Saturday, April 19, 2014


My husband Tom is Greek, so we often celebrate holidays by making traditional Greek pastries. This bread is scrumptious and is no more trouble to make than any sweet roll recipe.  I usually don't braid the traditional red eggs into the dough before baking.  
The red eggs symbolize the blood of Christ on the cross.  (They look pretty, but the bread actually slices better without them in it.)  

 In orthodox Greek families, the eggs form a game between siblings at the table.  Each player holds a red egg in their hand.  One taps the end of his/her egg lightly against the end of the other player's egg.  The goal is to crack the end of the opponent's egg. Then everyone says, "Christos Anesti" (Christ is risen).

 This bread is wonderful sliced cold at the table, spread with butter, or made as toast.  



8 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups milk, warmed
3 envelopes or 3 scant Tbs. yeast
3 sticks unsalted butter
1 2/3 cups sugar
Zest on one lg. orange
1 1/2 tsp. Mahlepi (Mahlab) (spice ground from pits of cherries) Don’t add to flour!
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon - Don’t add to flour!
5 eggs, lightly beaten

(4-5 Hard boiled eggs, typically dyed Red, to insert in dough before baking if desired)

EGG WASH: 1 whole egg beaten w/ a tiny bit of water
1/3 - 1/2 cup slivered almonds sprinkled on top of wash


Combine flour and salt in large bowl and set aside.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk.  Whisk in 1/2 cup of the flour and 1 Tbs. sugar.
Cover, and set aside until foamy (about 15 minutes).

In saucepan, melt butter over very low heat.  Remove from heat.  Stir in the sugar, orange zest, Mahlepi and Cinnamon.  Cool a bit.

Transfer melted butter mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer.  Using paddle attachment, add flour and frothy yeast mixture alternately to mixing bowl on low speed until thoroughly combined.  Change to dough hook.  Knead with dough hook for about 5-7 minutes, adding a little flour, if necessary, (up to 1/2 cup) until dough starts to cling with strings to sides of bowl while mixer is running.  Dough is supposed be soft and wet.  The kneading will also add shine and elasticity.  Don’t add much flour!

Cover the bowl with saran wrap, and allow to rise in a warm place for about TWO hours.  Because the dough is so soft and buttery, it will take quite a while to rise.  No worries.  :-)

Punch down the dough.  To me, this dough was perfect for shaping just as it is.  I don’t use any flour to shape it.  I shape it on a large silicone mat, and it doesn’t stick at all.

Separate into 3 equal rounds on silicone mat.  Cover with saran wrap and allow dough balls to rest for 15 minutes before shaping.

Divide each ball into 3 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into long snakes, about 12 inches long. 

Place Baker’s Parchment on 3 cookie sheets.  Place 3 snakes on each.

If adding dyed eggs, insert them between the braids while forming the loaf.  Red is traditional.  Sometimes I use them and sometimes I like to just make it without them because it slices better!

Secure the 3 snakes together at one end, by pinching and tucking the dough under 1/2 inch or so.  Braid loosely, and pinch the ends together at the end of the braid, and tuck underneath about 1/2 inch to hide join.  Repeat to make 3 separate braids on 3 cookie sheets.

Proof until double.  It takes about 1 1/2 to 2 hours again.  Trust me, this bread is definitely worth the wait.

Brush egg wash on each braid with pastry brush.  Sprinkle with almonds.

Bake in a preheated 280-300 degree oven for about 45 min. to an hour (depending on your oven.  I used convection bake at 300, for about 35 minutes.  Just keep an eye on it, and if browning too fast, lower the heat a little. 

Once you pull it out of the oven, allow it to cool about 10-15 minutes before you transfer it to cooling racks. 

Enjoy!  Marci

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Non-Intimidating Pie Crust Tutorial

Peach Lattice Top Pie

Think of yourself in your Grandma's kitchen - no stress, no worries, you're just here to make a pie because you want some dessert!  Its not a test and there will not be a grade.  If your first pie isn't the prettiest one in the world, the next one just might be!
Our 8 yr. old Grandaughter Erin and her fresh Strawberry Pie!
I've recently heard from several people who have trouble making pie crust.  They buy the pre-made graham cracker crust mixes, the pie crust mixes or the pre-made pie shells themselves, then try to make the pie filling adapt.  Guys, honestly, you can do this!  I'm going to teach you the same way my Grandma taught me.

