Film & Books

A Dark Beginning

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

Count of Goblets

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.

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Wickedly Wicked

The first thing I think of for Saint Patrick’s Day is snakes! And then I think green 🙂 Therefore it seems appropriate to continue my witchy ways by sharing my past review of the musical Wicked. After all, green is an important colour in Wicked!

It was a potion that turned Elphaba green, so celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day and Wicked with a green beverage. There are plenty to choose from, but a particularly witchy one would be Absinthe. If you’re not a fan of Absinthe, you can try Midori. These two drinks are hilariously linked in the remake of Fright Night. Magician and dubious vampire expert Peter Vincent – brilliantly played by David Tennant – pours Midori into Absinthe bottles to maintain his cool persona. Midori is also the Japanese word for green.
Cheers!

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I missed the musical Wicked when it first came to Melbourne so when it returned I made sure I went. I decided not to read the book the musical is based on so I had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised!

What a spectacular show! Everything about the production was brilliant. The colours, the lights, the sets, the steampunk iconography, the costumes, the characters, the acting, the songs, the story. I could go on but all I’ll say is if you get a chance, see it.

As blown away as I was by the spectacle, that small part of me that is an academic analyst was analysing everything I was seeing and hearing. Again, I wasn’t disappointed. Fourteen years ago I completed eight years of study – my topic – the image of the witch in film. I haven’t written much on witches since then. Happily, Wicked…

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Maleficent Obsession

Following on from my film review of The Love Witch, I thought I would share my earlier review of the movie Maleficent. This movie allows Maleficent to tell us her story – and what a story it is!

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I’m not surprised that witches rarely get to speak their own truths in popular culture. It seems when they do, they don’t have anything positive to say about men in power.

Following on from Wicked comes the movie Maleficent. Based on fairytales and the Disney Film Sleeping Beauty, the film is Maleficent’s version of what really happened in Sleeping Beauty.

There are so many ways of approaching and analysing this film. One easy way is to discuss it in three parts:

The Early Years

Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Retold

The Ending

It’s a classic narrative structure – beginning, middle and end. But what happens in these sections is not necessarily classic, nor expected.

The first part sets the scene. There are two worlds that live side by side. The Fairy World, called The Moors, which is magical, rich, peaceful and free of rulers. Over the river is the…

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The Love Witch

It was just by luck that I discovered The Love Witch was playing at the Lido, a funky cinema in Melbourne – and for only three nights! I wanted to be surprised, so I didn’t read the film blurb or watch the trailer until after I got home. Well, the film was unexpected! It was funny, a visual pleasure, very challenging and slightly disturbing.

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Directed by feminist film maker Anna Biller, The Love Witch is a cinematic treat. Reminiscent of a Hitchcock film, the cinematography is a joy to behold. On a visual level, the movie really works. Elaine is stunning. With her black hair, wigs, enormous false eyelashes, eye catching makeup, unbelievable wardrobe, killer body and sheer natural beauty she lives up to her reputation as the love witch. Elaine struts her stuff in a bevy of stunning scenes featuring incredible locations, beautiful architecture and rooms showcasing amazing interior design. I love Elaine’s apartment, decorated with artwork inspired by Aleister Crowley’s Thoth tarot deck. I want to live there! And the Victorian Tea Room where she visits is so adorable. It reminds me of The Austen Tea Room I recently wrote about. But for all of its visual beauty, I’m not sure if the film delivers on a theoretical or magical level.

There are many ways to approach this film theoretically. The director certainly has fun playing around with feminist film theory and the art of film making. I spent many years studying feminist film theory at university, but luckily I focussed on Jungian and archetypal theory, not Freudian. I was therefore spared the horror of having to truly understand concepts like the male gaze. Unfortunately, director Biller plays with this theory and apparently tries to subvert it. I was hoping to give you a brief synopsis of the theory but once I started writing my eyes watered and I had to have chocolate to recover from the shock! So I’ll leave the theoretical analyses to those who care and move onto what I really care about – magic and witchcraft 🙂

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The Love Witch is one of only a couple of films that focusses on non-magical human witches. Elaine joins a witches coven in San Fransisco after her husband leaves her. Here she learns about sex magic and love spells. Using herbs, spells and the power of her awesome body, Elaine seduces man after man hoping to find true love. You see Elaine loves love, she’s addicted to love and wants nothing more than to be loved. She is obsessive and narcissistic. She uses all her witchy craft to try to find a patriarchal relationship where she cooks for her man and rewards him with mind-blowing sex. Sadly her use of love magic leads to nothing but disappointment, tragedy and death. Elaine is a witch who will definitely love you to death.

