The Imbolc Sabbat

Imbolc, pronounced IMM-molk, means “from the belly of the mother” due to its proximity to lambing season, when livestock animals produce abundant milk and birth many new babies.

Imbolc marks the beginning of Spring. It is the first of four fire festivals during the Wheel of the Year, celebrated by Pagans, Wiccans, and non-religious or spiritual collectives alike. Dating as far back as the 10th century, Imbolc is celebrated on 2 February, though the date may sometimes vary depending on weather and geographic location.

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Imbolc Fire Ritual. Photo shared from Metro.co.UK

Imbolc is a time for anticipating new life, making way for new beginnings, and welcoming the Sun’s return. With Spring coming soon, most of us are planting seeds and getting our gardens tilled for new harvests.

It is also time to honour St. Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Light and Illumination, of Home and Hearth, of Fire and Protection. Brigid was also a poet, clairvoyant, weaponsmith, midwife, a celebrated herbal healer, and teacher of herbcraft/ wildcraft. As a certified (yet still new) Herbalist myself, I am intrigued by her legend.

Cycle of Brigid. Photo shared by FlourishingGoddesses.com

My song for this entry is “T” by iamamiwhoami because this video is full of Imbolc imagery and symbolism for Brigid’s light bearing season. “Brigid” emerges from the darkness and slowly begins to spread light while her body seeps some sort of milk or pollen (new life/midwifery).

She finds and filters pollutants (healer) in the environment and turns it into a (goddess) crown and armor (weapons), gaining momentum until it turns her body black. Then she returns to the depths from where she started this light-bringing cycle. Wiccans/Pagans will likely make this easy connection to the Sun God cycle.

Foods of the Season
Shortly before Yule last year, my friend in Georgia brought me several branches of Georgia Pine (aka Pinus palustris) from her home. I used the fresh needles to make infused salt and a pine vinegar that can be used in place of balsamic vinaigrette.

Both were easy to make. For the vinegar, just fill a mason jar with clean pine needles, add any herbs you like, pour organic apple cider vinegar to the top, and seal the jar. Shake every day for six weeks and keep it in a cool pantry or cabinet.

For the salt, start by filling a small organza bag with clean pine needles that have either been cut, ground lightly, or snapped in half. Tie the bag together completely so the needles do not fall out.

Fill a large mason jar about 1/3 full of organic Himalayan pink sea salt and add a teaspoon of red chili flakes. Grate the peel from two oranges and broadly slice five cloves of garlic. Drop the orange peelings and garlic slices in the salt, then add the tied bag of pine needles.

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Keep this jar sealed and shake the hell out of it for a couple minutes twice a day to keep any damp bits coated in salt. In my experience, any moisture is quickly dried out by the salt, so you should not have to worry about mold unless your jar is not sealed properly.

For this year’s Imbolc Sabbat, my ladies convened once again for dinner and quality time. We were a little early for this one due to some heavy schedules coming up. When preparing the meal, I used balsamic and pine vinegar to marinate chicken before grilling it.

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To symbolically anticipate and welcome the sun, it is common to make bright yellow, orange, or red foods and to set your table with lots of bright “sunny” light.

I made Moroccan-style barley with curry, cumin, paprika, and other spices then dressed it with chopped Medjool dates and sliced almonds in a loose Sun God pattern.

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Winter months typically mean relying on previous seasons’ canned goods, and foods for Imbolc include seeds, and dried vegetables and fruits.

Roasted root vegetables like sweet potatoes, radishes, parsnips, beets, onions, garlic, carrots, and rutabaga are more durable than spring and summer crops, and are absolutely perfect for fresh choices in colder months.

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I cut up a variety of root vegetables and coated them in some herbed EVO oil my mother made for me as a gift, plus lots of marjoram, oregano, black pepper, and minced garlic. Lightly cover the pan of veggies with aluminum foil so they can roast longer without scorching.

I used bacon fat to sauté freshly-snapped green beans then squeezed lemon juice over them when they were finished.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is always my go-to cake for Imbolc because it combines fresh, crisp lemon and dried poppy seeds with dairy staples like butter, eggs, and cream.

