Catty Xmas Traditions

Continuing my journey through posts of Xmas past, it’s time to revisit one of my favourite characters – The Yule Cat of Iceland!

To learn more about Jólakötturinn and to hear a song about this scary cat simply click Kitty Claws Is Coming To Town! 🙂

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Grand Xmas Traditions

Over the last few years I’ve become the proud Grand Aunt to three wonderful Grand Nieces. I was dubbed a Grand rather than a Great Aunt because my family think of me as the Grand High Witch from Roald Dahl’s The Witches – and I love it! My three Grand Nieces’ birthdays each have a gothic connection, making them very Grand indeed!

To celebrate the coming holidays, I’ll be reblogging posts from Xmases past and introducing my Grand Nieces to the darker sides of Midwinter. Their first lesson begins with La Befana the Xmas Witch. 

The Legend Of La Befana

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Birthday Gifts From Bram Stoker

Thursday the 8th of November is Bram Stoker’s 171st birthday. As I thought about Bram’s birthday, I began to reminisce about my own birthdays, in particular my 21st and 22nd birthdays. Both these days have a special connection to Bram and his famous character Dracula, or in this case, Nosferatu.

I didn’t have a party for my 21st birthday. Instead I visited my mum during the day and was delighted when she surprised me with a stunning birthday cake decorated with an image of Dracula. In the evening I celebrated with a couple of close friends who came to my place with platters of Middle Eastern snacks and chunks of Turkish bread. We ate ourselves into a stupor. We then eyed off my birthday cake. Dracula looked so cute that I didn’t want to eat him. I sliced around him that night but eventually I devoured all the cake including my iced Dracula.

After dinner we sat down to watch a newly released video of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. This 1922 black and white silent movie is a classic from the German Expressionist period. Nosferatu was an unauthorised adaptation of Stoker’s novel Dracula. Hoping to avoid paying royalties to Stoker’s widow, the makers changed locations and character names so that they were different to the novel. Notably Count Dracula became Count Orlok and the word vampire was replaced by Nosferatu. These changes weren’t enough to stop Stoker’s heirs from successfully suing. A court ruled that all copies of the film be destroyed. Luckily a few prints survived.  

More than half a century after Nosferatu was released and almost destroyed, I finally got to see the film for the first time. I was mesmerised. The cinematography was haunting, the soundtrack unnerving and I loved watching snippets of dialogue appear in quaint, written form. I found the ending beautifully tragic. Love lured the vampire to his death and a part of me felt sad when he died. For a vampire fan like me, this was a truly magical way to celebrate my special birthday.

A year later I invited a small group of friends to celebrate my 22nd birthday at the Valhalla Cinema in Richmond. They were screening Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre, a 1979 remake of Murnau’s film. There are two versions of the film. In one the actors speak English and in the other they speak German. There are other differences between the two films including different scenes and scenes shot with different camera angles. I had seen the English version many times but never the German one. Happily the Valhalla was screening the German version. 

Watching Herzog’s Nosferatu is like watching paintings come to life. It is a sumptuous and hypnotic visual treat accompanied by a bewitching soundtrack. What I love most is the twist at the end. You can view it as a sad or happy ending, depending on how you feel about vampires. I was so happy that I finally got to watch the German version and it was even more awesome that it was on my birthday. I couldn’t have wished for better birthday presents from Bram Stoker than being able to celebrate my birthdays with Nosferatu.

This year I will be celebrating Bram Stoker’s birthday with a special bottle of gin. I recently discovered that there is a gin distillery right here in Melbourne called Nosferatu. Their signature gin is not surprisingly made with blood oranges. I’m not sure what I will be concocting with this gin but I’m sure it will be bloody and sticky 🙂

Some interesting facts related to F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu:
– Count Orlok is destroyed by sunlight in the film whereas sunlight is harmless to Count Dracula in the novel.
– The Blue Oyster Cult wrote a song about the film called Nosferatu for their 1977 album Spectres.
– In Stephen King’s 1979 miniseries Salem’s Lot, the appearance of master vampire Kurt Barlow is inspired by Max Schreck’s Count Orlok.
– E. Elias Merhige’s 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire is a fictionalised account of the making of Murnau’s film. The surprise premise of the film is that the actor playing Count Orlok, is a real vampire.
– Most deliciously, the film is the inspiration for the Nosferatu Distillery and their Blood Orange Gin.

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Gothic Meditations

It’s been a long time since I’ve knocked on a stranger’s door for an esoteric experience. The first time was over 30 years ago when I was invited to a witches coven meeting. There were so many reasons why my hand was shaking when I knocked on that door. As an introvert, walking into a room filled with strangers had its own set of terrors. The fact they were witches was only one of them! Three decades later I was knocking on another stranger’s door. This time it wasn’t witches I was meeting. I was here to participate in a “Meditations on Death” workshop. I couldn’t wait to get inside!