Apple Pie
My Grandmother taught me to make pie dough when I was about eleven.  The secret to her teaching method was she didn't tell me it was an important skill, or even that some people thought it was difficult!  I thought we were just making dessert.  She was relaxed, and so was I.  I knew if she thought I could do it, I could do it. :-)

There is a lot of misinformation out there, even in cook books.  Some tell you you must let the dough rest by chilling it for 1 hour in the refrigerator before rolling it.  Or, that you must use flour sparingly when rolling the dough. Neither are true for me.  It is true that you must let the finished dough rest 30-60 minutes before rolling it out, but I do the rest period at room temperature in sandwich sized ziplock bags.  Once that dough gets cold, it is not going to roll out correctly until it has returned to room temperature.

Also, I flour the surface I am rolling on fairly generously.  If the dough is made properly AND you have given it a rest period, it is not going to absorb excess flour when you roll it out.  It is easier to roll the dough if there is sufficient flour beneath the dough.  So I want to dispel those myths right from the start.  It is true that dough that is frozen before it is rolled is even more tender and flaky.  I don't think anybody knows why.  But I rarely do that unless I'm making a lot of dough for holiday pies.

Once in a while a dough just won't turn out.  It happens more often when you are learning.  If that happens to you, do yourself a favor and throw the works out!  Start over.  The 2nd time it will work.

Use a cup or so of flour, fanned out, for rolling!
I really love the Roulpat mat pictured above - it keeps the mess on the mat, and you can shake it off and wash it in the dishwasher.  They are flexible silicone, and come in cookie sheet size or in a larger size like the one above.  (great for both crafts or baking!)

Three True Things about Pie Dough:

Secret #1:
Use the best flour you can afford, i.e., from a small mill if possible.  Most Organic flours are good.  My favorite flours to bake with are King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour or Bob's.  Many grocery stores carry both now, even in small 5# bags.  Don't use pre-sifted flour.  Don't use bread flour.  Pastry flour is very nice, but harder to work with.  Try that later, not now.  Some of the cheaper flours available at the grocery store have quite a bit of cornstarch added for filler.  That will toughen your pie and/or make the dough crumbly or easily torn.  So, buy the best flour you can afford and save it for use only in pies if you have to.  Cookie recipes aren't generally as touchy with respect to flour.

Secret #2:
Measure correctly!  That matters a lot in baking.  When you measure your flour, don't dip the measuring cup into the flour to fill it and then shake off the excess.  Hold your measuring cup above the flour bin.  Using a scoop or a big spoon, drop the flour gently into the measuring cup until it is mounded above the top of the cup.  Using a straight edge knife, drag the blade horizontally across the top of the cup and let any excess fall back into the bin.  If you are used to using a scale (my most preferred method) weigh all the ingredients you will use.  Find out how much each recipe ingredient weighs by pre-measuring them separately and correctly by volume, first.  Write that down on the recipe card.  Then weigh them.  A lot of tough pies occur because there was too much flour added in proportion to the shortening.  Your proportions of flour to shortening must be correct.

Drop flour gently into measuring cup

Use a straight edge to remove excess

Add this correctly measured flour to your bowl

Secret #3:
It is almost more important how you mix the shortening into the flour and salt than the particular type of shortening you use. In other words, use my recipe or use one from a cookbook.  You can make a very decent pie crust using all Crisco, all Lard, all Butter, part Butter and Crisco or Lard, or a mixture of Butter, Lard and Coconut oil, etc.  A Crisco or Lard pie crust can be just as tender and flaky as that made with a blend of shortening, though adding Butter will definitely add a flavor boost.  I don't use all Coconut Oil, ever, for pie crust.  Even part Coconut oil will toughen the pastry slightly, but the trade off is it tastes great and has greater health benefits.  Since I make pies fairly infrequently, I want them to be decadent in every way.  They aren't health food by any stretch, no matter what you do.  Today I am mixing the dough by hand, so you'll begin to recognize the stages of pie dough.   Sometimes I use my Cuisinart Food Processor instead.  It makes great pie dough, too.

1/2 cup diced, cold salted butter

1/4 cup chilled Lard
This recipe makes one 9" or 10" double crust pie or two single crust pies:

2 cups unbleached King Arthur AP flour
1 tsp. fine sea salt
3/4 cup chilled shortening total
Ice Water ( about 12 TBS. for a 2 crust pie in a dry climate) sometimes more

Measure flour into a deep, rather than wide bowl.  Stir in 1 tsp. sea salt.  Cut in HALF of the total shortening using a pastry blender.  (Do not even try making it with two knives as some older cookbooks suggest)  It is an exercise in frustration that you don't need when you are learning to make pie dough.  I know very few people who succeed at that method, including me :-P

Some of the diced butter added to flour mixture

Cut half the total shortening into the flour until dough particles are the size of peas.
Add the remaining shortening and blend in until some pieces are the size of dried beans.
Don't cut in all the shortening at once.  The smaller particles of dough contribute to a tender pie crust.  The larger particles make the crust flaky.  If you want a really tasty pie crust, you need both sizes of particles present before you add the ice water.  It is harder to control that balance if you cut in all the shortening at once.