I always use coconut oil or butter in my cakes, and I use fresh-squeezed lemonade in place of water for the batter. If you are using a boxed mix (no shame) you will want to use a bit more lemonade than pure water when measuring ingredients.

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For my vanilla buttercream I whip a stick of butter in the mixer, add 1 cup of powdered sugar, cover the mixer with a towel, and mix slowly for one minute. Stop the mixer, add three tablespoons of heavy whipping cream and one tablespoon of vanilla extract. Add 1 more cup of powdered sugar, cover the mixer with a towel, and mix slowly for another 3-5 minutes.

From there I experiment with some secret ingredients and different flavour combinations, but the important part is to add the powdered sugar SLOWLY and mix it slowly. You may mix longer or add more cream to your preference.

Covering your mixer with a towel is optional, but wise. In my past bakery experience, I quickly learned that this will prevent the blades from throwing out all over you and your kitchen, but live on the edge if you like.

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Tradition says that you should throw a piece of cake (or Bannock) over your shoulder to honour Brigid and return a little to the land, and that another small piece should be kept in the cupboard or pantry until the next Sabbat to symbolize abundance and never being empty.

Best I could do was accidentally fling some off my plate in a moment of excited conversation, and I tried to save a slice for my boyfriend but ended up eating most of it because it is just THAT good.

Recently I learned that Colcannon, an Irish dish I make often and can not get enough of, has been a traditional meal served during Imbolc since the 1700s.  You can check out my recipe here.

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Another one of my favourite Imbolc-appropriate treats are my mother’s iced lemon cookies. She created her own recipe that includes cornbread in the batter instead of basic flour, and she uses fresh lemon juice for both the cookies and the icing.

Maybe some day she will give me her recipe, but until then I wait in anticipation of the next batch.

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On the eve of, or the day after Imbolc, I like to make a soup of chicken, parsnips, rosemary, lemon, and other vegetables on hand. This works especially well for using up leftovers from the Sabbat dinner.

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Engaging Activities
After dinner, we played a delightful board game called WildCraft. The premise of the game is that you are visiting your grandparents, who have been teaching you about medicinal herbs you can find in the woods.

Grandma sends you up the mountain one morning to gather bushels of huckleberries and promises to make you a pie if you all get home before dark. The game is witchy, Pagan-friendly, teaches basic Herbalism, and focuses on values like helping others and teamwork.

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We had so many factors against us. For example, every time you land on an X, you must suffer some type of injury or affliction, then collect the proper herb needed to heal. It gets dark really fast, and you can get washed away by surprise waterfalls like it’s nothing.

Some really crazy shit happened in those woods, but we managed to regroup and get back to grandma’s house in the nick of time, between bouts of embarrassingly loud heehaw laughter interlaced with adult humour. This game was hilarious in ways it probably does not intend to be, and I can not wait to play it again.

If you prefer to celebrate on your own or to do so after a social gathering, take a milk bath with fresh lemons and rosemary.

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Light lots of yellow, gold, and white candles. Put on some classical music or check out the other songs on iammaiwhoami’s album, Bounty.

Meditations for Imbolc can be focused around grounding yourself, especially during close connections to the energy of coinciding Aquarius season, which always makes my head spin with a surge of new creative ideas and goals.Ask yourself what it is that you want to see happen in the coming weeks. Which crops are you planting and where?

Ask yourself what it is that you need to hear or find, and ask the Universe to put these aspects in place to cross your path. Blessed Imbolc!

Coming up next on the Wheel of the Year is Ostara, also known as Eostre.

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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Samhain Sabbat

Samhain falls on 1 November each year, just after Halloween, and coincides with festivals and holidays for remembering ancestors around the world.

People of most cultures, and as in this case I am writing about Pagans, believe that the veil between the living world and the afterlife is thinnest during this time of year which makes it easier to communicate with spirits. But I mean, it’s a veil.

My song pick for this entry is the band Samhain’s song “Halloween II”

For my meditation / altar, I set up candles around photos of my paternal grandfather, paternal grandmother, paternal great grandmother, and my paternal grandfather-by-marriage, with obituaries and a few treasures they left behind.