I found this disappointing. I wanted her embracing of witchcraft to be something positive, not a reinforcing of stereotypical attitudes about women, men and relationships. Even worse, it seems as though the high priest of the coven is nothing but a sleaze who has sex with the female initiates while his high priestess partner looks on. When Elaine is near the slimy high priest she acts as though she is a victim of sexual abuse rather than a liberated, powerful, sexual woman and witch. One of the more cringe worthy scenes is when Elaine, the high priestess and high priest are at a burlesque show and the repulsive high priest rambles on about the power of women, the power of their sexuality, their bodies etc while a very skilled woman dances and performs on stage. I’m not sure if this was some sort of feminist subversion but for me it didn’t work. I wanted to scrub myself clean every time I saw the hideous high priest! I am so glad I trained in covens with high priestesses only 🙂

The one witchcraft scene I thought was feminist and empowering is when Elaine makes a witch bottle by urinating into a jar and then dunks a used tampon in it! Okay, that was unexpected.

I actually think it is a great movie to see if only for the cinematography. If you’re a witch you’ll also find it interesting. Plus, there’s the Aleister Crowley inspired room. Check out the trailer for a brief taste of this very unusual movie! The Love Witch

The other thing I loved about the film is cake – yes cake. There are a few delicious scenes featuring mouthwatering cakes. In homage to these lovely cakes I thought I would share a recipe for a Persian Love Cake. It is normally made as two cakes sandwiched together with a rich frosting. In honour of Elaine and her obsession with love I decided to make heart shaped mini cakes. This means there is plenty of frosting left over. You can slather it on top of the cakes or dollop it on other desserts. Or you can just eat it with a spoon.

Persian Love Cakes

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aromatic rose water, lemon and cardamon cakes sandwiched together with saffron frosting

Ingredients
for the cakes
1 cup plain flour
1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup honey
4 tablespoons rose water
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
6 cardamon pods, seeds removed and crushed
1/2 cup caster sugar

for the frosting
1/2 teaspoon of saffron threads
1 tablespoon hot water
1/4 cup thick yoghurt
200ml pure cream, chilled
1/3 cup icing sugar
extra icing sugar for dusting

Method
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Grease two sandwich pans then line with baking paper.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, honey, rose water, water, olive oil, lemon peel and cardamon until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth and combined.
In a medium sized bowl whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and beat until the mixture resembles thick marshmallow.
Place a small amount of egg white mixture into the batter and gently mix until combined. Add half of the egg white mixture and gently fold through. Add remaining egg white mixture and gently fold through.
Divide batter evenly between the two cake tins.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Cool in the pans for 15 minutes before turning out onto racks and peeling off the baking paper.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.
Make the spread by steeping the saffron threads in the hot water for 20 minutes.
Place the yoghurt into a small bowl. Strain the saffron liquid into the yoghurt and mix to combine.
Place the cream and sugar into a medium sized bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Add the yoghurt mix and whip until stiff peaks form.
To assemble, cut the cakes with different sized heart shaped cookie cutters, making sure you cut them in pairs. Sandwich two hearts together with frosting.
Dust lightly with icing sugar.

A World Of Baking

As I was standing in line at the post office, I happened to see a book for sale called Bake: Beautiful baking recipes from around the world by Paragon Books. The heavy hardback was reasonably priced so I bought it. I couldn’t wait to get home and check out the recipes! The book contains so many bakes that I want to try but I just had to make one of the entries in the USA & Canada section – Spring Onion Cornbread! I was very happy with the result. The bread was moist, delicious and very flavoursome. It was great warm but also good the next day sliced with a bit of butter.

Spring Onion Cornbread

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Ingredients
1 cup fine cornmeal
1 cup plain flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground celery seed
1 teaspoon sea salt
55g (2oz) parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 eggs, beaten
1 + 2/3 cups milk
55g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
3 spring onions, chopped

Instructions
Preheat oven to 190C / 375F.
Line a baking pan with baking paper (approximately 28cm x 20cm).
Sift the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, celery seed and salt into a bowl.
Stir in 40g (1.5oz) of the parmesan cheese.
In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, milk and butter.
Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined.
Add the spring onions and mix until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until firm and golden.
Cut into squares.
Best eaten warm.