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I walked into a room where a diverse group of people were sitting on cushions. I found a cushion with a cupboard behind me so I could sit in a comfortable position. As expected, we all had different backgrounds and different reasons for being there. Some had friends or family members who were dying, others had been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and a few just wanted to be comfortable with the concept of death. I was there continuing my life long journey of exploring death in all its forms. The only thing we all had in common was that one day we would die. But the point of the workshop was not to see that truth as morbid, but rather to use it to empower our lives.

The workshop explored the different ways we have viewed death historically and from different cultural perspectives. I found my head was nodding in agreement with many of the things our host was saying. As a Goth, I am comfortable in the world of the dead. But as the workshop continued, I found myself reflecting on how I was brought up. Coming from an Eastern European background, death was no stranger to me. I grew up on stories about the horror of war, pain, loss and death. I was taught from a young age how precarious life is and how easily it can be taken away. These lessons weren’t meant to instil fear, but rather to highlight how precious life is. Understanding the fragility of life and how close we are to death at any moment, can be liberating. It can help you live your life more fully because you don’t know how long you have left. At least that’s the way I have always viewed it.

Another lesson I learned growing up was that accepting death as a natural part of life doesn’t stop you from feeling pain and loss when loved ones die. Quite the opposite actually. As the workshop wound its way to a conclusion, my thoughts roamed to the elaborate death rites and rituals I grew up with. Some of them were challenging, like kissing a dead body in a coffin, others were less extreme. All of them were ways of dealing with the loss of a departed loved one, the need to say goodbye and the importance of moving on. It was during these reminiscences that I had the most disturbing thought of all – I was raised by Goths! I had always thought my love of vampires had turned me into a Goth but I realised I had been born into a culture where being a Goth was a way of life and death. As I pondered on these revelations, the workshop moved on to the next stage and the one I was really looking forward to – a death bed meditation!

We were first asked to stretch out on the floor if we were comfortable to do so. I pushed away from the cupboard and stretched out. With my eyes closed, I listened as our guide asked us to feel what it would be like to die. We began by releasing from our bodies each of the four elements in turn. It was an extraordinary experience. When it came time to release the element of air, I had a minor panic attack. Being claustrophobic, I hate being in situations where I feel like I can’t breathe. Being asked to feel like all the air was pushed out of my body had me almost physically clawing at the air. I really did feel like I was dying and I was surprised at how panicked I felt.

Calming myself, I continued with the meditation and was rewarded with some extraordinary insights and a feeling of peace. But there was pain and sadness too. I don’t want to die, but one day I will. All I can do is live my life as best I can. Experiencing this symbolic death was more powerful than I thought it would be. I left the meditation will many things to ponder. But the one thing I was truly grateful for was that I was born and raised a Goth.

Black Tahini Cookies
To ground myself after esoteric explorations I always have something to eat and drink. I thought a plate of black cookies and a pot of black tea would be most appropriate. I used black tahini as a natural food colour and because I love tahini. These biscuits are really strong in flavour so you can try substituting the tahini with peanut butter or another nut butter and adding a few drops of black food colouring if you like.

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Ingredients
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup caster sugar
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup black tahini
1+1/2 cups plain flour

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 320F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Mix together the sugars, butter, beaten egg and vanilla in a large bowl until combined.
Add the tahini and mix until combined.
Add the flour and mix until combined.
Place tablespoons of batter on prepared trays, flattening slightly with a fork.
Bake for 10 – 15 minutes. The shorter they cook the softer they will be. 
Allow to rest for 5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Cosy To A Tea

When you’re rumoured to have the best scones in Sydney you better deliver! Happily the Tea Cosy did just that. When we arrived we were greeted by a long queue of people eager to sample the Tea Cosy’s world-famous scones. We debated whether we should wait or leave, but when we saw the trays of scones being delivered to lucky tables, we eagerly joined the queue.

Located in Sydney’s famous Rocks area, the Tea Cosy is a heritage listed terrace house transformed into a sumptuous tea house. Adding to the old-world ambience are eclectic decorations and artworks which are scattered throughout the grand house. There are a variety of eating areas downstairs and a staircase leads to extra eating spaces upstairs including a few tables out on the balcony. The tables are decorated with baskets of wool with knitting needles and I watched lots of people knitting while they waited for their orders to arrive. A few patrons were chilly and they were offered knitted rugs to keep them warm. It had such a cosy feel, I couldn’t wait to be seated. 

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After waiting a surprisingly short time, we were told we had a table upstairs on the balcony. This was just where I was hoping we would be seated! We had a lovely view of the street below which kept us entertained while we waited for our much anticipated afternoon tea.

Our pots of tea arrived, snuggled in knitted cosies, followed by scones, jams and cream served in baskets. I loaded my scones with jam and cream and bit into them. Wow! I have eaten a lot of scones in a lot of different places and these were some of the best. 