I burned myrrh copal resin with bits of cinnamon, apple seeds, cloves, and sandalwood oil and sat for a while, speaking out loud all the things I wished to communicate to them at that time. I do this every few months, without any fancy spell or rhyme or ritual beforehand. Just sit and start talking.

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Roger is the man to whom I credit my first taste/desire to explore the world, and I wrote Roger That for him. He died from cancer when I was almost ten but I still talk to him often.

Both maternal grandparents passed a few years apart, and both under particularly distressing circumstances. My parents, brother, and I have each had experiences lately that lead us to believe my grandmother is still reaching out to us.

On my Samhain Sabbat I hosted a party called Totenmahl, the German word for dead meal or funeral feast. The intention/meditation for the night was to remember and celebrate loved ones we have lost, so we stood around the fire and shared stories of how they influenced us and continue to shape our lives.

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I have been reading/writing more about traditions in Central and South America, and am so inspired by some of the recipes I have found.

I created my own version of mole with ground apricots and raisins, dark bitter chocolate, vegetable broth, garlic, onions, roasted chipotle and Thai chili peppers, bay leaves, cocoa, chili powder, smoked paprika, turmeric, harissa, chipotle, cumin, red pepper, cinnamon, and clove.

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It was so good we kept finding other things to use as a vessel for delivering the mole into our mouths.

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My first step was putting chicken and onions in the smoker for about four hours.

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Rosemary garlic roasted root veggies – turnips, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes. Parsnips always add a taste of lemon sweetness to any dish, and the rosemary balanced out the tartness. I marinated the veggies overnight in olive oil and mixed it up well before roasting.

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Macaroni and cheese pie with gouda, mozzarella, parmesan, and herbs.

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S’mores brownies- double layer with dark chocolate, honey grahams, and marshmallows on top. I added the toppings after the brownies were done and put it under the broiler for a few minutes.

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A friend made these bacon-wrapped dates, and another brought bacon-wrapped asparagus, and I really just do not have any complaints at all about that.

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My ladies all brought various side dishes, corn pudding, salads, breads, herbed butters, drinks, and more.

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I made so much that I able to use it for other dishes the following week as well.
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Our sweets table was pretty wild too, with double chocolate pretzel bark, strawberry and chocolate cookies, cheesecake, candies, s’mores brownies, dark chocolate truffles, sweet potato casserole, pomegranate seeds, apples and caramel, etc.

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We had such a beautiful night. Blessed Samhain!

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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Mabon Sabbat

Mabon is the autumn equinox and falls between 21-24 September. This is a relatively new name for the ancient Meán Fómhair that is sometimes known as the Harvest Home day and close to the Feast of the Ingathering.

Pagans celebrate Mabon as the first of the three annual harvest festivals, with the second being Lammas (Lughnasadh) and Samhain being the third. Essentially it is the Witches’ Thanksgiving.

Apples are abundant this time of year, and my song pick for this entry is The Andrews Sisters “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”

For my Mabon Sabbat, I wanted the menu to be centered on seasonal squash, pumpkins, root vegetables, and apples with lots of colour and high comfort. Here is what I came up with:

Creamy kale soup with unpeeled red potatoes, spicy sausage, onions, garlic, herbs, vegetable stock, and heavy cream.

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Stuffed acorn squash with caramelized onions, quinoa, spinach, apples, garlic, rosemary, and cream cheese

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Pumpkin curry with coconut milk, Thai chilies from my garden, green peas, broccoli, cauliflower, garbanzo beans, onions, ginger, and lemongrass, over jasmine rice.

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Brussels sprouts with bacon, amino acids, and black pepper

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A friend made these Deviled eggs- one set is Bloody Mary and the other was full of herbs.

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In previous years, I have baked other stuffed items such as butternut squash with quinoa, sausage, and cheese as well as apples stuffed with steel cut oats, cinnamon, maple, and honey. It’s just the right time for treats like that.

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In lieu of an altar, I led a group smudging ritual and shared my knowledge of materials, procedures, and intent. We talked about different herbs, resins, woods, and how/when to use each one, etc.

