Esoteric

A Ghost Of A Fear

The first ghost tour I ever attended was a haunted theatre tour of the Arts Centre Melbourne on Friday the 13th in 2016. My second was only a few weeks ago. The reason they have been so few and far between is that I haven’t been able to find the right ones. I’m not interested in tours of prisons, asylums or visiting the streets and haunts of serial killers. When I think of ghosts one thing immediately comes to mind – Haunted Houses!

I’m not sure what I believe in relation to ghosts but I’m pretty sure I’ve lived in a few haunted houses. One of my childhood homes was a place of terror for me as I was sure the ghosts of the two old women who previously lived there hadn’t quite left the building. They seemed to be having a good time though, as I could hear them laughing most nights.

Another place I lived in was a lovely old home that wasn’t haunted inside. But the moment you went into the backyard you could feel something malevolent. Unfortunately it was such an old home that it didn’t have an indoor toilet. I was living with a group of punks and we were pretty fearless – except when it came to using the toilet in the haunted backyard. I’ll always remember the sound of Doc Martens running down the pathway and the looks of surprised terror on the faces of visitors after using the toilet. It’s no coincidence that we were the fittest punks in our group.

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When I discovered that Lantern Ghost Tours were doing a tour of Altona Homestead, I couldn’t wait to book. I’ve been to the homestead many times during the day. The homestead hosts a monthly Devonshire tea during which you are free to roam the historical home. It’s a beautiful house and I’ve often wondered what it would look like at night. Thanks to the ghost tour, I was about to find out!

The tour started outside the house and was led by a woman in a black cape holding a lantern. We began with a walk to the pier to hear stories of drownings and waterlogged ghosts. We then walked down a few streets with ghostly significance before returning to the house. Our guide opened the door and told us that once we all entered the house she would be locking us in. Awesome! 

After a brief introduction to the history of the homestead and it’s original occupants, we entered a room that I had visited many times before. It has a beautiful bedwarmer on the bed which reminds me of the bedwarmer in Bewitched. After saying hello to the bedwarmer, I turned to see our guide standing in front of a wardrobe. The wardrobe was not originally part of the house but had been brought in from another historic home. It fitted in with the decor and came with an added extra – the ghost of a young boy.

The guide was going to open the wardrobe door and wanted someone to stand in front of it. I had an awful feeling she was going to pick me. Just because I was the only person on the tour who knew about Victorian Death Photography and was dressed in head to toe black, didn’t mean I wanted to stand in front of a wardrobe when the door opened to let out a ghost. But when she pulled out a pair of dowsing rods I couldn’t resit.

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As I stood outside the open wardrobe I had a moment of fear. Ghosts are scary, but child ghosts are much scarier. Using my witchcraft training I quickly set protections around myself. I was glad I did as the dowsing rods started moving. I didn’t think I was moving them but was sure there was a rational explanation. Moments after I reached that comforting conclusion, someone on the tour panicked and asked to be let out of the house. The guide left the room to escort her to freedom leaving me with moving dowsing rods, people staring at me and a possible ghost behind me. I was relieved when the guide returned. She explained that the woman had seen something scary in the room and had to leave. Okay – no longer quite so relieved.

The dowsing rods continued turning until they crossed over each other. The guide had a few questions for the ghost and then asked if they would uncross the rods for us. I didn’t know if I was more scared of them uncrossing or not uncrossing. I watched and they slowly began uncrossing. I was told to wipe the rods on my jacket to break the connection which I did very thoroughly. My job done, it was time to continue with the tour, this time as a spectator. 

As we went room by room many tales were told of haunted happenings at the homestead. My favourite was about the dolls. Apparently staff say they keep moving position and moving rooms. One staff member said they once found all the dolls in one room facing the wall. Even the guide thought that could be the work of another staff member with a mischievous sense of humour. But my favourite doll story was about the staff member who came to work and found the dolls scattered about the house. After putting them in the right rooms they heard a knock on the window coming from the courtyard. When they looked out the window there was a doll. That’s the courtyard where we have our Devonshire teas!

