice in our food would do us all the world of good!

If already taking blood thinning medicine, such as warfarin, turmeric should be avoided. If you are pregnant, consult your doctor before taking a turmeric supplement. 

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Hearth and Home // Healing

I have been feeling rather 'under the weather' lately, both physically and emotionally. I did not want to have to make a trip to the doctors, but yesterday I decided that enough was enough. I have been coughing for weeks,  and no amount of licorice, methol and eucalyptus, nor hot lemon and honey seemed to be working. 

So now I have a week's worth of penicillin to try and clear up the infection. I wish I didn't have to; I hate taking antibiotics, but I guess sometimes you just have to do what your body is demanding. And then I remember that, even though it is now mass-produced by pharmaceutical conglomerates, once upon a time it was just fungus. 

It makes me want to study herbalism: properly.

That takes care of the physical. Now to the emotional.

As do many, I find this time of year difficult. It seems to have gotten worse as I grew older, but I find the dark months so...well...'dark'. Tiredness and irritability seem to take over and it is a battle to find energy sometimes. I think having the additional residual anger and sadness from the loss of my Dad is making this year particularly testing. 

So what do I do? I have lots of warm, healing baths, with candles: blue for healing, white for light, pink for emotional well-being, purple for confidence. I have crystals which promote positivity around my bathroom and on my alter: amethyst to absorb negative energy and rose quartz for emotional balance. 

I try to eat 'wonderfoods' which pump me full of important vitamins and minerals such as magnesium (spinach, almonds), selenium (brazil nuts, seafood) Vitamin C (citrus fruits, green vegetables) and Vitamin D (seafood, oily fish.) This is the area I fall down on most often. I find it can be a vicious cycle: I don't want to cook if I'm feeling down; not eating properly makes me more down; I don't want to cook...

So for lunch, parsnip soup: warming and hearty, an excellent source of Vitamin C and a good source of magnesium. More on that next time...

It's good to be back!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Less than 24 hours...

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part I

Far too excited.
May go into school tomorrow dressed as a witch.
I'll be back to 'normal' posts next week.

Monday, 8 November 2010

A Harry Potter Extravaganza

Over a month ago now, I mentioned here, about a Harry Potter themed murder mystery party I was preparing for my aunty's 50th birthday party. 

My aunty's kitchen was transformed into the Hogwarts Great Hall with candles and goblets. 
Albus Dumbledore headed up the table, with the Gryffindors at one end; the Slytherins at the other.

Neville Longbottom, Professor Trelawney, Hermione Granger and Professor McGonagall puzzle over the murder mystery clues. 

Professor Umbridge decides some order and discipline are needed!

Much fun was had by all, with the exception of Molly Weasley who, not only had to cook dinner for 15 people, but was also found to be guilty of 'murdering' Harry Potter. What larks!

The lovely Jo over at the delightfully creative Tanglefrost wanted to know the recipe for Butterbeer. There were a couple that we found, although sadly didn't get to try the traditional one. It sounds absolutely delicious though, so I may be making it for a cosy night in in the near future!

The first is a kiddie-friendly non-alcoholic version but oh-so-very sweet that only a teeny tiny amount will probably make your fillings hurt!

* For every 4 glasses of cream soda (or club soda) you will need 1/4 glass
 of butterscotch syrup and 1/2 tbsp butter.
* Heat butter and butterscotch syrup over a low heat (or in the microwave) until the butter is melted and the mixture is bubbling slightly.
* Stir the warm mixture into the cream or club soda.

A more traditional recipe for Tudor 'Buttererd Beere' can be found here and sounds absolutely delicious.
Maybe I will brew a batch before watching the new film next Friday...11 days to go!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Operation Christmas Child

In the run up to Christmas - or Yule - most of us will be frantically preparing: organising feasts for our families, buying gifts and even going away on a winter holiday. 

Mum and I are making a trip to the Christmas Markets in Hamburg this year in the few days before the holiday and I am sure we will spend our time there buying presents to bring home, enjoying steaming mugs of hot-chocolate and 'gluhwein' and sampling local delicacies. I am so excited - I absolutely cannot wait!

