Author: Vicky V

About Vicky V

Writer specialising in vampirism, tarot, witchcraft and cookery - so far! Amateur photographer specialising in food & drink, still life, architectural, gothic and nature photography.

A Balance Of Pandas

March 16 is International Panda Day – not to be confused with International Red Panda Day which is celebrated in September. International Panda Day is a day to celebrate the beloved black and white clowns of the bear world.

Pandas have meant a lot to me for many, many years. The first time I saw giant pandas in Australia was at Melbourne Zoo in 1988 when Fei Fei and Xiao Xiao toured Australia. I was so excited to see these almost mythical animals and they did not disappoint. They were much smaller than I expected but as cute and playful as I thought they’d be. The next time I saw giant pandas was at Adelaide Zoo in 2010 when I did a VIP tour to meet Fu Ni and Wang Wang. I got to pat them on their heads and feed them fruit, vegetables and panda cake through the bars of their enclosures. I then got to go into their outdoor enclosures and hide treats for them. It was an awesome experience! Happily I’ve been able to visit these fluff balls a few more times over the years. The cuddly pair are the first and only giant pandas (so far) to be loaned to an Australian zoo. 

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Being panda mad, I dreamed of going to China to visit pandas in their homeland. Finally my dream came true in 2013 when I went to China and met a one year old baby panda called Miao Miao. As I sat on a bench Miao Miao was placed next to me and I got to give her a cuddle and a couple of pats. The little panda seemed happy to meet her smiling fans – probably because she was rewarded with bamboo, apples and honey! I got to tour a few panda centres and enjoyed seeing the black and white bears in their homeland. It really was a trip of a lifetime.

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Coincidentally, International Panda Day falls close to the Autumn Equinox in the southern hemisphere and the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere. The equinoxes symbolise balance as do the black and white colours of the giant panda. So while the world goes mad, grab some balancing vibes and stay calm by thinking of pandas. 🙂

Witchy Womens Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day. On March 6th, my favourite local craft beer bar, Hopheads is having a Women’s Day celebration. The event hopes to empower women by bringing together some of the best women brewers and women associated with brewing in the industry. These talented women will be available for a chat and of course there will be plenty of beer tasting! I can’t wait. 🙂

Thinking about women and beer always reminds me of a night I spent in Salem, Massachusetts a few years ago. I enjoyed many local beers in Salem, but it wasn’t until I got home that I learned of a possible connection between witches and brewing.

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It is generally acknowledged that women all around the world have been brewing and selling beer since ancient times. This started to change in Medieval Europe when female brewsters, also known as alewives, were slowly pushed out of the industry. Some theories suggest that men, wanting to take over the profitable industry for themselves, began to associate the tools and activities of brewsters with witches and witchcraft.

A brewster needed a vessel in which to brew beer, such as a large pot or cauldron. A broom or decorated stick was often placed above the door to let people know that beer was ready for sale. When a brewster sold their drink at a local market, they would wear a tall hat so they would stand out in the crowds. Cats were often kept as pets to keep mice away from the grains. Put this all together and you have the classic image of a pointy hatted witch with broomstick, black cat and cauldron! While theories connecting brewing with witches are contentious, they do provide food (and drink!) for thought.

To celebrate the connection between beer, women and witches, and the reemergence of female brewers, I put my witchy hat on and brewed a tasty potion based on a classic “Witch Hunt” cocktail. I played around with the proportions in the recipe to make it Strega dominant (strega is witch in Italian) and replaced the optional lemonade with beer. I had lots of thoughts on a name for this cocktail but finally decided on The Beer Witch Returns.

The Beer Witch Returns

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Ingredients
40ml Strega
20ml Scotch
10ml Dry Vermouth
1 cup Saison (or beer of your choice)

Instructions
Pour the strega into a tall glass.
Add the scotch followed by the vermouth.
Top with beer.
Enjoy!

You can read more about my trip to Salem, and other parts of America, in my travelogue cookbook Bites and Pieces of America, which also includes my witchy brewster inspired recipe for a Dark Ale Spider! 🙂

Day Of The Leaplings

February 29th is Leap Day. Babies born on this day are called Leaplings. As their birthday only comes once every four years they can choose to celebrate their birthday, on the non-leap years, a day early on February 28th, a day later on March 1st, or they can wait four years and only celebrate on Leap Day.