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The tour ended with a warning from our guide to check our rear view mirrors before we drove off in case something had decided to come home with us. Before getting in the car I dropped my jacket in the back of the car. I didn’t want to bring it into the house that night after wiping dowsing rods on it. I looked at the Moon and asked it to cleanse my jacket overnight. I then hopped into the car and checked all my mirrors.

I’m really excited about our next Devonshire Tea at the homestead. I’m kind of hoping there’ll be a doll sitting at one of the tables.

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Witches & Fireworks

Last year my partner and I spent July the 4th in Salem – The Witch City!

Our day began at around 6.00am as our overnight plane from Seattle arrived in Boston. We caught a shuttle to the subway, and with the help of friendly train staff, caught two trains, finally arriving in The Witchy City.

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One of the first things to catch my eye was the Superior Court. Unfortunately this stunning building made me think of the witch hunts.

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Then I saw a newspaper vending machine which put a smile on my face.

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One of the things I was really excited to see was the statue of Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens! It was unveiled in June 2005 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Bewitched. I thought it was fun and suited Salem. A local resident, recognising my Australian accent, asked me what I thought of the statue. When I told her she replied “It’s ugly and I hate it!” With that stinging endorsement ringing in my ears we left Samantha and continued our exploration of The Witch City.

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Ever since I saw an episode of Bewitched that featured a spooky bedwarmer trapped in The House of the Seven Gables, I have always wanted to visit the historic house in Salem. The beautiful home was the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic novel of the same name. Coincidentally, Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem on July the 4th, so we thought it was the perfect time to visit. We arrived just in time for an afternoon tour. One of the first things we saw was a bedwarmer! There was also a secret staircase which we got to climb. After the tour we spent time investigating the grounds.

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On our walk back to our hotel we stopped at the Old Burying Point Cemetery, the oldest burial site in Salem. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s notorious great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, is buried there. He was a judge during the Salem witch trials and earned the nickname the “Hanging Judge.” Next to this cemetery is the Salem Witch Trial Memorial, a sombre and thought provoking memorial which consists of granite benches anchored into a low stone wall. Each bench is inscribed with the name of an accused witch, how they were executed and the date of their execution. I wonder what the “Hanging Judge” would think of the witches memorial sharing his resting place?

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The evening was upon us so we headed down to the harbor for the July 4th fireworks. Paul and I love fireworks and Salem delivered! Burst after burst of colourful fireworks crackled across the sky as we cheered in appreciation. It was a special moment for me. I’ve always envied America their Independence Day. Australia is still part of the British Commonwealth and I have always wanted us to break free and become an independent nation. Deprived of an Australian Independence Day, I happily latched on to this one and roared with the crowd. When the fireworks ended, Paul and I linked hands as we slowly walked through the misty streets of Salem to Gulu-Gulu Cafe for last drinks before bed.

We spent the night at The Salem Inn because I loved the name. Happily it was a lovely place and I adored the antique furniture in our room. After breakfast at the inn, we hired a car for our trip to Maine.

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A few days later we returned to Salem to drop off our hire car. There was only one way we were leaving Salem – and that was in a Witch City Taxi!

You can read more about my visit to witchy Salem and other parts of America in Bites and Pieces of America. The Salem chapter includes recipes for Waffles, Crepes, Omelettes, a luxurious Death by Cocoa and my spooky witches brew – Dark Ale Spider!

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A Play On The Wizard Of Oz

I celebrated my recent birthday this year by seeing the stage production of The Wizard Of Oz at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne. It was a fun and colourful show and brought back memories of another witchy production I saw two years ago – Wicked. This play draws in elements from Wicked but mainly sticks closely to the 1939 film version of The Wizard Of Oz.

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One of the highlights of The Wizard Of Oz was seeing a real dog play Toto on stage. I wasn’t alone in my admiration of the doggy star. When Toto first ran onto the stage the audience let out a collective “Awwwww!” Toto also received the most applause at the final curtain. As a dog owner myself, I loved seeing the impish Toto strut her/his stuff on the stage. The role of fluffy little Toto is shared by two talented Australians terriers. The female is called Flick and the male is called Trouble. I think Flick and Trouble are perfect names for dogs that are starring in a witchy musical. They are especially apt names when we remember that Toto is not always a good dog.