Notice there are some small and some larger pieces of dry dough b-4 water is added
Ice water - I don't measure it!  I go by the feel of the dough

You've probably noticed instructions in cookbooks that told you to add a pre-measured, exact amount of ice water, by sprinkling o..n..e tablespoon at a time over the dough, until the dough hangs together.  I use a small gravy ladle with which I can sprinkle about 3 TBS. of water at a time.  I find it just as reliable, and easier to hang onto while sprinkling drops onto the dough with my left hand and tossing the particles in the bowl with a large fork in my right hand.  This recipe will absorb several TBS. of ice water.  I add more water in our dry, arid climate than I used to add when I lived on the coast, even with the same recipe.  So, set aside some water, with ice in it.  

Sprinkle water over dough a little at a time, tossing dough pieces w/ fork as it is added.
Dough is almost ready.  Notice how "shaggy" it looks?  
NOW the dough is ready.  It is shaggy AND it sort of  holds together.

When dough pieces hold together like they do in the above photo, stop adding water!  The dough should be very moist but not sticky.  Pick some up with your hand.  It should easily drop out of your hand without leaving any residue behind.  If you've added too much water, and the dough is sticky, that is still better than trying to roll it when it is too dry and crumbly.  Just proceed, and know it may have a bit tougher texture than it should.  Next time, check the moisture more often.  

Gather the dough with both hands and compress it into a ball.

Gather dough into a  ball.
Slice into two pieces.  

Lightly press dough into two flat discs.  Put in zip lock bag.  Let rest for 30-60 min. on counter.

Choose your rolling pin!  Hardwood is the best way to go.
With your hand, coat your rolling pin lightly with flour.  
Begin rolling the disc.  ALWAYS roll from the center out, in every direction.  The rolling part is brief, because as you get near to the edge you will sort of push the rolling pin towards the edge and immediately lift it up and off of the dough.  Don't pound the dough or try to roll too hard or too far all at once.  You want to gently stretch the dough with a very light, fluid, swooping motion.  You'll see what I mean when you actually do it.  You will keep moving the rolling pin all the way around the circle, sometimes away from you, sometimes left, sometimes toward you, sometimes right, so that the dough stays circular, rather than elongated.

To redistribute the flour under the dough, use the rolling pin to roll it toward you.
The dough is thinly rolled and about 12 inches across. It is ready to put in the pie pan.
Lay the far edge of the dough against the rolling pin and use the pin to roll it toward you. 
Lift the dough and pin together over the pie dish, and allow to unroll over it.

Use scissors to trim off excess beyond an inch of overhang, all the way around.
For a single crust pie, lift and tuck under the 1 inch overhang.
Crimp the edges of the pie crust.

To duplicate the edge I used above, hold the first and middle finger of the left hand vertically against the outer edge of the pie pan.  Lay the right hand index finger vertically on the inside edge of the dough.  With the index finger of your right hand, press the dough into the space between the two vertical fingers of the left hand.  This makes the outward pointing triangle.  To make the inner triangle next to it, reverse the process, using the index and middle finger of your right hand on the inside of the dough.  With the left index finger, press the dough inward, into the space between the two fingers of your right hand.  This is my favorite pie edge, but there are many techniques you can use.  Enjoy!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Barley Mushroom Pilaf

Barley Mushroom Pilaf

I don't even remember where I found this recipe, probably 25 years ago!  I made this great cold weather dish last night.  It is so tasty and so good for you, I thought you might like to try it also.  My husband and I don't eat much meat, so we use it as a main entree, served with a salad and a good bread with butter.  It would make a great winter side dish as well.  

Here's the recipe:


1 lb. sliced mushrooms, any kind
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. butter

Saute sliced mushrooms in the oil and butter.  Remove from the pan.

Add 3 cloves chopped garlic and 1 large onion to the pan.  Saute till onion pieces are wilted.

Add 1 3/4 cup dried pearl barley to the pan with the onions and garlic.  Saute, stirring over medium heat until barley starts to become golden brown - you'll hear it snapping and popping.  

Place everything into a buttered casserole dish.  Add 1 3/4 cup chicken (or beef) broth.  

Cover and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.  Remove lid, and stir in another 1 3/4 cup of broth.  Replace lid and bake for another 30 minutes.