Legally they grow a year older each year (they don’t have to wait 72 or 84 years to be able to buy a drink!) In New Zealand if you’re born on the 29th of February, your birthday is officially 28th February on the other years. In many other parts of the world it is on the 1st of March in those years. In Australia, it was decided in a court case in 2018 (really 2018!) when an offender argued successfully that she should be tried as a child for offences committed on 28th February 2018. The prosecutors had argued from a different historical position that she should be tried as an adult – with substantially larger possible penalties.

The rest of us can celebrate Leap Day as a day of balance, as this extra day was added to keep the calendar year aligned with the seasonal and astronomical year.

When thinking of celebrating birthdays, I usually think of colourful cakes. One of my favourites, Neapolitan cake, is a tricoloured cake inspired by the colours of Neapolitan ice cream. The most common Neapolitan ice cream block contains three flavours – chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

As a big fan of cupcakes, I decided to make a cupcake version of this classic cake. My Neapolitan Cupcakes feature slices of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry cupcake sandwiched together with strawberry jam, topped with vanilla cream frosting and a sprinkling of grated milk chocolate. Serve with scoops of Neapolitan ice cream for a truly indulgent celebration!

Neapolitan Cupcakes
makes 9 cupcakes

triple treat

 

Ingredients
for the cupcake batter
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cornstarch (cornflour)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup superfine (caster) sugar
2 eggs

for the chocolate cupcakes
1 teaspoon cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons water

for the vanilla cupcakes
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons water

for the strawberry cupcakes
3 tablespoons strawberry jam
pink food coloring

to assemble
extra strawberry jam

for the vanilla cream frosting
1 cup double cream
1 tablespoon powdered buttermilk or powdered milk*
1 tablespoon powdered (icing) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To serve
grated milk chocolate or chocolate sprinkles

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 9 paper cases.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cornstarch and salt. Set aside.
In a medium sized bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy and pale.
Add eggs one at a time and beat well.
Add the flour mix and fold through until combined.
Divide the mixture evenly into three bowls.
To make the chocolate batter add the cocoa and water to one bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.
To make the vanilla batter add the vanilla and water to the second bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.
To make the strawberry batter add the jam and enough food colouring to achieve desired pink colour to the third bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the chocolate batter evenly into 3 paper cases. Repeat with vanilla and strawberry batter making sure to clean the ice cream scoop between batches.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble:
Remove cupcakes from paper lining.
Carefully cut each cupcake horizontally into three even slices with a serrated knife.
Assemble the cupcakes making sure that each cupcake has a different coloured top, middle and bottom.
Use a thin layer of strawberry jam to sandwich the layers together.
To make the vanilla cream frosting, whip together the cream, powdered sugar and milk powder with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined.
Add the vanilla extract and whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form.
Spoon whipped cream into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.
Sprinkle with chocolate.

*I use milk powder in my icings to balance the sweetness but you can omit the milk powder and replace it with extra powdered sugar.

Blueberry Soup For The Uncertain Soul

This weekend is the celebration of Lammas or Lughnasadh in Australia. It is the midpoint between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It is supposed to bring with it the promise of autumn, but with the temperature soaring, autumn seems so far away.

Bread is traditionally baked for Lammas but with such hot weather enveloping me, putting the oven on is the last thing I want to do. So instead of making bread, I thought I would make something that goes really well with bread – soup!

I know what you are thinking – hot soup on a hot day? Well this refreshing sweet blueberry soup can be served hot or cold. In Australia we can have a dramatic drop or rise in temperature in just one day so this soup is perfect for celebrating in uncertain weather.

While this soup isn’t traditionally served with bread, you can bring a bit of “loaf mass” spirit to the dish by pairing it with toast or a sandwich. For hot soup I serve it with a slice of buttered fruit toast or a dark bread. I serve cold soup with panettone, plain bread and butter, or jam sandwiches.

I’d love to know what breads you would serve with your blueberry soup!

Hot or Cold Blueberry Soup

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Ingredients
2 cups blueberries
2 cups water
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons cornflour
2 tablespoons water
cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Bring the blueberries, water and honey to a boil in a saucepan.
Simmer for 10 minutes or until the blueberries are beginning to soften.
Mix the cornflour and water to make a smooth paste.
Add a spoon of hot soup to the paste and mix to combine.
Add the cornflour to the soup and stir until combined.
Continue stirring until the soup thickens.
Ladle into bowls or cups and serve warm, or chill in the refrigerator and serve cold.
Serve with a drizzle of cream if desired.

A Very Ratty New Year

Chinese New Year is upon us and it’s time to welcome The Year of the Yang White Metal Rat! The Rat is the first of the 12 animals on the zodiac wheel and is a great animal to begin the first year of the next decade.