Love spring onions? Check out my recipe for Spring Onion Pancakes 🙂
Love cornmeal? Check out my recipes for Hush Puppies, Panda Cam Cuppycakes and Mamaliga 🙂

A Game Of Love And Death

There are eight seasonal festivals that many witches and Pagans celebrate. Three of them are really well known – Yule, Easter and Halloween. Yule and Easter fall around the Summer Solstice and the Spring Equinox. They have been overlaid by a veneer of Christianity and so are celebrated in many different ways across the globe. Halloween falls between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. It too has been overlaid by many cultural veneers but has stubbornly remained Pagan. From its ghoulish iconography to its impish games, there is no mistaking that Halloween is a time for remembering, honouring and fearing the dead.

Last week I discussed the issue of flipping northern hemisphere festivals to fit with southern hemisphere seasons. For a moment I fell into step with my witchy compatriots. Beltane, a fertility festival with a special emphasis on love and unions, was calling. For the first time since I became a solitary witch I was considering celebrating Beltane on October 31st. But a few things happened that flipped me back to Halloween.

As I was perusing the shelves at my local craft beer shop I saw a can of beer that really called to me – a saison named Persephone! When I saw the name, and the Grecian inspired artwork, I just had to have it. The beer is flavoured with balsamic, grapefruit, pink pepper and, not surprisingly, pomegranate. But what really interested me was that saison is French for season. I didn’t know that. The label told the story of Persephone’s journey and how her love of pomegranates bound her to the Underworld and to a seasonal dance of Love and Death with her husband Hades. I can think of no better drink than a saison for Persephone.

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I chose to drink my Persephone saison while finishing a book recommended to me by my friend and cupcake conspirator Anne Belov. Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love and Death is an extraordinary tale featuring the anthropomorphic characters of Love and Death. Each chooses a human player that will represent them in a game. The human players don’t know they have been chosen. Love and Death then manipulate the lives of their players to see if they will choose each other or go their separate ways. Choose Love and the game ends, choose Death and you end! One of the intriguing questions in the book is if we didn’t have Death, would we Love as deeply? Does knowing that Death is our final destination inspire us to Love more fully? Another fascinating aspect is the relationship between Love and Death. Are they enemies or are they two halves of the same coin? You’ll have to read the book to find out 🙂

This October 31st I will be celebrating Halloween. I can’t resist the siren call of the Halloweeny paraphernalia surrounding me! But I won’t be forgetting Beltane. Although I have symbolically chosen to celebrate a festival of Death over a celebration of Love, I will also be thinking of my fellow witches down under who will be leaping over bonfires to promote fertility and dancing around a maypole in November. As for me, this Halloween I will begin a new round of my own seasonal game of Love and Death.

Coeur a la Creme

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Love and Death unite in this decadent heart of cream bathed in pomegranate juice and scattered with fragrant pomegranate seeds.

Ingredients
125g mascarpone
125g ricotta cheese
300ml double cream
1/3 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pomegranate, juice and seeds

Method
Beat mascarpone and ricotta with an electric mixer until smooth.
Add cream, sugar and vanilla and mix lightly.
Line coeur a la creme moulds* with muslin that has been moistened with water and wrung out. Make sure there is enough overhang to cover the top of the mixture. Pour mixture into moulds and cover the top with muslin. Place on a cooling rack over a baking tray and leave in fridge to drain overnight.
Unmould onto serving dishes and decorate with fresh pomegranate juice and seeds.
To prepare pomegranate, cut the fruit in half and squeeze into a bowl. Separate the juice and seeds. Pour as much juice and scatter as many seeds over the coeur a la creme as you like.

*Coeur a la creme moulds are heart shaped ceramic moulds with holes for drainage. They are difficult to get so there are a number of ways to achieve the desired heart shape without them: 
1) You can buy a heart shaped silicone cake pan or mini cake pans and make holes in the bottom with a skewer.
2) You can leave the mixture in a muslin bag to drain overnight then place in a heart shaped mould or moulds before serving.
The important thing is that the cream mixture is allowed to drain overnight before shaping.