For me, Christmas is a time of year to celebrate with family and loved ones. Whatever your religious beliefs or faith, I think that is important. It is so dark outside that we need to symbolically let the light back in - be that through a warm Yule fire, or candlelight; through the glittering baubles and tinsel on a Christmas tree; or, most importantly, through the love and laughter we share together.  

As we lead up to this special time of year, I am also mindful of those less fortunate who may not be able to spend it with family; may not be given any gifts and may be struggling through the most trying of circumstances. At school we are currently encouraging our kids to take part in the 'Operation Christmas Child' campaign, run by the Samaritan's Purse international relief charity. They make up a shoe-box of little gifts to be sent to a child somewhere in the world who would, otherwise, have nothing to open on Christmas Day.


There are 'drop-off' points all over the UK, as you can see here and they are open until Thursday 18th November. A fantastic way to encourage little ones to think of others less fortunate than themselves and have fun creating a gift for someone else.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Winter Solstice Seasonal Swap

Beautiful, thoughtful Faerwillow over at To Fall or Stumble Upon has set up another exciting Seasonal Swap!

For those creative, artistic ones amongst us, what a wonderful way to share your handicrafts; for everyone else, a chance to reach out and greet another like-minded spirit. 

Queen of Owls

Nene Thomas - Queen of Owls

Look no further for an enchanting way to celebrate this most magickal of seasons with friends. Take a peek into Faerwillow's wintry wonderland here

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Thai Pumpkin and Prawn Curry

I love, love, love Thai food - and I particularly love a rich, creamy, coconutty, red Thai prawn curry.
This recipe brings a seasonal twist to my favourite aromatic indulgence: the inclusion of a pumpkin.

You could, of course, use squash in place of pumpkin. I had this giant beast for Halloween - and I was feeding five people, including B, who counts as two - so it was necessary. However, a humble butternut squash will suffice for most!

Thai prawn and pumpkin curry

Image courtesy of

You will need:

* 400ml tin of coconut milk
* 1-2 tbsp red Thai curry paste (there is an excellent recipe for making your own here, although I like to add a teeny tiny bit of tomato puree to mine as well)
* 350ml fish stock (a stock cube dissolved in hot water will do)
* 2 tbsp fish sauce
* 2 tbsp palm sugar (caster sugar will do)
* 1/2 tsp Tamarind paste
* 3 lemongrass stalks, outer layer removed and bruised with a knife
* 1 kg pumpkin or squash, peeled and chopped into chunks
* 500g raw king prawns
* 3 or 4 pak choi, washed and separated
* Juice and zest of 1 lime

What to do...

1. Heat a large saucepan or casserole dish over a medium heat and mix together the red thai paste and the thick cream, skimmed off the top of the coconut milk. Mix these together rapidly.

2. Still stirring, add the rest of the coconut milk, fish stock, fish sauce, palm sugar, lime and lemongrass.

3. Add the pumpkin and bring to the boil, then simmer over a low heat until the pumpkin has softened.

4. About five minutes before you are ready to serve the curry, add the prawns and the pak choi. When the prawns are all pink, they are ready. 

5. Serve as a bowl of warming, spicy soup; over fragrant jasmine or coconut rice, or with Thai ribbon noodles. 

6. Enjoy. 

7. Go back for seconds. Enjoy some more. 

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

A Journey across Exmoor

Last week, B and I took a journey into the wild, with some family and friends. 

Starting from The Exmoor Centre, a camping barn to the South East of Lynton, we walked along the river, deeper into the moor.

Along the way we adults got our feet well and truly wet, tentatively tip-toeing across stepping stones, while the kids (and dog) bounded and splashed ahead.

This was our goal...

...a tumble-down cottage lying nestled into the hillside, accessible only by striding across the remote moorland. No roads lead to this memory of a dwelling; it can only be reached on foot. 

Yet this cottage is one of the few reminders that people once carved out a life for themselves on the moor. B's ancestors resided in this very shelter: a shepherd, his wife and children, totally isolated and several miles walk across moorland from the nearest small settlement.

