Esoterica

For The Blood Is The Life

There are three interesting events coming up – National Bat Appreciation Day, Orthodox Easter and Bram Stoker’s Deathiversary.

April 17th is National Bat Appreciation Day, a day when we are asked to remember the important role bats play in our lives. Bats are insectivores, which means they eat insects which helps keep insect numbers down. This is especially critical with mosquitoes. Bats are also pollinators which means they move pollen from male to female flowers which helps bring about fertilisation, thereby providing a vital link in our food chain. There are heaps of other interesting facts about bats and April 17th is a great day to learn more about them.

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This year April 17th is also Orthodox Good Friday. This doesn’t happen every year so it’s a fun coincidence. Orthodox Easter Monday will be celebrated on April 20th which is also Dracula author Bram Stoker’s Deathiversary – another fun coincidence. Perhaps a more disturbing coincidence is that all three events have a blood connection.

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While my favourite bat is the fluffy and cuddly Australian flying fox, I’ve always been fascinated by the cute and uncanny vampire bat. Vampire bats are connected to vampires, not only in name, but also by being blood suckers! There are other connections too as the vampire’s cape is reminiscent of bats wings and some vampires are depicted as sleeping upside down like bats rather than in coffins. Dracula can also turn into a bat when necessary. With all the competing Easter traditions such as bunnies and chocolate eggs, it is easy to forget that Easter is actually a celebration focussing on blood, death and rebirth. 

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To celebrate this trilogy of bloody connections I’ve made dyed red Easter eggs – with a twist! Colouring eggs red is meant to represent the blood of Christ which is shed on Good Friday. I’ve used red wine to colour my eggs as red wine is symbolic of blood in Christian rituals. (Knowing this connection it always amused me that Bela Lugosi’s Dracula never drank wine.) I’ve also added spices, which symbolise the spices that Jesus’ body was anointed with before burial. The eggshell represents the tomb and the egg signifies rebirth. An Easter tradition I grew up with was the egg cracking game where you try to crack the shell of your opponent’s boiled egg without cracking yours! Because I’m not a traditionalist, I had to break the rules by cracking shells and turning them into Chinese marbled eggs. But don’t worry, there are still some unbroken eggs to play with. 🙂

Red Wine Eggs

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Ingredients
6 eggs
1 bottle red wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 cloves
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks

Instructions
Place the eggs, wine, sugar, cloves, star anise and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan, making sure the eggs are fully submerged in liquid.
Cover and bring to a boil.
Once boiling, turn off the heat and allow the eggs to cook for 15 minutes.
Remove half the eggs from the saucepan and allow to rest until cool enough to touch. Gently tap them with the back of a spoon to crack shells, making sure to keep the shell intact. The deeper the cracks, the more flavour will penetrate.
Place the eggs back in the wine with the remaining eggs.
Allow to cool then refrigerate and steep for a few hours or overnight.
Remove the eggs from the wine and allow to dry.
Peel the cracked eggs to show off their marbling.
Use the remaining eggs to play the cracking game.

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! 🙂

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.

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.

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!

Gothic Women

Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just Ourselves —
And Immortality.

“The Chariot” by Emily Dickinson

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I left school when I was young but returned six years later to finish high school. I was delighted when the first poem we studied in English Literature was “The Chariot” by Emily Dickinson. Those opening lines haunted my mind and wound their way into my soul. When it came time for me to tell the class what I thought, the only person surprised at how much I loved the poem was our teacher. With scorn in her eyes she looked at me and said “I hope you are not one of those people who romanticises death?” Ummm …

My mouth dropped open as my classmates looked at me, looked at our teacher, then looked back at me. I was dressed in my “uniform” of long black dress and pointy witch shoes. My film noir tones of long black hair, black shadowed eyes and unnaturally white face were broken by the slash of bright red lipstick. The only thing brighter was my blood red Dracula medallion. I thought the answer to her question was pretty obvious. But as I looked at my classmates and then back to my teacher, the words that came out of mouth were “No, no I’m not.”

My classmates smirked, knowing it for the lie it was, but understanding the reason. I felt like Peter denying Jesus but I needed to pass the class. I was afraid that if I answered truthfully, she would think I was silly and mark me down. Her relieved sigh made me think I was right. When she then launched into a brutal attack on “people who romanticise death,” I knew I was right. I passed the class and went on to university where I continued my gothic pursuits. It was a lonely path in 1980’s Australia. Happily the world has changed!

I was going to continue this post by talking about a gothic art exhibition I went to, but I’m taking a different path. Thanks to the awesome Christine at witchlike, I found out that February is Women in Horror Month. I can’t believe I didn’t know this! One of the goals of WiHM is to celebrate women in the horror genre. As part of this celebration I thought I would share some of the beautiful paintings Anna Gerraty did for our Dracula Tarot. I began work on the tarot deck when I finished university. I was so lucky to find Anna, an artist more at home in the world of fairy than vampires and horror. Happily she was seduced by Dracula as so many of us are. Her paintings combine her whimsical fairy roots with the romance of the Victorian era and the horror and blood of the vampire.

Lady of Knives

Lucy Westenra as the “Bloofer Lady” – 
a newly turned vampire who drinks the blood of children

 

Countess of Goblets

Mina Harker becoming a vampire

 

Eight of Goblets

Mina Harker being marked as unclean by Van Helsing while the Weird Sisters implore her to 
“Come, sister. Come to us. Come! Come!”

 

Can you resist the siren call of our sisters in horror? I know I won’t!

A Piggy New Year

I’ve seen a few unusual Xmas decorations in Australia before, but this season I noticed a new character on the block – a Xmas pig! Seeing pink inflatable Xmas pigs in gardens and in stores put a big smile on my face. 

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I had never heard of a Xmas pig so I had to get investigating. What I discovered is that the pig is a popular character in European Xmas traditions.

The role of the pig as a Xmas character is related to their role as sacrificial animals and symbols of luck and prosperity. Roast pork and baked ham are traditional Xmas fare, but happily there are also symbolic foods that don’t require the death of the pig, such as pig shaped gingerbread cookies and marzipan pigs. Giving someone a marzipan pig as a gift means that you are wishing them good luck for the new year.

Similar to a marzipan pig is the Peppermint Pig™, a hard candy created in Saratoga Springs, New York, by the Saratoga Candy Co. The Peppermint Pig™ comes with its own little pouch and a small metal hammer. After Xmas dinner, the candy pig is placed in the pouch and passed around the table. Everyone takes a turn tapping the pouch whilst recounting the good things that have happened to them in the last year. The broken pieces of candy are then shared with the diners.

Why am I telling you about Xmas pig traditions when Xmas is over? Because pigs aren’t just for Xmas – they are also for Chinese New Year!

This year Chinese New Year falls on February 5th and we will be saying goodbye to The Year of the Yang Earth Dog and hello to The Year of the Yin Earth Pig. The pig is the last animal in the zodiac so a pig year symbolises the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one. A pig year is also associated with Luck, Health, Prosperity and a whole lot more!

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Happy Year of the Pig!

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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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.