I Never Drink … Wine

When Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi first uttered those immortal words in Tod Browning’s 1931 movie Dracula, he didn’t realise he would be giving birth to one of the most famous lines in vampire folklore. These words never appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel. They were unique to the film which is loosely based on the 1924 stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. It was this play that introduced us to an urbane, tuxedo wearing Count Dracula, much different to Stoker’s quite repulsive vampire. The romantic, cape wearing Count would become one of the most popular versions of the mercurial vampire in literature and cinema. His popularity does not appearing to be waning.

To celebrate Bela’s upcoming 134th birthday on Thursday October 20, I thought I would drink some wine in his honour 🙂 Sangria, a chilled Spanish red wine drink, is supposedly named after the Spanish word for blood – sangre – which reflects its dark red colour. I have chosen to meld a chilled Spanish sangria with a warm mulled wine. After all, if Dracula did drink wine he most certainly would want it served warm – like blood!

Hot Blooded Sangria

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Ingredients
1/2 cup blood orange juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
750ml bottle of red wine
1/3 cup brandy
1 blood orange, cut into pieces

Method
Place the juice and sugar in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Stir until combined.
Add the cloves and cinnamon sticks. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 – 10 minutes or until the mixture becomes syrupy.
Add the wine and brandy. Cover and simmer, without boiling, for 5 minutes.
Add the blood orange pieces to a heatproof jug.
Pour wine over the blood orange pieces.
Drink while warm.
Refrigerate any leftover wine and enjoy cold over ice.

Spanish Rioja is traditional but you can use any red wine you like. I used a Vampire Merlot from Transylvania 🙂
You can use any variety of oranges when blood oranges are out of season.

The Not So Absent Mother

For Mother’s Day 2014 I wrote about a panda movie.
A year later I explored that movie further.

So it’s not surprising that this Mother’s Day I will be discussing another panda movie – Kung Fu Panda 3.

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Among the many themes in Kung Fu Panda 3 is the theme of fatherhood. In Kung Fu Panda 2 we learn of Po’s history. His parents sacrificed themselves to save him from an attack designed to kill all pandas. In flashback we see Po’s father defend his wife and child so they can get away. We then see his mother place Po in a crate of radishes and then run away, luring the deadly Shen army away from Po and towards her. It is a traumatic scene and I don’t mind saying I cried – a lot. The crate of radishes is delivered to a restaurant owned by Mr Ping, a goose. He finds the hidden baby Po and adopts him, raising him as his son. In Kung Fu Panda 2, Po starts having flashbacks about his panda parents. At the end of Kung Fu Panda 2 we see that Li Shan, Po’s panda father, is alive and living in a secret panda village. Li looks up, somehow sensing that his son Po is also alive.

Kung Fu Panda 3 continues this story. Li Shan comes to Mr Ping’s restaurant, looking for his son. Li takes Po home to the secret panda village, much to the sadness of Mr Ping. But being the protective father he has always been, Mr Ping stows away in Po’s luggage and ends up at the secret panda village too. There Li and Mr Ping resolve their differences and accept the fact that they are both Po’s father. So what does this fatherhood journey have to do with Mother’s Day?

One of the more poignant scenes in Kung Fu Panda 3 is when Li takes Po into his home. There, on what appears to be an altar, is a drawing of baby Po in his mother’s arms. There are two red candles burning, a vase with a sprig of bamboo and sticks and stones holding the drawing in place. Po gingerly reaches for the drawing while his father talks about the panda he calls the love of his life. Po’s mother was “the total package.” She was smart, beautiful and had a tremendous appetite. She was also brave. She sacrificed her life for her baby. Considering Po is a master warrior and saviour, that is a very important sacrifice.

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Kung Fu Panda 3 shows us how alike Po and Li are, but what it also shows us is how alike Po and his mother are. Po and his mother share one key, one very important trait – the gift of self-sacrifice. Through the three movies Po is never afraid to sacrifice himself for the safety of others. Yes, most of the other characters are warriors and therefore happy to lay down their lives in battle as well, but Po does it in a way that is innocent, filled with trust and imbued with grace. It is reminiscent of his mother, who leaves a vulnerable baby in a crate of radishes and hopes and trusts that he will survive. When Po sacrifices himself it is not as a warrior bested in battle but as a spiritual being who is happy to die so others may live.