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In the beginning of the play, Miss Gulch arrives at the Gale farm and announces that she has reported Toto to the authorities. She tells the distraught Dorothy that Toto will be seized by the authorities and possibly destroyed. Dorothy responds by calling Miss Gulch a wicked old witch. The audience naturally sides with Dorothy. How can anyone be so cruel to a little dog? How can that horrible woman want the little dog to be destroyed? She must indeed be a wicked old witch!

But what is the reason Miss Gulch reports Toto? She reports Toto because he has been allowed to roam free in her garden and has been chasing and harassing her cat. Not only that, Toto has also bitten her. While Dorothy apologises for Toto’s behaviour, there is a suggestion that Toto bit Miss Gulch as she is supposedly an unpleasant and frightening person. There also seems to be little sympathy for Miss Gulch’s cat. Could it be that cats, like Miss Gulch herself, are associated with witches and therefore not deserving of sympathy? Don’t get me wrong, I love Toto and would hate for him to be destroyed, but I am fascinated by the cat / witch link.

At the end of the play, Aunty Em tells Dorothy that Miss Gulch has withdrawn her complaint about Toto after hearing that Dorothy had been injured by the tornado. This is an unusual twist in the play as the fate of both Toto and Miss Gulch is left uncertain in the film. At the end of the film, all the characters from Oz that have a Kansas counterpart make an appearance, except Miss Gulch. Did Miss Gulch perish in the tornado meaning Toto is safe? If she has survived will she return and seize Toto? The answer to these questions is still being debated. So why is there a different ending to the play? It may simply be to add closure to questions left open in the film.

What makes this new ending particularly interesting is that Miss Gulch becomes a sympathetic figure, something she has never been before. I feel this is a reflection of the way Wicked has made us look at the figure of the Wicked Witch. Wicked imbued the Wicked Witch with a back story and, most importantly, a voice. The film Maleficent has also done this.  Hopefully the role of a Wicked Witch is slowly gaining the complexity it deserves.

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When I was thinking of what recipes would symbolise The Wizard Of Oz I was spoiled for choice. After much thought I decided on something green in honour of the Wicked Witch of the West. To add another witchy element, I chose a recipe that utilises a mortar and pestle.

The words “mortar” and “pestle” come from the Latin words “mortarium”and “pistillum” which refer to a vessel and tool used for pounding or grinding. Back when I was doing more formal rituals, I used to make my own incense in my trusty mortar and pestle. I would add herbs, spices and a chunk of frankincense to my mortar and then crush them to a powder with my pestle. I would then light a block of charcoal in my censer and spoon on my aromatic powder. Whether indoors or outdoors, the aroma of seasonal incense would permeate the air and the heady scent of frankincense would embrace me as I enjoyed another night of magic. As my rituals became less formal, I packed up most of my ritual tools. I did, however, keep my mortar and pestle, and after giving it a good clean, I put it to work in the kitchen. One of the recipes I use it for is pesto.

The word “pesto” means to pound or crush and no, it’s not a reference to the Wicked Witch of the East who was crushed by a house! It is in fact a reference to the word “pestle,” which reflects the fact that pesto was originally made with a mortar and pestle. You can make pesto in a blender or food processor, but nothing beats the flavour and texture you get from using a mortar and pestle.

The great thing about pesto is that like a witch creating incense, you can create your own magical concoctions by experimenting with different oils, herbs, nuts and cheeses. So channel your inner witch and get crushing!

Witchy Green Pesto

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Ingredients
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts*
2 tablespoons finely grated aged parmesan
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Instructions
Add the garlic and salt to the mortar.
Using a circular motion, crush the garlic and salt together with the pestle until they become a rough paste.
Add the basil in stages and crush into little bits before adding more basil.
Add the pine nuts and crush, leaving some a little less crushed than others to add texture.
Add the parmesan and gently crush.
Add the olive oil and stir until it reaches your desired consistency.
Pesto is best used immediately but you can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Just pour a little olive oil over the top to help prevent the basil from turning black.

*You can toast the pine nuts in a non stick frying pan over medium heat. Toss often until they turn light brown. Once toasted, pour pine nuts onto a plate to prevent further cooking. Set aside to cool before using in your pesto.