Bonus link:
The Dark Secret of Harvest Home is a 1978 horror film with Bette Davis, lots of Mabon imagery and references, chock-full of over the top false witchlore and stereotypical misunderstandings. I have not been able to watch it in its entirety but here is a link to a very poor quality Youtube version.

Blessed Mabon!

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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Beltane Sabbat; Waking the Witch

As we get closer to the first of May, every part of me detects a shift in energy. This pivotal time of year goes by many different names, and call it whatever you like, but things are changing.

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Time to Blossom. Photo shared by Pixels

Themes of this season are the sun and fire, flowers and blossoming, and awakening. Everything in nature is bursting into life (especially pollen, amirite?) and the days are becoming longer and brighter.

Beltane is a time to show gratitude to the Universe (or gods/goddesses if you prefer) for bringing us out of the dark cold season into a new one full of light. This is the half-way point between one Samhain to the next. Because of this, some of us also call it Hexennacht, a time for waking the witch.

So of course my song for this entry is Kate Bush “Waking the Witch.”

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Beltane is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals- along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasadh- and is held on 1 May. This first day of summer is known as Lá Bealtaine inIrish, Là Bealltainn in Scottish, and Laa Boaltinn in Manx.

Since pre-Christian times Beltane has been celebrated alongside the Floralia and Walpurgisnacht festivals with a focus on fire rituals.

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Redmen of Beltane. Photo shared from SixSigma

Jumping and dancing over fire or passing between two flames was practiced in part to purify a person and their animals of bad energy and illness.

People also offered pieces of bannock cakes or caudles to the gods and goddesses to earn blessings, health, and happiness in the coming season.

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Photo shared from LearnReligions

As time passed, Beltane became secularized and is widely celebrated around the world by those with Gaelic ancestry or who participate in Pagan, Wiccan, and other spiritual traditions. Each festival showcases wild costumes, Gaelic/Celtic music, food, and plenty of traditional fire dances.

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Floralia
On the 28th of April, the Floralia festival begins and is dedicated to Roman goddess Flora, who is known to protect flowers and blossoms.

The First of May is also called May Day and is celebrated with the wildly popular maypole dances and Queen of May crowning ceremony in conjunction with Floralia.

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Walpurgisnacht
Walpurgisnacht is a centuries-old tradition, observed from 30 April until 1 May or longer. Massive feasts and bonfires were held in Germania each year to honour Saint Walpurgia as she defended the Christians from illnesses, parasites, pests, and… witches.

Ancient Germanic people held prayer-athons because they believed a coven of powerful witches met up each year in the nearby Harz Mountains for Hexennacht at the exact same time as Walpurgisnacht in order to plot black magic against them.

Photo shared from History.com

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Hexennacht
Those witches who allegedly met up in the mountains were probably just doing the same things as the paranoid Christians of Walpurgisnacht, and what most modern witches enjoy doing today- stuffing their faces, socializing, spending time in ritual/prayer, seeking growth and spiritual lessons, and asking the Universe for what they need.

But indulge me for a moment in some witchlore.

One of my favourite examples of imagery for Walpurgisnacht/Hexennacht comes from the Russian tv serial adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master & Margarita. Voland (the Devil) charms Margarita (a new witch) into his hypnotic underworld. He awakens her to magick, earthly delights, and self-possesion.

The NSFW (okay for 12+ in Russia tho) video below shows Margarita after she discovers Voland’s magical potion and gains the power to fly, landing in an ethereal ritual where she is greeted by faeries, witches, and a Pan-like creature. Start at 5:20 if it goes back to the beginning, or enjoy the whole episode.

In this same episode around 39-minute mark, Margarita has been crowned Queen of the Walpurgisnacht Ball but is feeling anxious about what will happen while guests dance in the fire:

If you’re interested in more of Bulgakov’s Master & Margarita, check out my blog Cowardice is the Most Terrible of Vices: Bulgakov’s Moscow.

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Feeling festive and want to know how to celebrate?
1. Bake some bannock, oatmeal cookies, or oatmeal-crumble desserts with fresh fruit

2. Get really creative with a Beltane caudle. Think of it as egg-nog’s (literally hot) cousin, as this caudle recipe suggests.

