Food & Drink

A Taste Of Autumn In Spring

The 8th of November is Bram Stoker’s birthday. Stoker was born in autumn in 1847 during the sign of Scorpio. His most famous creation is the gothic novel Dracula. 

Every year I like to celebrate his birthday by doing something special. This year I treated myself to an autumnal breakfast in the heart of spring.

The Coffeeologist is a cafe which recently opened near me. It’s been getting rave reviews so I couldn’t wait to go. The menu looked good and there were a few items I wanted to try. The Red Velvet Hotcakes were tempting as was the selection of sourdough fruit breads, but the winner was the Spiced Brioche. 

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My plate arrived and it looked beautiful. A pool of burnt apple puree supported a thick slice of spiced brioche French toast topped with a rasher of maple bacon, hazelnut cream and scattered with almond granola. I took one bite and thought “This tastes of Autumn!” Memories of Halloweens past and present and ideas for future Halloweens swirled in my mind while my taste buds were blown away by the cacophony of autumnal delights. I can think of no better way to celebrate the birth of the author of Dracula than with a Halloween treat. 🙂

This is my basic recipe for French Toast. Dress it up with a drizzle of maple syrup or go all out and add as many seasonal accompaniments as you like!

French Toast
Ingredients
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
butter or oil for frying
2 slices of bread*
maple syrup
seasonal accompaniments

Instructions
Lightly beat the egg in a bowl.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Melt a small knob of butter or heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
Dip bread slices in the batter.
Place the bread into the frying pan and cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until golden brown.
Turn the slices over and cook the other side until golden brown, adding more butter or oil as needed.
Place on a serving plate and drizzle with maple syrup.
Add whatever seasonal accompaniments you desire.

*I usually use sliced white bread but you can use whatever bread you like.

A Haunting Beltane

It has taken a long time for Australians to embrace Halloween and there are still many Aussies who loathe what they believe is an American holiday. Those of us who understand the history of Halloween, or Samhain, know that the tendrils of this ghostly and haunting night are rooted in the deep, dark past of many cultures. A night when the veils between the world of the living and the dead are thin, and the dead may walk amongst us again, is an ancient belief as old as time. It’s my favourite night of the year but, unfortunately for me, Halloween is six months away!

In the upside down world of the southern hemisphere, many Australian Pagans have chosen to celebrate seasonal festivals during the appropriate season. As Halloween is an autumnal festival, we celebrate it in April. But don’t worry, I won’t be missing out. I’ll be honouring Beltane, the spring festival that is the companion to Halloween. While Halloween focusses on death, Beltane celebrates life, fertility and regeneration. Life down under has started to wake. Plants are blooming, magpies are swooping and snakes are becoming (a lot) more active. Yet, amidst this noisy and colourful cacophony of life, I still see dead things, as the spectre of Halloween has finally arrived in Australia. I can think of no better way to celebrate life than with Halloween iconography and ghoulish children trick-or-treating.

Only one thing can make this night even better and that’s a drink featuring a Pagan favourite – mead. I added cloudy apple to the drink in tribute to The Wicker Man, my favourite Beltane/May Day film. The dash of ginger is a nod to the end of the film which does get very heated. 😉 With lines like “killing me won’t bring back your apples!” The Wicker Man is a great film suited to both Halloween and Beltane.

Wicker Man Mead

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Ingredients
1 teaspoon ginger cordial
1/4 cup cloudy apple juice
1 cup spiced mead
soda water
slices of cucumber
slices of lime

Instructions
Add the ginger cordial, apple juice and mead to a glass.
Pour in as much soda water as you like.
Top with cucumber and lime slices.

This makes enough for one drink but you can scale up the amounts to make a punch for a large crowd or if you are particularly thirsty. 🙂

A Day Of Gin And Tonics

October 19th is International Gin and Tonic Day. It is a day to celebrate and drink Gin & Tonics. That’s it! As a lover of gin and also of tonic I need no excuse to imbibe this refreshing drink. 

The Gin and Tonic was introduced during the reign of the British East India Company in India during the 1700’s as a treatment for malaria. Tonic water gets its distinctive bitter taste from quinine which was used as a natural medicine to treat malaria. To counter the bitter taste of quinine, sugar, lime and gin were added to the medicinal tonic water, giving birth to the Gin and Tonics we love today.

A Gin and Tonic is simply a mix of two ingredients – gin and tonic poured over ice. The ratio between the two ingredients depends on personal taste but you can start with one part gin to three parts tonic water and work from there. Garnishing with a slice of lime is traditional but I prefer lemon on the rare occasions that I add a garnish.