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The Legend Of The 12 Zodiac Animals
As with all legends, there are a few different versions and variations. In one version the Jade Emperor invited the animals to a party while in another it was Buddha. In all versions the animals had to cross a river to get there. The rat arrived first followed by the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep/goat, monkey, rooster, dog and finally the pig. Each animal was rewarded for its success by having a year named after them in order of their arrival.

What About The Cat?
It is interesting to note that the rat arrives first, not because it is the best swimmer, but because it is sneaky. The rat gets the ox to give it a ride on its back, but just as the ox is about to reach the other side, the rat jumps off and is therefore first in line. In some variations it isn’t only the ox that the rat tricks but also a cat. In most of these versions the cat falls victim to ratty manipulations and never makes it to the party. If it wasn’t for the rat, the cat may have become one of the Chinese zodiac animals. If you’re thinking a year of the cat would be great though, don’t worry, in the Vietnamese animal zodiac the rabbit is replaced by the cat, so there is actually a Year of the Cat!

Animal Aspects
In addition to having a year named after them, each animal has a month, day and hours that they take care of. They are also allocated either a yin or yang energy and a fixed element which has a corresponding colour – wood (green), fire (red), earth (yellow), metal (white) and water (black). The rat is in charge of the month of December, Thursday and the hours from 11pm to 1am. The energy of the rat is yang, its element is water and its colour is black. If the element for rat is water, why are we celebrating the year of the metal rat? This happens because there are aspects that belong to the animal and aspects that belong to the year. The fixed element for the rat is water but the element for 2020 is metal.

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Yearly Aspects
Each year is allocated not just an animal, but also an element and the energy of yin or yang. These three attributes, animal, element and energy, travel through the years on different cycles. The animal changes every year in a 12 year cycle, the element changes every 2 years in a 10 year cycle and the energy of yin and yang changes every year. The yin or yang energy always corresponds with the animal’s energy while the yearly element will only match the fixed element of the animal every 60 years.

Pretty In Red
Did you know that your animal year is supposed to be your unluckiest year? One way to protect yourself against this bad luck is to wear red for the whole year! You can wear it as outerwear or underwear. So if you were born in the year of the rat, you may need to rethink your wardrobe for the year. 🙂

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Mice Day For A Rat Wedding
As part of the New Year celebrations, a special day is set aside for rats. It is the Rat Wedding Day. On this day, people will leave food in their house to share with the rats. They go to sleep early so they will not disturb the rat wedding. In Chinese culture rats symbolise wealth and fertility. While they are not generally invited into the home, on Rat Wedding Day they are welcome and can enjoy a night of feasting, partying and merriment.

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If you need more rat celebrations in your life, April 4th is World Rat Day. It is a day to celebrate fancy rats or domestic rats which are different to wild rats.

A Tasting Of Maple

The first full moon of the year, and the decade, fell on a weekend in Melbourne that had surprisingly mild weather for summer. To celebrate, I treated myself to brunch at Stokers Fine Pancakes. I chose a maple syrup tasting platter offering pancakes and three different grades of maple syrup. I couldn’t wait for the tasting to begin!

Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees. There are many species but the trees most commonly tapped for sap are sugar maple, red maple or black maple. To tap a maple tree, holes are drilled into the trunk and the sap is collected. The sap is then heated to remove most of the water leaving a concentrated syrup.

The Canadian Single Origin maple syrups on my tasting plate were from the Escuminac Estate. They are bottled on the estate, are unblended and sourced from a single forest. The styles were – Early Harvest, Great Harvest and Late Harvest. I tasted them in that order and was surprised at the differences between the three.

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The Early Harvest was the lightest in colour and the sweetest. It was also the most runny. It tasted lovely and was similar to the many maple syrups I have tried, only much better! The Great Harvest was darker and less sweet and also thicker. It was a step above the first and I really liked it. The star, however was the Late Harvest. It was the darkest, thickest and the least sweet of the three. It was so syrupy and had a dark caramel and toffee flavour. I loved it so much I bought a bottle to take home.

You can read about my first visit to Stokers Fine Pancakes, and its predecessor, in We’ll Always Have Stokers. 

You can also check out my recipes for pancakes to pour maple syrup over!
Pumpkin Pancakes
Stout Pancakes
Yeasted Pancakes

Letting Go And Leaping Forward

This New Year’s Eve we celebrate the end of not only another year, but another decade. The new year and new decade will also begin in a leap year!