B and his family are working hard to try and preserve this piece of fascinating social history, before it is lost forever. Their endeavours can be followed at the charity's website, Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage

While wandering, I could not help but wonder what daily life would have been like out there, in the 1800s. Cold, hard, ruthless - that is undoubted. We take so much for granted today.

Less than 200 years ago, children would have piled onto the lone family horse and trotted 5 miles or more to  reach school every day; men would have worked tirelessly in harsh physical conditions to keep a roof over their families' heads; women would have scoured and searched the moorland for wild food to supplement what they grew and raised.

 I worry that for so many young people today, who find their food in neat, clean packages in a supermarket - or worse still, delivered to them in a polystyrene box - all sense of how their ancestors lived and worked is being lost.

If you would like to learn more about this beautiful, unspoilt landscape and how you can enjoy it, visit The Exmoor Centre website. Feel free to wander over and take a gander at the Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage blog on Tumblr. There you will find lots more photographs and information about their fascinating project.

Monday, 1 November 2010

18 days...

Until this.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Blessed Samhain

Happy Hallowe'en

or (for those of you who follow the Wheel of the Year)
Happy New Year's Eve!

Samhain marks the last turn of the wheel - the final harvest and the dying of the year. The ends of the crops have been gathered, the light is leaving those of us in the Northern Hemisphere and the time for spiritual 'hibernation' is upon us. Long, dark and cold nights wait on the other side of this eve.

However, it is not a time to be sad; rather to celebrate the achievements of the year just past and to honour the earth for the fruits it has provided for us over the summer months. Sitting opposite Beltane (the festival of light and fertility) on the wheel, Samhain marks the contradictory forces of darkness and death. Said to fall at the time when the veil between this earthly world and the Otherworld is at its thinnest, the feast of Samhain traditionally also honours the dead and is a night for remembering ancestors and loved ones who have left us. It is tradition to set a place for those absent friends at the table before enjoying a Samhain meal. 

Some people celebrate Samhain with a ritual to mark the passing of the old year and these rituals are as varied as the individuals who celebrate the festival. You could create a representative 'wheel of the year' with symbolic markers for the sabbats and burn it to mark the end of the year. 

These pictures show an edible version of this ritual: a sabbat cake! Each sabbat is marked on the cake with a leaf, flower or seed which reflects the season - we have a miniature eggshell for Ostara, a holly leaf for Yule and a lavendar sprig for the first harvest of Lammas, for example. Samhain here is shown by an autumn leaf. Instead of being burned, the wheel of the year will be gobbled up!

This year will be the first in a long time that I will celebrate Samhain alone - although I did have family to share an early feast of pumpkin curry with yesterday (more on that recipe to come, I feel). Traditionally I carve my pumpkin and let the light shine like a miniature beacon in the window, to guide the way for spirits; warm a pot of mulled cider and complete a small ritual which acknowledges the year past and sets forth my hopes for the year to come. Tonight I will be quietly contemplating everything that this toughest of years has brought to my family and honouring my dad, so recently passed, with a simple prayer. 

Brightest blessings to you all.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


Almost every day I am encountering a new face or page here in blogland and I am so touched that more and more like-minded people are stumbling over to Hearthwitch Cottage by chance, and sticking around to see what is happening. I know, I know...not much of late...but it is half-term so hopefully - hopefully - I will be here a with a little bit more regularity.

It is, however, with great cheer and gratitude that today I post of the wonderful gift of knowing that someone has read my humble little musings....and acknowledged them with a fantabulous award - or three!

Aine over at The Deepest Well and Aelwyn down at Hedgewitch Hollow (both beautifully named ladies with absolutely stunning blogs) have been kind enough to bestow these three thoughtful awards...

With these awards comes the challenge to list 7 things about oneself that other bloggers may not yet know.
Here goes...

1. I teach English to secondary school children (aged 11-18).
And, oh, I wish it was with a proper blackboard and chalk!

Doris Day in 'Teacher's Pet'

2. I love dystopian literature and film
(helps me feel marginally better about the world we live in today)

3. Currently, I can't get this off my record player...

The cover of Wriggle Out The Restless

Find them here...This is the Kit and watch their awesomeness on video here.