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Feeling nourished and nurtured we relaxed and watched as two curious birds paid us a visit. The Tea Cosy is one of those rare places that lives up to its name and reputation.

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Not sure whether to add jam or cream first on a scone? Check out my previous post on cream teas which also includes a recipe for a cupcake cream tea 🙂

Shakespeare Under The Stars

When Shakespeare’s Pop-up Globe came to Melbourne recently I was hoping they would stage Macbeth or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They didn’t. Happily the two shows we did see, Around The Globe In 60 Minutes and Henry V, were awesome so I wasn’t disappointed.

When it was announced that Shakespeare’s Pop-up Globe would be going to Sydney, I was annoyed to see that both Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were going to be performed. There was only one thing to do – go to Sydney!

I’ve never read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I had a rough idea of the plot. One thing I knew for sure was there were fairies. Imagine my shock when Titania, Oberon and Puck came onto stage, not as fairies, but as New Zealand Maoris. That was some surprise! It was then that I remembered that the Pop-up Globe began in Auckland, New Zealand. I was disappointed that there would be no fairies on stage, but also excited as I’m a big fan of New Zealand. I was very curious to see how this twist would play out.

If you had no idea what A Midsummer Night’s Dream was about, having one section of the play spoken in Maori would have been very confusing. Happily my limited knowledge of the play allowed me to follow what was happening on stage. It was jolting but fun to hear Maori spoken alongside Shakespearian English and to see traditional Maori costumes among the Elizabethan ones. If that wasn’t weird enough, the actors performing the play within a play were dressed as Aussie tradesmen. By the end of the performance I felt like I had been on a wild ride! I couldn’t wait for our next visit to the Globe.

It’s no surprise that Macbeth, a play that features three witches, is one that I have read and seen many filmic adaptions of. Unlike A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this was a more traditional production. The roles of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Macduff were brilliantly acted and gave me new insights into characters I thought I knew well. There was a school group in the audience, standing in the front section. Watching them, wide-eyed as the characters drew us into their emotional rollercoasters, was a stark reminder that Shakespeare was a playwright and his works are best enjoyed on the stage.

One of the reasons I love Macbeth is the witches and they did not disappoint! They commanded the stage and sent chills down my spine with their wicked performances as the three weird sisters. Like wraiths they moved, swayed and stalked across the stage while treating us to eerily sung songs that vibrated through our souls. At one point in the play the witches left the stage and came up behind the group of school children. Weaving through the audience, they scarily reached out to the school children while the children shrieked and tried to run away. I wonder if I was the only one in the audience who wanted to run down and join the witches? The whole play was a grand spectacle from start to end. It was well worth the trip to Sydney. I hope I get to see more performances of this incredible play.

Posset
To aid in the murder of King Duncan, Lady Macbeth drugs the possets of his guards so they will stay asleep while their King is slain. Modern possets, like my Lime Posset, are delicious, creamy desserts. The possets Lady Macbeth drugs were drinks made with warm, spiced milk mixed with either wine or ale. Some possets have beaten eggs added, much like an eggnog. As a fan of eggnog, I just had to add egg to my posset drink. However, unlike Lady Macbeth, I didn’t add a sleeping potion 🙂 

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Ingredients (per drink)
1/2 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
1 egg, room temperature
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup ale
freshly grated nutmeg for serving

Instructions
Combine milk, cinnamon, cloves and mace in a saucepan.
Gently bring to the boil over low heat.
Whisk together the egg and sugar in a heatproof bowl until fluffy.
Whisk the hot milk slowly into the egg.
Return to the saucepan.
Add the ale and whisk until warm but not boiling.
Pour into heatproof mugs.
Serve with a sprinkle of grated nutmeg.

Sydney Under The Stars

My home state of Victoria is famous for having a public holiday for a horse race. Now we are becoming infamous for having a public holiday for a football match. Actually, it’s a holiday for the day before the football match which makes it even stranger. I’m not complaining. I’m grateful for any public holiday we can get! And it’s on a Friday, which I think is a great day to start a long weekend.

This year we went to Sydney and stayed at the Ultimo Hotel which is purported to be the world’s first astrology hotel. Among the services they offer are astrology reading packages that you can add to your booking. We didn’t do this but there was still heaps of astrological fun to be had.

On arrival we were greeted in reception by staff eager to talk astrology. They had city guides based on your star sign and astrologically appropriate “do not disturb signs.” I told them I was a sun sign Taurus with a Moon and Rising Sign in Sagittarius so they gave me both the Taurus and Sagittarius city guides. They offered me both a Taurus and Sagittarius door sign too but I only took the Taurus one as it said all that needed saying!