A Twitch Of History

Growing up I hated learning history in school. Our lessons seemed to be focussed mainly on memorising dates which made history boring and devoid of life. Happily there was one place that taught history in a fun and exciting way. That place was my lounge room and the vehicle was Bewitched, one of my favourite television shows.

Throughout the eight seasons of this magical show, a bevy of historical figures were zapped into the future and forced to deal with the modern world. At other times characters were zapped back in time to experience history first hand. During the ensuing mayhem I learned so many things, not only about history, but about race relations, class prejudice and gender politics.

One historical lesson I thoroughly enjoyed was when Samantha and Darrin go for a holiday to Salem, Massachusetts. One of the places they visit is The House of the Seven Gables, an historic New England home and the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic novel of the same name. This episode features a spooky bedwarmer that follows Samantha and Darrin back to their hotel room at the Hawthorne Hotel, named after Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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Bedwarmer from the historic Altona Homestead in Melbourne

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born Nathaniel Hathorne in Salem on July 4th, 1804. It is believed that Nathaniel added the “w” to Hathorne to distance himself from his great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, a notorious lead judge in the Salem witch trials. Nathaniel used his ancestors as inspiration for many of his novels which explore colonial times and puritanical beliefs. He died on May 19th, 1864.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s deathiversary this Saturday is a special one for me. Last year I fulfilled a childhood dream to visit Salem Massachusetts and The House of the Seven Gables. I did this on July 4th, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthday. It was also Independence Day which added to the magic. My trip to Salem, and other parts of America, was so inspirational that I have written a book about it. I’ll be doing the final edit on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s deathiversary.

Before visiting The House of the Seven Gables for my own spooky adventure, I stopped in a cafe called Gulu-Gulu for a fortifying steamed milk drink. My version has a touch of Halloween pumpkin because I can never think of Salem without thinking of Halloween 🙂 

Pumpkin Pie Steamer

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Ingredients
I cup milk
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree, (homemade or canned)
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mix*
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
whipped cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Place the milk, pumpkin and spice mix into a blender and blend until smooth and combined.
Pour into a small saucepan.
Whisk over medium heat until warm.
Add the maple syrup and keep whisking until the milk is simmering but not boiling
Poor into a heatproof cup and top with whipped cream if desired.

*Pumpkin pie spice mix is a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and sometimes allspice.

This is my version:
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Mix the spices together in a small bowl.
Store unused spice mix in a spice container or small jar.

You can experiment with your own version but cinnamon should be the dominant spice.

Food For Death

Bram Stoker died 106 years ago on April 20th, 1912. Many of us will never forget this great writer nor the amazing works and characters he created.

My recipe for this year’s deathiversary is inspired by a traditional dish called funeral potatoes, an American comfort food casserole that is often brought to gatherings held after funerals. There are many variations but the key ingredients are potatoes, cheese, onion, sour cream, a canned cream based soup and a crunchy topping. It is easy to prepare, travels well and is easily reheated.

My funeral potatoes are a very different dish and are inspired by Dracula’s immortal line “I Never Drink … Wine.” Although these words never appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel, they were uttered by the equally unforgettable Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning’s 1931 movie Dracula. Baked in red wine and olive oil and flavoured with rosemary, the herb of remembrance, these versatile potatoes can be eaten hot from the oven or cold from the refrigerator. I find the flavour of the wine is more pronounced when they are eaten at room temperature.

Served with sour cream you’ll want to make them for all occasions – not just funerals!    

Funeral Potatoes with Red Wine & Rosemary

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Ingredients
1kg potatoes
1 cup red wine – split in two
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
sprigs of fresh rosemary
sour cream for serving

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F.
Peel then chop the potatoes in half and then in quarters.
Place in a baking tray in a single layer.
Pour over 1/2 cup of red wine, reserving the other 1/4 cup for later.
Pour over the oil.
Add the dried rosemary and salt.
Toss together until combined.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and flip them over.
Pour over the remaining 1/2 cup of wine.
Return to the oven and bake for another 15 – 20 minutes or until they are cooked to your liking.
Drain on paper towels and allow to cool.
Place in an airtight container and add some sprigs of fresh rosemary.
Refrigerate until needed.
Allow them to come to room temperature before serving.
Serve with sour cream.