3. Host a bonfire/cookout or join someone else’s

4. Wear bright, colourful clothing with floral designs and accessories

5. Search for local Irish/Gaelic schools, Pagan Meet-ups, Poi spinning troupes, or other organizations that match your interests and can help you learn/grow/blossom.

6. Plant bulbs, herbs, or other appropriate seasonal flowers and commit to nurturing them, especially as they establish roots

7. Spend the night in ritual or prayer. Ask for help forming new healthy habits and for help with blossoming as a person.

8. Create a mediation altar to keep this imagery fresh in your mind for a while, or until the next Sabbat, Lughnasadh.

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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Eostre Sabbat

The Spring Equinox falls between 19-22 March each year during a period when daylight and darkness is balanced, and the sun begins to move forward. Flowers start to bloom, lawns are continuously being mowed at awkward hours, and I have to stock up on sunscreen and Claritin.

Now’s a good time as ever for a metal song dedicated to Eostre:

Eostre (aka Easter, Ostara, or Ishtar) is the German goddess of Spring and fertility who loves rabbits and is said to have shape-shifted into them often. Eostre‘s followers honour her by offering cakes and eggs they had dyed and decorated in exchange for a blessed Spring, abundance, fertility, happiness, light, and more.

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Credit: We Share the Same Moon

Rabbits are a well-known symbol of fertility and new life due to their capacity for fast, frequent reproduction and growth. But listen, rabbits don’t lay eggs.

That was a funny children’s’ story created by German immigrants aka the Pennsylvanian Dutch community back in the 1600s and should never have been perpetuated by grown adults hundreds of years later.

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Credit: NY Daily News

Non-Pagans (primarily American Christians) observe these absolute Pagan traditions by dying and decorating eggs, buying hordes of egg/bunny-themed items, and decorating fancy cakes. However, they typically refuse to acknowledge the Pagan origins and insist it is all about the crucifixion/resurrection of Jesus.

(Sidenote: I always wondered when Jesus found time for his fancy egg-dying craft party and cake soiree with everything else he had going on that day.)

In this clip of Neil Gaiman’s book-turned-series American Gods, Mr. Wednesday confronts Eostre (“Ostara”) about her delusions and compliance in being forgotten and traded in for Jesus:

And then a challenge:

To which she accepts:

While I do not actually worship any deities, I do honour ancient Pagan traditions and I look to them for inspiration and mindfulness. I identify with many old rituals and incorporate them into my life and my practice, primarily by hosting Sabbat/esbat feasts and meditation.

For a meditation altar, I chose the colours of light green, light purple, jasmine buds, rose quartz, amethyst, clear quartz, and agates- basically what reminded me of Spring.

My wishes were for a season of abundance for my loved ones and myself, and I meditated while thinking of a bright gold light taking over everything.

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My Eostre sabbat this year took the shape of a housewarming party, and I held it on the same day as Greek Orthodox Easter. I had been craving Greek food for some time so putting together a menu to welcome my friends and family to the new place came easily.

All the snacks: varieties of olives, hummus, marinated artichokes and tomatoes, Mediterranean-seasoned veggies, dates, figs, sun-dried tomato jam, etc.

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Keftedes made from ground turkey, spinach, feta, bread crumbs, egg, mint, garlic, cumin, and dill.

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Served in pita with homemade tzatziki, fresh greens, and red onions.

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Kotopoulo Orzo- baked chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon, artichoke, goat cheese, olive oil, garlic, butter, green onion, dill, oregano, parsley, and orzo pasta.

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Moussaka with roasted eggplant, zucchini, onions, ground beef, and a tomato-garlic sauce.

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Karidopita spice cake soaked in honey with ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar, cocoa hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans.

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Our cocktail for the evening was Greek sours with Metaxa brandy and organic lemonade.

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Making creative meals with leftovers on the following day is always a fun challenge for me. This time I made tzatziki turkey burgers with hummus and tons of olives.

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Check out the May 2019 edition of Coffee Table Coven Magazine for a published, revised version of this entry.

Blessed Eostre / Ostara / Easter!

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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.