A leap year is a year in which an extra day has been added to the end of February. In the Gregorian calendar, a year is normally 365 days. It takes the earth a little bit more than 365 days to revolve around the sun, so to keep the calendar year aligned with the seasonal or astronomical year, an extra day is added to the year every 4 years with some exceptions. (Any year that is exactly divisible by 4 is a leap year except if it is exactly divisible by 100 but not 400.)

So what is actually being leaped in a leap year? In the Gregorian calendar, a fixed date advances one day of the week year by year. So if March 1st falls on Monday one year then it will fall on Tuesday the next year, Wednesday the next and so on. When a leap year happens, this progression changes after February 29 and all fixed dates advance or leap a day. So if March 1st was going to fall on a Thursday the next year it will actually fall on a Friday if it’s a leap year. This happens all the way to the end of the next February when the daily progressions return to normal – until the next leap year.

The extra day that is added to a leap year is February 29. In numerology, the number 29 reduces to 11 (2+9) and then to 2 (1+1). February is also the 2nd month of the year so the number 2 is very important in a leap year. The two major arcana tarot cards that represent the numbers 11 and 2 are Justice which is card number 11 and the High Priestess which is card number 2.

image from the dracula tarot

Justice stands for balance, cause and effect, clarity, equality, fairness, impartiality, intellect, judgement, logic and truth. The Justice card aptly symbolises the leap year’s correction of the yearly imbalances the Gregorian calendar produces.

The High Priestess represents our descent into the unconscious mind, the land of dreams, visions, and hidden realms. The secret and magical world of the High Priestess may be reflected in the numerous myths and traditions that are associated with leap years. Part of that magic for me is knowing the legendary Bram Stoker died in a leap year!

To pay tribute not only to the upcoming leap year but also the end of the decade, I created the Let Go and Leap Forward tarot card spread which connects these two important events. It is based on the The Wheel of Fortune, which is card number 10 in the major arcana. The Wheel of Fortune is the card of destiny and explores the past, present and future. It symbolises our inability to control fate, no matter how hard we may try. It is a powerful card to work with when celebrating cycles of 10 such as the end of a decade.

Fortune

image from the dracula tarot

 

Let Go and Leap Forward Spread
This tarot spread uses only the 22 major arcana cards.
It will be in the form of two circles, one dealt anticlockwise and the other clockwise.

The Outgoing Decade
Shuffle the cards.
Deal 10 cards face down in an anticlockwise direction to form a circle.
These cards represent the themes that were significant to you in the outgoing decade. They provide insight into what successfully brought you to the turn of the decade.
Turn them over one at a time in an anticlockwise order. As you turn over each card reflect on its meaning, identify how it contributed to your last decade and whether it should be let go or will help you leap forward.
Once the 10 cards have been revealed, reflect on the themes that have become apparent and allow the understanding of how the past influences have positioned you for the future to sink in.

The Incoming Decade
Deal the next 10 cards face down in clockwise order, covering the first 10 cards.
These cards represent the influences that will become more significant over the coming decade.
Turn them over one at a time in clockwise order. As you turn over each card, reflect on its meaning and consider how it can assist you to leap forward.
Once the 10 cards have been revealed, reflect on the themes that have become apparent and allow the understanding of things that need to (or will) come into your life and/or be nurtured within it to settle within your mind.

The Leap Year Gifts
You have two cards remaining. These are only used when the start of the decade is a leap year. They signify the extra boost that the leap year gives.
Deal them face up side by side in the centre of the circle.
Consider the meaning of the cards and how they can help you move forward quickly.

Leap Year Recipe – Frog In A Pond
To celebrate leaping into the new year I made an adult version of an Australian childhood favourite. Frog In A Pond is a green gelatine dessert decorated with frog shaped chocolates. My version is a cross between the original childhood treat and an alcoholic jello shot – just perfect to ring in a new year and new decade!

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Ingredients
3 leaflets of gelatine
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup Midori or other green liqueur
2 chocolate frogs

Instructions
Soak the gelatine in cold water for 5 minutes.
Squeeze gelatine to remove excess liquid then place in a saucepan over a gentle heat.
Stirring once or twice, allow gelatine to melt.
Remove from heat.
Stir in the water and Midori.
Pour into two cocktail cups.
Place a chocolate frog into each glass.
Refrigerate until set.
If you want your frog to float on the surface, refrigerate until partially set, then add the frog. You can push it in as far as you like or just let it sit there.

Spiders For Xmas

I have to thank Sheila Renee Parker for sharing a post about the Legend of the Xmas Spider. I mean how did I not know that spiders were a part of xmas!