This dish also freezes very well, with no discernible change in texture or flavor!  Enjoy :-)

Monday, February 3, 2014

What Is Fire Cider And Why Should You Make It?

Basic Fire Cider Ingredients

Fire Cider is the most amazing medicinal tonic and cold cure concoction!  This is the first year I've made it, only because I didn't realize how good it was.  The ingredients in the photo are the common denominator of most Fire Cider recipes I have run into.  But it is an open canvas...there are many, many different versions online.

Yesterday was the World Wide Make Your Own Fire Cider event on Facebook.  Hundreds of herbies around the world made Fire Cider and posted their pics of their jars.  Someone rounded up all the pics and recipes and put them on Pinterest, so you can view the hundreds of presentations there, if you are so inclined.  I felt so blessed to be a part of that community effort .  

I don't have "my own final recipe" yet, because this is the first year I've made it.  But I know for sure I will make it every year from now on.  Here are two links to recipes for Fire Cider to get you started.

Drop all ingredients in a mason jar.
Pour Vinegar over all ingredients.

Place a piece of wax paper over the jar before adding the mason jar lid and screwband, because the vinegar will corrode the metal during the long storage.

Store the jar in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks.  Get healthier!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Harvesting Mullein Root, Or, What Not To Do!


You can't help but run into Mullein in fields, along roadsides and sometimes as a volunteer in your own garden. Some people consider Mullein to be a weed, and yank it out when they see it. But oh, the benefits of Mullein are spectacular. The leaves are most commonly used in expectorant cough remedies. The flowers grow on the tall spikes of the Mullein plant, and are valuable infused in oil as an earache remedy, and in cough remedies and teas as well. The roots were used by some of the Native American peoples for a cough remedy. They have great value beyond that, and beyond my knowledge as well. I'm still learning, and I'm frequently thankful for how readily some of the leading Herbalists in our country share their knowledge with the rest of us. This is the first year I've collected my own Mullein Root, but I'm expecting to learn a lot from it.

Jim McDonald shared the following on Mullein Root (verbascum thapsus):

"Mullein is mostly thought of as a “cough herb”, but is, like Solomon’s Seal, among the best musculoskeletal remedies I know of. While both the leaf and root can be used, I have the most experience with, and am partial to, the root. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that Mullein works by affecting synovial fluids, though this is Matthew Wood’s hypothesis: “It has a moistening, lubricating effect on the synovial membranes… so that it is hydrating to the spine and joints. It is often indicated in back injuries. People think they are untreatable and incurable, but an increase the synovial fluids will make the spine more pliable and comfortable. The vertebra will slip back into place more readily, pain and inflammation will decrease and the condition will get better." So, that’s his thought. What I know of mullein root (Matt uses the leaves) is that it is one of the most effective means of addressing back problems caused by or resulting in misalignment. Whether or not it’s working via lubrication, Mullein Root has helped me immensely when my spine’s been kinked and I couldn’t straighten up, and I’ve repeatedly seen it work well for clients and students as well. It seems to be most effective before the muscles react to the misalignment, and I’ve seen and experienced numerous instances where a single dose allow the person (occasionally myself) to just straighten right up. I think it is specific to misalignment resulting from herniated discs, as well as in treating sciatica resulting from misalignment. In acute cases, with all the nerve and muscle reactions that go along with them it need to be used more long term and supportively with other herbs, but after the acute phase has past and the back is no longer in “crisis” mode but still weak and not wholly stable, Mullein Root on its own can be immensely helpful. I think of it among the most essential remedies to restore spinal strength and integrity. 5-15 drops is a good dose; you can also make a tea from the roots."


Two Mullein plants in my herb garden provided me flowers and tender leaves from late June to September. Once fall arrived, I determined this was the year I would dry the roots. I carefully loosened the dirt with a shovel in a circle around the plants until I was sure I could rock them out of the soil without breaking off the roots. Then I cut off the long tapers. Every hair on the roots was shaggy with soil. I hosed them off and let them dry in the shade.


I brought them in the house and washed them again in the kitchen sink, scrubbing every section with a soft brush. I let them dry as I considered how to proceed. It seemed reasonable to me to treat them like Althaea Root, which is really pretty easy to slice or pull off in strings. I was in for a surprise!

This Mullein Root is like Oak Hardwood, in comparison to any root I've harvested so far. The thinnest parts of the root were easily sliced with a sharp chef's knife. But the thicker parts of the root (1/2 inch and up) practically required a bone saw. We used a pipe cutter on some of it!