Act 1 – Shakespeare Around The Globe

This Sunday is both Easter Sunday and April Fools’ day and I know which one I am most excited about!

April Fools’ Day for me is a day to celebrate the spirit of the tarot Fool. The Fool is the first card in the major arcana and it is the Fool who journeys through the tarot and learns the lessons of the cards. The Fool is so important it is the only major arcana card to be represented in modern playing card decks. In these decks the Fool plays the role of the Joker.

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fool card from the dracula tarot

The Fool symbolises new beginnings, adventures and journeys – that’s why I have adopted April Fools’ Day as my personal New Year’s Day. On April Fools’ Day I take time to look back on the year that has passed and make plans for the year ahead. What is most exciting for me is that my plans for this coming year are intertwined with the journeys I made this past year.

Last year I travelled to America and fulfilled a childhood dream of visiting Salem, Massachusetts. I also got to meet in person a friend I have known online for many years. Plus I visited the island where an Atlantic puffin I sponsor spends their summer. A few weeks ago I travelled to America again to attend a giant panda fan convention in San Diego, something I have wanted to do for many years. I ended this trip with a visit to San Fransisco where my partner Paul and I celebrated 30 years of not being married by walking on the Golden Gate Bridge 🙂 Both trips have been enriching and will provide me with inspiration – and recipes – for this year’s blog posts. They may also have given me material for a book or two!

What does this have to do with Shakespeare? Well Shakespeare was no stranger to the power and importance of Fools. Many of his most memorable characters were witty and clever Fools. Plus, it was two Shakespeare inspired establishments that provided me with comfort and nourishment in San Diego. That’s right – Shakespeare’s influence extends around the globe!

One of the things I love to do before I travel is research places to eat. Two of the places I picked in San Diego were the Shakespeare Pub & Grille and Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea. I couldn’t wait to visit them.

The Shakespeare Pub & Grille was established in 1990 by British expats. It is modelled on a traditional British pub in English Tudor style. The food is classic British comfort food and the bar stocks beers from around the world. We ordered a couple of beers and their signature dish – Fish & Chips. We were treated to crisp and crunchy pieces of beer battered cod with peas and chips (fries) served with tartare sauce and malt vinegar. It was delicious. After such a tasty meal we had to try their desserts. Paul chose Sticky Toffee Pudding – a steamed light sponge cake covered in a sweet and sticky toffee sauce. He couldn’t decide between custard and ice cream so he had both. I chose something I have never tried before but have always wanted to – Spotted Dick! This amusingly named dessert is a steamed suet pudding containing dried fruit and is traditionally served with custard. YUM 🙂 Each bite melted in my mouth and I was rewarded with the scent and taste of a soft, warm and spicy fruit cake. The custard was smooth and creamy and complemented the pudding perfectly. We were ready to go back to the hotel and have a nap but we had one more culinary stop to make.

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Next door to the Shakespeare Pub is Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea which is run by a British family. We had hoped to have a cream tea in their patio tearoom but we were too full from lunch. Instead we decided to check out the store and see what they had on offer. Not surprisingly the shelves were stocked with British produce. Missing my nightly tea and shortbreads, I was happy to find a box of Earl Grey teabags and a packet of Scottish shortbreads. I also found an interestingly shaped spoon which the staff told me was a Black and Tan spoon used for pouring layered cocktails. As a fan of layered cocktails, I had to have it. In the fridge I saw a jar of clotted cream which I was so tempted to buy but valiantly resisted. When I went to pay I noticed they were selling scones to take home. I looked at Paul and he knew exactly what I was thinking – Cream Tea for Dinner! We grabbed scones, a jar of strawberry jam – and the jar of clotted cream 🙂 That evening we sat on the balcony of our hotel room and enjoyed our cream tea. We even had enough scones, jam and cream left for a cream tea breakfast the next morning.

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While there may not have been too much “Shakespeare” in this story I shall make up for that in Act 2, which tells a tale of my Shakespearean adventures in Melbourne. It will be closely followed by Act 3 – a recipe inspired by these tales.

If you are need of more adventure this Easter weekend there is a Full Moon to celebrate. And for those of us in Melbourne, Australia, due to time zone differences, this will be a Blue Full Moon!