4. I have travelled all over the world but my favourite trip was when I journeyed through China, Mongolia and Siberia by train and stayed in a ger in the Mongolian desert.
(I'm getting itchy feet as we speak)

5. Over the years I have had several tattoos and piercings, which surprises a lot of people because I don't think I look the type!

6. I love drawing, but I haven't done any for a long time...this is starting to make me a little sad.

7. I am a currently a bit obsessed with cookery programmes, espeically Masterchef. In fact, B and I are going to the Masterchef Live Show in London next month, just to revel in our culinary geekiness!

The rules that came with these awards link back to the bloggers who nominated me....Check.
To list 7 things about myself that other bloggers may not yet know....Check.
Pass these awards along to 15 other bloggers.... Hmmm. The way I feel about this is that I cannot possibly choose 15 blogs. I love following and reading the blogs that I follow and read because I think they are all stylish, versatile and lovely! So if you are reading this, please feel free to take these awards as directed to you and take part in the fun bit...sharing lots of cool facts about yourself with us all.


Thursday, 14 October 2010

Apple and Elderberry Jam

Are you sitting comfortably?
Then I shall begin...

What follows is the incredible tale of how the Hearthwitch Cottage kitchen came to look like a jam-bomb had exploded.

This story begins with around 1lb of elderberries; freshly picked from hedgerow-lined lanes, in the last days of summer. Our little hearth witch protagonist had taken extra special care not to pick more than necessary for she knew the needs of other creatures were far greater than her own. 

Some of the berries had their journey suspended in the enchanted land of frost and ice (they would later be put to good use, adding a sprinkle of sweetness to a sharp apple crumble or two) but the rest were destined for greatness. But what, thought the little hearth witch, would be a fitting finale for these wild berries? 

'Ah ha!' she cried, spying the mound of wind-fall Bramleys on her kitchen table. And thus, a plan was concocted...

Now...the hearth witch had never made jam before and, if she was entirely honest, she would admit that she was a little bit nervous and rather overwhelmed by all the information she read to try and help her brew a batch of deliciously sticky, fruity goodness. How were jars sterilised? What was a 'setting point' and how exactly was a witch to know when the elusive temperature had been reached without a thermometer in the house? Did she really need special jam-making sugar or would ordinary granulated do the job?

With a fretful sigh, the apples were carefully weighed - 1lb was needed to equal the amount of elderberry fruit - chopped and placed in a pan with water to heat and soften.

Next would come the bit about making sure the jars were sterilised...

The hearth witch set about washing the jars in hot soapy water and placed the lids into a pan with water to keep at a boil while she worked. Having read countless instructions (from places like this), our novice jam-maker decided to go for the 'oven-baked' approach and placed her jars, upside down on baking paper, in an oven that had been heated to 170 degrees C. (She was reliably informed that she should ensure her jam was ladled into jars while they were still hot so she left them in the oven until she was finished.)

Meanwhile, the appley-sharpness had bubbled away for ten minutes and the elderberry sweetness added until all fruit was soft and mushy. 2lb of sugar (after resigning herself to the fact that the chances of finding jam-makers' sugar on a Sunday afternoon in rural Wiltshire were slim-to-none, she plumped for ordinary granulated) and 2 tbsp of lemon juice were added and the mixture stirred with care over a low heat until all the sugar had dissolved. At this point, the heat was fired up and the jam was boiled furiously for several minutes until that mysterious, magickal 'setting point' was reached. (For tips on how to do this, see here). 

The hearth witch found that the 'splodge-of-jam-on-cold-plate-in-fridge' method worked far better than the 'waving-spoon-around-outside-kitchen-door' method. Her jam never succeeded in staying on the spoon and her neighbours now think she is a bit strange.

It was within the space of these 10-15 minutes that the hearth witch momentarily awoke from her jam-making reverie and glanced around: her kitchen looked like a jam-bomb had exploded.

She did, however, manage to achieve five jars of sticky (satisfactorily set!) sweetness - as well as a taster pot for herself - all out of an apple windfall and a meander down the lane. 'Quite an extraordinary achievement,' the hearth witch said to herself, as she brushed back her unkempt hair and put her feet up with a cup of tea and a crumpet spread with jam.
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