Although she is not named, the spirit of Po’s mother hovers around the movie. The film is imbued with her maternal spirit, her love and the tragedy of her loss. The power of her sacrifice is reflected again and again through Po, her self-sacrificing, warrior saviour son. For a character that has only had minimal screen time, Po’s mother is one of the most powerful characters in the Kung Fu Panda franchise. I know I’m not the only one who hopes we find Po’s mother alive and well in Kung Fu Panda 4.

In Kung Fu Panda 3 we learn that Po’s birth name is Little Lotus. In honour of his name I have made lotus seed steamed buns. They would make a great Mother’s Day treat 🙂

Lotus Seed Buns

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Special Equipment
2 large bamboo steamer baskets with lid

Ingredients
1 teaspoon dried yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup caster (granulated) sugar
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup lotus seed paste
lotus leaf tea for serving

Method
Place the yeast, 2 tablespoons of warm water, 1 tablespoon of caster sugar and 1 tablespoon of flour into a bowl. Whisk with a fork until lump free. Cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes or until frothy.
Sift the remaining flour and baking powder into a separate bowl. Add the remaining water, sugar, yeast mix and melted butter to the flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir until combined. Using your hands, mix the dough until it comes together. You may need to add more water to get a smooth dough.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 10 minutes or until smooth.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest in a warm place for 1 hour or until the dough doubles in size.
Cut 6 pieces of baking paper into 10cm (4 inch) squares.
Divide the lotus seed paste into 6 and roll into balls.
Remove the plastic wrap. Punch down the centre of the dough.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or until smooth. Divide dough into 6 balls.
Roll a ball of dough into an 8cm (3 inch) disc about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick. Place a lotus seed ball in the centre of the disc. Wrap the dough around the filling to enclose, making sure the bun is sealed.
Place the bun seal side down on a square of baking paper. Repeat with remaining dough and paste.
Fill a wok or shallow frying pan with enough water that it touches the bottom of your bamboo steamer but doesn’t touch the food. Bring the water to a simmer.
Put 3 buns in each steamer basket. Stack together and cover with the bamboo lid.
Place baskets in the wok. Steam for 15 – 20 minutes or until the buns are puffed and cooked through. Check often to make sure there is enough water in the wok and top up as needed. Repeat with remaining buns.
Serve warm with tea.

A Trio Of Celebrations

This Saturday 30th of April is a very special night. There are three celebrations happening. Two are annual events – Walpurgis Night and Beltane/Halloween. The other is Orthodox Easter Eve. As Easter is a Moveable Feast, it is not always celebrated on April 30th. The fact that it falls on this special night this year makes for a very powerful Saturday eve! As I will be celebrating Halloween, I thought I would explore Walpurgis Night as it has always had a Halloween feel for me.

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Walpurgis Night is also known as Witches’ Night. It is the night when witches are thought to fly to the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz mountain range and the highest peak in Northern Germany. There they will light a great bonfire and celebrate the coming Spring with singing, dancing and feasting. Sounds good to me! What also sounds good to me is the name Walpurgis. It has such a witchy feel to it. And it would have to, seeing as it is the name of a witchy holiday, wouldn’t it? Well, not really. Walpurgis Night is not so much witchy as it is holy.

Walpurgis Night is named after Saint Walpurga, a female, English missionary. She was born in Devonshire in 710 and spent her early years in an abbey where she was educated by the nuns. She wrote a biography about her brother and also wrote in Latin about his travels through Palestine. She is often called Germany and England’s first female writer. She was an exceptionally educated women for the times. She died on February 25th, 777 or 779 and was canonised on the 1st of May, 870. So why is she connected to a witches holiday? I’m not really sure but I can make a couple of guesses.

What is interesting about Saint Walpurga is that her offical Catholic feast day is celebrated on the day of her death, February 25th but her more popular celebration is on the day of her canonisation, May 1st. Was celebrating Walpurgis Night on the eve of her canonisation a ploy by Christians to take over the pagan holiday of Beltane? It’s not like that wasn’t done before with Xmas and Easter. It seems to make sense, as Witches’ Night and Beltane have many things in common, not the least which are their welcoming of the coming Spring. But why not chose one of the many Saints who is actually celebrated on May 1st, rather than Saint Walpurga? Again, I’m not sure. Perhaps they wanted a female Saint to represent the Goddess of Spring. But it wouldn’t be the first time a powerful and educated woman was associated with witches!