Dracula’s Journey

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I’m excited to announce some wonderful news about the Dracula Tarot. Like Dracula himself, the Dracula Tarot has crossed the oceans to find a new home. What does that mean? It means the Dracula Tarot deck is now also available for sale in America! So if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for someone else, you’ll find them at Next Millennium Mystical Books and Gifts in Omaha, Nebraska. Don’t worry, a few copies stayed at home in Australia so if you’re on this side of town you can still order a few tarot decks from my website. The Dracula Tarot book is available online at Amazon. 🙂

What better way to celebrate than with these devilish nibbles followed by a few drinks!

Devilled Eggs
 
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Ingredients
6 eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
black pepper
paprika

Method
Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water.
Cover and bring to a boil.
Once boiling, turn off the heat and allow the eggs to cook for 15 minutes.
Remove from saucepan and allow to rest for 2 minutes before peeling.
Refrigerate until cold then cut in half lengthways.
Scoop out the yolk, place in a bowl and mash.
Mix in the mayonnaise and mustard.
Spoon or pipe mixture back into the eggs.
Sprinkle with pepper and paprika.

A Dark Beginning

The 8th of November will be Bram Stoker’s 170th birthday!

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The Dracula Tarot

Famous for writing the gothic novel Dracula, Bram Stoker had an interesting start in life. Bram spent the first seven years of his childhood suffering from a mystery illness which left him mostly bedridden. During his long illness, Stoker spent much of of his time alone or being entertained by his mother Charlotte who loved to tell him stories, some of them quite scary. Stoker himself said that the time he spent bedridden as a child deeply influenced his future writing.

When I think of the young Bram and his illness, I think of Lucy Westenra and her battle with Dracula. I also think of Count Dracula himself, alone with his thoughts in his isolated castle far away in Transylvania. I wonder if Dracula would ever have been written if Stoker had not had such a challenging start to his life.

I sometimes imagine what the young Bram Stoker would have been fed during his ailment. I have many foods I go to for comfort and convalescence but one of favourites is porridge. I love rice porridges like congee, cornmeal porridges like mamaliga and classic oatmeal porridges.

Oats were an important crop in Ireland so Bram probably had a few porridges in his day. There are many ways I like to eat oatmeal, but when I’m thinking of Bram Stoker and vampires I like to serve my porridge with a good drizzle of black as night molasses and a dollop of cream 🙂

Steel-Cut Oats

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Ingredients
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup steel-cut oats*
molasses for drizzling
cream for dolloping

Instructions
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a saucepan.
Add the oats.
Stirring occasionally, cover and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes or until they achieve your desired level of chewiness.
Turn off the heat and allow to rest for 2 minutes.
Place oatmeal in a bowl.
Drizzle with molasses.
Add a good dollop of cream
Cover and refrigerate any leftover porridge. You can reheat it or have it cold.

*Steel-cut oats are known by a few names such as Irish oats, pinhead oats or coarse oatmeal.

Soup For The Soulless

Bela Lugosi was born on October 20th, 1882 in Lugos, Hungary. Bela was most famous for his portrayals of the vampire Count Dracula. As an Hungarian actor famous for playing a Romanian prince, it seems appropriate that his birthplace is now called Lugoj and is in Romania.

In honour of Bela’s Hungarian heritage I wanted to make a traditional Hungarian dish for his 135th birthday. I also wanted it to be blood red. Classic paprika dishes like goulash are an option but I wanted something sweet and liquid. That’s when I discovered meggyleves, a sweet(ish) soup made from fresh sour cherries. The name is a combination of the Hungarian words “meggy” meaning sour cherries and “leves” meaning soup.

To make meggyleves, unpitted sour cherries are simmered in spices before adding sour cream. The soup is then chilled and served cold. I was looking forward to making this soup but our greengrocer didn’t have any fresh cherries as they are out of season. When I got home I started thinking of ways of “resurrecting” the recipe. I had a jar of sour cherries, and although the recipes don’t recommend canned cherries, I thought I would give it a try.