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Shifting seamlessly from astrology to astronomy, I booked myself two tours at the Sydney Observatory. My first tour was at night. It was a full moon which isn’t great for star gazing but I loved it, especially when bats started flying around! Peering through the enormous telescope I got to see Mars and Saturn. On the day tour I got to see the Sun which is a real treat as you have to have a special filter on the telescope to view it. Many years ago I was lucky enough to see Venus (my ruling planet) transit the Sun. While this Sun viewing wasn’t as spectacular it was still amazing. Both tours ended with a visit to the planetarium which was fun and informative.

When I returned to the hotel I noticed a selection of “Astrolo-Teas” in reception. These teas are specially selected to match your star sign. I looked at the one for Taurus which was English Breakfast. Not bad! I love English and Irish Breakfast although my favourite tea is Earl Grey. I then went to the Sagittarius tea which was Lemongrass and Ginger. This was another great match as I love ginger tea. Naturally I wanted to experiment with these flavours when I got home. 

As the weather is heating up here, I wanted to make an iced tea. I decided to create a chai blend because it can be served hot or cold. I used English Breakfast for Taurus and added ginger for Sagittarius. The great thing is you can mix and match ingredients for your own personal taste or create a blend that you think reflects your astrological profile!

Astrological Iced Chai

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Ingredients
3 cups milk
4 cardamon pods
4 black peppercorns
4 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
30g fresh ginger, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons black tea leaves (I used English Breakfast)
2 tablespoons honey
ice cubes for serving

Instructions
Place the milk in a saucepan.
Crack the cardamon pods open and place the seeds and shells into the milk.
Crack the peppercorns and add to the milk.
Add the cloves, cinnamon stick and ginger to the milk.
Bring very slowly to the boil (you want it to take about 10 minutes) 
Once boiling add the tea leaves and simmer for 2-5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea.
Stir in the honey.
Strain tea and refrigerate until cold.
Serve over ice cubes.

Hot & Cold Equinoxes

This Sunday is the Spring or Vernal Equinox in Melbourne. It is the midpoint between Imbolc and Beltane. After the Spring Equinox there is a shift in power between day and night. The short days and long nights will slowly be overtaken by longer days and shorter nights. On the other side of the world the opposite is happening. The Autumnal or Fall Equinox is the midpoint between Lammas and Halloween. Following the Autumn Equinox, the long days and short nights will slowly be overtaken by shorter days and longer nights.

The Equinoxes offer us a moment of balance, when day and night are relatively equal. At the end of the Equinox, one part of the world will fall into spring and the other into autumn. In six months time we will meet again for a moment of balance before continuing in our oppositional seasonal dance.

A perfect blend between hot and cold, fried ice cream is a delicious symbol of the Equinoxes. One part frozen and icy, the other piping hot. Drizzled with syrup these golden orbs are a perfect treat for spring or autumn.

Fried Ice Cream

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Ingredients
6 scoops – approximately 500ml, best quality vanilla ice cream
2 eggs
1/2 cup plain flour, sifted
1/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
150g shortbread biscuits, finely crushed
2/3 cup rice crumbs
vegetable oil for deep frying (I use peanut oil)
golden or maple syrup for drizzling

Instructions
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Use a large ice-cream scoop to form 6, round scoops of ice cream.
Place on baking tray and freeze for 30 minutes or until firm.
Whisk together the eggs, flour, milk and sugar until smooth in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine biscuits and breadcrumbs.
Working quickly, dip ice-cream balls in batter then roll in crumb mix.
Return to tray and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Dip the balls in a second layer of batter and roll again in the crumb mix, making sure the balls are completely coated in crumbs.
Return to tray and freeze for at least 1 hour or overnight.
When ready to cook, heat oil in a medium sized pan to 185C / 365F.
Fry 1 – 2 balls at a time for 2 – 3 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
Serve immediately with a good drizzle of syrup.

Red Red Panda

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Saturday the 15th of September 2018 is International Red Panda Day!

Celebrated every year on the third Saturday in September, IRPD was created to bring awareness to the plight of the red panda. Red Pandas are endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is celebrated by zoos and individuals around the world with special events and red panda themed fun. Some zoos celebrate on a different day, so check with your local zoo to see if they are doing anything and on what day. For more information on IRPD and red pandas in general visit the Red Panda Network.

I was lucky enough to participate in the 1st International Red Panda Day at The National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra. As it was supposed to be the only zoo in Australia participating in the event that year, I planned a weekend trip to the zoo including a red panda encounter. When I rang to book the encounter, I also asked what festivities they were doing for the special day. We were both surprised when they said they had never heard of International Red Panda Day! Happily a few hours later I got a call saying they loved the idea and that they were now officially participating in the event. I had a great time celebrating IRPD at the zoo and thoroughly enjoyed my awesome red panda encounter. Each year I look forward to this special day.

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Happy Red Panda Day!