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Another reason I love Walpurgis Night is Dracula. Yes, Dracula has a connection to Witches’ Night 🙂 Dracula’s Guest, the prequel to the novel Dracula, is set on Walpurgis Night. It is on this night that Jonathan encounters a female vampire – the Countess Dolingen of Gratz. He survives the encounter, thanks to Dracula, who wants Jonathan all to himself! I could never forget this haunting description:

“Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.”

This brilliant prequel is the inspiration for the High Priestess card in my Dracula Tarot deck.

Priestess

The Countess Dolingen of Gratz

In honour of the pagan bonfires that will be burning in both the southern and northern hemispheres I would like to share a recipe for one of my favourites treats. It is known by many names such as honeycomb, hokey pokey, sea foam and puff candy but my favourite name for it is cinder toffee 🙂 Nothing conjures up the power and heat of a bonfire than the heady smell of almost burning sugar as it is slowly caramelises and darkens. And what could be more exciting than the alchemical change that happens when baking powder is added to that amber liquid!

Cinder Toffee

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Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 + 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

Method
Line a baking pan, approximately 25cmx30cm, with baking paper.
Place sugar, water, honey and golden syrup in a deep, heavy based saucepan.
Place the saucepan on low heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat to a gentle boil.
Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the mixture turns golden brown. Be careful not to burn the mixture as it can heat up very quickly.
To check if it is ready, drop a small amount of syrup into a cold glass of water. If the syrup becomes brittle it is ready.
Remove the pan from the heat. Add the bicarbonate of soda and whisk vigorously, being very careful as the mixture will bubble up.
Pour mixture quickly into the prepared pan.
Allow to cool before breaking into pieces.

Toasty Brew

When my friend and cuppycake collaborator Anne Belov recommended To Brew or Not to Brew, I couldn’t wait to read it. I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery, and one set in a craft brewpub seemed just my cup of tea – or really my cup of beer 🙂 Throw in a stray cat called Hops and I’m hooked. It was a great read. When the murderer was revealed I was surprised, as although they were on my list, so was most of the town! This is the first book in the Brewing Trouble Mystery series and I can’t wait for the next instalment.

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To Brew or Not to Brew is part of the Cozy Mystery genre. Cozy mysteries usually feature amateur detectives and are often set in small towns or villages. Think of the TV series Murder She Wrote and you’ll get the general idea. While I’ve always loved reading and watching mysteries, there is a particular sub genre of cozy mysteries that has really got me interested – Culinary Cozy Mysteries!

Culinary cozy mysteries often feature amateur detectives who work in or run cafes, bars, food stores or restaurants. The TV show Pie in the Sky is a great example. The titles are often witty puns such as The Long Quiche Goodbye from the Cheese Shop Mysteries or Caught Bread Handed from the Bakeshop Mysteries. This is a very popular and prolific genre but I have found a way of narrowing down the field – pick the ones that include recipes! That’s right, some of these series include recipes that you can use at home. Thankfully To Brew or Not to Brew is one of these 🙂

I’ve just started my Culinary Cozy Mystery journey and already there are a couple of more series that are on my list. I don’t know if I’m more excited about the mysteries or the recipes! Inspired by To Brew or Not to Brew, I had to make my own “brewed” recipe. I have already made Beer and Bacon Cuppycakes so I thought I would make a tried and true classic – Welsh Rabbit. Traditionally beer is used in this recipe but I wanted to try something a bit different, so I used stout.

Stout Welsh Rabbit

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Ingredients
250g strong cheddar cheese, grated
2 teaspoons flour
15g butter
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 egg yolks, beaten
50ml stout
4 thick slices of bread

Method
In a small saucepan add the cheese, flour, butter, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Mix well then add the egg yolks and stout. Stir slowly until smooth. Do not allow to boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Toast the bread on one side and lightly brown the other side.
Place toast on baking tray with lightly browned side facing up. Pour cheese mixture over toast.
Grill until brown and bubbling.

For another interesting variation substitute apple cider for stout.