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The Eastern European folktale tells the story of a poor family who cannot afford to decorate their xmas tree. During the night, spiders spin webs, weaving them around the tree branches. When the family awake on xmas day, their tree is shimmering with sliver webs. The story has a few variations but the basic theme is of a poor family whose xmas tree is decorated by helpful spiders.

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In honour of the spiders it is traditional in some parts of the world to hang spider ornaments on the xmas tree which serve as reminders of the act of charity performed by the spiders. Spiders on your tree – whether real or ornamental – are also symbols of good luck. Decorating your tree with tinsel is supposedly inspired by the Legend of the Xmas Spider with the sparkling tinsel taking the place of gossamer spider webs. Will you be adding a little arachnid touch to your xmas tree?

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Even though I’ll be celebrating the Summer Solstice, I will pay tribute to the xmas spiders by mixing up one of my favourite summertime drinks – a Spider! Similar to an Ice Cream Float or Ice Cream Soda, you simply add a scoop or scoops of your favourite ice cream into a large glass. Pour over any flavours like syrups, juices or alcohol then top with a carbonated beverage that can be non-alcoholic or alcoholic. The drink will bubble over so it can be messy. The bubbles are supposed to look like spiderwebs. Have fun experimenting with different flavour combinations for your Spiders.

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A Rosy Midsummer

The Summer Solstice occurs near xmas in Australia, so while I’m getting ready to celebrate the longest day of the year and the shortest night, most of the stores are selling produce geared towards a winter feast day. I don’t mind, as I always look forward to the range of new shortbreads that are only available during xmas.

One of the other winter treats I used to enjoy at Summer Solstice was a Persian fruitcake filled with plump fruits and crunchy nuts and delicately flavoured with rose water. It was one of the most delicious fruitcakes I had ever tried. Every xmas I eagerly waited for the fruitcake’s arrival at the store until one year it wasn’t there and it never returned. That was almost two decades ago.

A few months ago I went for a country drive to Malmsbury Bakery, famous for its homemade Dundee cake. I was keen to try to this Scottish fruitcake as it was rumoured to be a favourite of Mary Queen of Scots. Queen Elizabeth II is also reported to enjoy Dundee cake at teatime. A cake fit for royalty was something I just had to have!

The cake was quite large, but I was assured that once opened, it would keep for months in an airtight container. I wasn’t sure how long it would last but I was happy to take a chance. As I cut a generous slice I noticed how large and plump the glazed cherries were, which immediately brought back memories of my cherished Persian fruitcake. I took a bite and was rewarded with the flavour and texture of one of the best fruitcakes I had ever tasted. This was as good as the Persian fruitcake.

The cake lasted weeks and I enjoyed every slice. With only a few slices left I decided to make a bold experiment. Could I add a rose water element to a slice without ruining it? I had to try. At first I was going to sprinkle rose water over a slice but I decided to make a rose water icing instead. I simply mixed icing (powdered) sugar with rose water until it was thick enough to drizzle and then drizzled it over my slice of fruitcake. While it wasn’t my coveted Persian fruitcake, it was floral and delicious and brought back many happy memories of solstices past.

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In keeping with the xmas spirit I also dunked a few pieces of shortbread into the rose water icing and then let them set. Happily they were a delicious success as well.

Happy Solstice!

A Day To Love And Fear

This Friday is the last Friday the 13th for 2019!

Friday the 13th occurs at least once every year with some years having two or three occurrences. A month that begins on a Sunday will have a Friday the 13th.

While some of us celebrate this day, many fear it. The fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskaidekaphobia. The word combines Frigga, the Norse Goddess of Friday, with triskaidekaphobia, the Greek word for the fear of the number 13. The two fears combined in friggatriskaidekaphobia are the belief that the number 13 and the day Friday are both unlucky. 

 

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For me, Friday the 13th is a lucky day, as Friday is associated with love. The Norse named Friday after Frigg, a Goddess of Love, and the Romans called Friday dies veneris in honour of Venus, another Goddess of Love. Friday is associated with the planet Venus and the star signs Taurus and Libra. As a Taurus, Friday has an extra special connection to me. The number 13 also resonates with me as it is associated with lunar cycles, death and rebirth. The Death card in tarot is the number 13 and symbolises the ending of one cycle and the beginning of a new one.

As this Friday the 13th falls so close to the end of the year, it is a great time to reflect on the past year and to make plans for the new year. 

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So rather than fear this coming Friday, why not grab a drink and have an early New Year’s Eve celebration!