 I learned later that most people harvest 1st year Mullein, which means Mullein that has not yet thrown up a hag's taper or bloomed. Once it has flowered, it is considered 2nd year, or a Bloomer, which corresponds to a very hard root. Darcy J. Williamson, From the Forest kindly responded to my blog post:  Here at From The Forest we harvest the first year root as the second year root has exhausted most of its energy through the blooming and seed production of the expiring plant. We tincture the first year root fresh, and dry it when making capsules.  

The tricky part is that 1st year Mullein is often difficult to even see. The leaves are at ground level and often hide in the underbrush of other plants. To avoid my mistake, keep your eyes opened and try this with first year Mullein!  I'm hoping there is still enough good in the 2nd year root I harvested to use in decoctions or teas.  But next year I'll be at ground level to find those first year Mulleins!


It took some time to cut up the skinnier parts of the root. I laid them on a clean dish towel to dry. I rolled and turned them every day to expose every surface to the air.


The next picture shows the root pieces after a week of air drying. They look just like wood chips, but are very light in weight, having lost much of their water already.


I allowed them to air dry for a 2nd full week, then put them in a jar for storage. As I become familiar with new ways to use Mullein Root I will add them on to this post. If you already use the roots in some of your remedies, I would love it if you'd comment with your methods and I'll share them here, with credits to you. Happy Autumn!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gifts From Mother Nature?

Wild Rose

Have you ever noticed a curious synchronicity regarding which plants volunteer in your yard?  When I've formed a relationship with a wild plant, gathered from it, visited it often, and held it in high esteem for the leaves, fruit or flowers it offers, it often shows up in our yard the following spring.   In the spring of 2011, Yarrow showed up in our flower garden. Last year, Mullein volunteered, smack in the center of our herb garden. This year, two wild roses nestled themselves into our side yard. 

I should explain that I dry the plants I collect in our garden shed, and any discarded parts go straight into our compost pile.  I don't throw parts of the harvested plants around where they could scatter seed.  If the seeds were escaping through the window of our garden shed, the seeds would blow onto our property across the road. I guess I choose to believe that Mother Nature senses our regard for those particular plants and sends them to us as gifts.  Perhaps the birds are in cahoots?  No matter, I am thrilled to adopt them all!

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Layering ~ Propagate Your Own Lavender Plants!


Lavender Buds and their essential oil have been a favorite perfume and toiletry scent since commercial Lavender production started, some sources say as early as 1568!

Tom and I used to buy our Lavender plants at the local nursery in a 1-5 gallon bucket size. Then friends who own a Lavender Farm taught us to create new Lavender plants ourselves through a method called Layering. It just takes a few inches of medium weight wire (we used electric fence wire off a spool), 5 minutes of your time and a wintering over. We have had very good luck with this method, and no longer need to buy our plants.

We have 17 plants currently, which is almost too much for me to keep up with,  so we mostly grow babies to replace those that don't make it through the winter, or to simply give away to friends.  Another reason to propagate your own Lavender is that after about 5 years, when a Lavender plant is 4-5 feet across, it may not produce as well, or get gaps between the stems.  Did you know you can divide the roots and start new plants that way, also?  

Though Lavender will grow from seed, it can mutate, and may not retain characteristics of the Mother plant. It is highly recommended you propagate through layering rather than by seed.


The above photo is of a small Lavender plant we created through "layering" the autumn before. It was still small, but getting new growth, so we knew it had developed a decent root system as well. We dug it up with a shovel and planted it where we wanted it in late spring, before the hot weather arrived.


Honestly, this process is so easy!  Select a brown, woody stem at the base of an existing Lavender plant.  (above photo)


Using a small trowel or your hands, scoop out soil in a trough shape, about 2-2 1/2 inches deep, right below the woody stem, and about 8-10 inches away from the base of the Mother Lavender plant.


Cut a piece of wire about 6-8 inches long, and bend it into a long, narrow horseshoe shape.


Lay the woody Lavender stem into the trough you created. Pin it down to the bottom of the trough by pressing the wire down snugly, so it straddles the woody stem. Some people using this technique rough up the part of the woody stem that will contact the soil by scraping it with a knife. We don't do that. We simply push the woody part of the stem in the trough, and pin it down.


Cover the trough and the woody stem with the dirt you threw to the side. Pat it down firmly.


This is what it should look like when you've finished, with just the leafy tip of the woody stem showing above ground. (Far left of photo)


Here's another view farther away. See the leafy tip of the woody stem several inches away from the Mother plant?


Next spring, around late May, you should see new leaf growth starting on your Lavender baby. You can either leave it where it is, and snip the woody stem umbilical cord to the Mother plant, or dig it up with a shovel (severing the woody stem) and transplant it wherever you like!  You're a Lavender grower now!