Rather than simmering the already soft cherries I decided I would simmer just the juice in the spices before adding the sour cream. The one thing I was really disappointed with was that the flavour of the cherry stones would be missing. Then I remembered that one of my favourite spices is mahleb which is made from ground cherry stones. I added a dash of mahleb and hoped for the best. The soup is pink rather than blood red but I enjoyed the flavour and could taste the mahleb. I would definitely make it again and am looking forward to making it with fresh cherries when they are back in season.

Resurrected Sour Cherry Soup

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Ingredients
600g (21oz) jar pitted morello cherries
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon flour
1/4 teaspoon ground mahleb (optional but recommended!)
cream for serving

Instructions
Strain the cherry juice into a saucepan and place the cherries into a bowl.
Heat the cherry juice, water, cinnamon and cloves in a small saucepan.
Bring to a gentle boil.
Cover and simmer for 5 minutes on low heat.
Remove from heat.
Mix together the sour cream, flour and mahleb in a bowl.
Stir a little warm soup into the sour cream mix.
Pour back into the soup and stir until combined.
Cover and allow to cool before straining over the cherries.
Refrigerate until cold.
Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of cream.

The Coffin List

No, this isn’t some macabre list of dead people, or people on my hit list. Nor is it a review of coffins. The coffin list is my name for a bucket list. I don’t like buckets – they remind me of work – but I do like coffins 🙂 To celebrate Imbolc, the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, I thought I would do some early spring cleaning and explore my coffin list.

I always hated having a list of things to do before I die, so I never made a coffin list. But when I had a few health scares in my mid thirties, I took time to look at my life and see if there was anything I really wanted to do. Only one thing came to mind – visit Romania. A diet of vampire mythology from a young age meant I was entranced by Transylvania – the land beyond the forest. I realised I would actually be sad if I never visited. So, for my fortieth birthday, I made the trip to Romania. You can read about this memorable trip in “An Archetypal Homeland” and “In the Footsteps of Jonathan Harker“.

Emboldened by having put a nail in the coffin of my first and only coffin list dream, I thought I would add Whitby to the list. Whitby is an English seaside town in Yorkshire and a major inspiration for Bram Stoker when he was writing his novel “Dracula.” I planned to go there for my fiftieth birthday as part two of my Dracula adventure. That birthday has come and gone and sadly I didn’t get to Whitby, but it’s still on my list!

Happily I did mange to hammer three very important nails into my coffin list recently. This July my partner and I took a journey to the USA to visit a dear friend on Whidbey Island, celebrate July the 4th in Salem the Witch City and visit puffins in Maine. As a bonus, we also got to meet a baby sloth in Boston.

Over the next fews weeks I’ll be sharing this exciting trip with you including recipes inspired from my travels.

For now I would like to share an earlier recipe of mine for Coffin Bread. I think it is most appropriate for a Coffin List post 🙂

Coffin Bread

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Ingredients
for the soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons plain flour
3 cups chicken stock
450g cauliflower florets
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
pomegranate molasses for drizzling

for the coffin bread
1 small rectangular loaf of bread (approximately L 15cm, W 10cm, H 10cm)
olive oil

for the garlic croutons
leftover bread pieces from the coffin bread
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch of sea salt

Method
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Make the soup by melting the butter in a large saucepan.
Add the onion and cook until softened.
Mix in the flour and the chicken stock, stir until combined.
Add the cauliflower and salt.
Simmer for 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft and cooked.
Puree the soup then return to the saucepan.
Simmer gently until the bread and croutons are cooked.
Make the coffin bread while the soup is simmering.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut a lid off the top of the bread.
Cut out most of the bread inside, creating a basket to hold the filling.
Lightly brush outside and inside the bread and lid with olive oil.
Place bread basket on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden on the inside.
While bread basket is cooking make the croutons by tearing up the leftover pieces of bread and placing in a bowl with the garlic, olive oil and salt. Toss through and place on an oven tray with the bread lid. Bake in the oven with the bread basket until golden.
The lid and croutons may cook quicker than the basket so check and remove when ready.
When bread basket is cooked, place on a serving plate.
If the soup isn’t ready yet, switch off the oven but leave the bread in the oven to keep warm.
Pour the soup into the bread basket.
Drizzle with pomegranate molasses.
Serve the bread lid and croutons on the side.