I love the flavours of Gin and Tonic so much that I just had to have a go at making Gin and Tonic Cupcakes with Gin and Tonic Icing. I wasn’t sure if they would work, and the thought of wasting a large amount of gin, inspired me to scale down my recipe to one generous Texas muffin sized cupcake. I’m happy (and somewhat relieved) to say it was a success! The cupcake has a hint of gin flavour which is enhanced by the icing. They are a perfect match – just like a G&T. 🙂

Gin and Tonic Cupcake

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Special instructions:
You will need 1 Texas muffin size silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan and paper liner.

Ingredients
for the cupcake
1 egg white
2 tablespoons sugar
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons tonic water
1 teaspoon gin

for the icing
1/2 cup powdered (icing) sugar
2 teaspoons gin
1 teaspoon tonic water

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg white and sugar until combined.
Whisk in the melted butter.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until combined.
Add the gin and tonic water and stir until just combined.
Spoon the batter into a silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan lined with a paper case.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Mix together the icing sugar, gin and tonic water in a bowl.
The icing should be thick enough to drizzle so add more gin or tonic water or more powdered sugar if needed to get this consistency. 
Drizzle as much icing as you like over the top and smooth over with the back of a spoon.

A Bite Of Power

Spring is slowly warming us up Down Under but I’m still feeling the effects from a winter cold that I just can’t seem to shake. Changing to daylight saving time on the weekend didn’t help. What I need are some energy boosting treats. 

My Banana Power Bites are just the thing to give much needed energy when you’re under the weather. They are easy to make and even easier to eat!

Banana Power Bites

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Ingredients
2 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup mashed lady finger bananas
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
1 tablespoon cold dandelion-root tea*
shredded coconut for rolling in

Instructions
Mix together the oats and mashed banana in a bowl.
Add the maple syrup and dandelion tea and mix until combined.
Roll tablespoons of mixture in coconut until well coated.
Refrigerate for 1 hour.

*you can use any liquid – like cold tea, coffee or water.

Red Panda Equinox

This year International Red Panda Day (IRPD) will be celebrated on Saturday, September 21st. IRPD was created by the Red Panda Network (RPN) and is celebrated every year on the third Saturday in September. RPN was created to promote the red panda and to find ways to fight for their survival, which is endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is part of this awareness campaign and is celebrated by zoos and individuals around the world with special events and red panda themed fun. Some zoos celebrate on different days, so check with your local zoo to see if they are doing anything and on what day. This year is the tenth celebration of IRPD.

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Depending on where you live, you also have an opportunity to celebrate either the Spring or Autumn Equinox. 

I’ll be celebrating the Spring or Vernal Equinox, which is a night of balance in which day and night are relatively equal. After the Spring Equinox the day wins ascendancy as longer nights are overtaken by longer days. The coming Spring brings a riot of colour, bird song and warmer weather. The return of bright hot days reminds me of the stunning colours of the red panda. The red panda boasts a striking mix of black, hot red, burning brown and bright white fur which are a great symbol for an Australian Spring and emerging Summer. Happily they are also the colours of Autumn. So whichever part of the world you are in, you can celebrate both red pandas and the Equinox!

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Some fun facts about red pandas:

  • Red pandas were discovered 50 years before giant pandas.
  • The name “panda” was given to the red panda first and then later to the black and white panda. The word “panda” may be derived from a Nepalese word meaning “bamboo eater.”
  • Red pandas are sometimes referred to as the “lesser panda” in relation to the giant panda but there is a movement afoot – or apaw – that is calling for them to be called “the first panda” in acknowledgement that they were discovered and named first.
  • Red Pandas were once thought to be related to giant pandas but they are actually in a family of their own called Ailuridae. 
  • A nickname for the red panda is “firefox” which inspired the Firefox web browser to use them as their name and symbol.
  • They are solitary except during breeding season.
  • Red pandas are crepuscular meaning they are active in the early morning and late afternoon and are arboreal meaning they spend most of their time in trees.
  • Although they are classified as a carnivore, red pandas mainly eat bamboo, though they will occasionally eat fruit, berries, eggs, insects and small animals. Like the giant panda, red pandas have an extra thumb used for grabbing bamboo.
  • Red pandas have retractable claws like a cat and the soles of their paws are covered in fur.
  • They have “tear track” markings on their face which may protect their eyes from the sun.
  • When it gets really cold, red pandas can use their bushy tail as a blanket.
  • Red pandas are one of only a few animals that can climb down a tree head first.

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Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus
The colours of this sunny hummus remind me of red pandas!

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Ingredients
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 + 1/2 cups rinsed and drained canned chickpeas
1/4 cup olive oil, more may be needed
1/4 cup drained sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
sea salt to taste
extra olive oil for serving
paprika for serving

Instructions
Process the garlic, tahini and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Add the chickpeas and oil and process until smooth.
Add the sun-dried tomatoes and process until just combined. (You may need to add more oil to reach your desired consistency.)
Season with salt to taste.
To serve, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with paprika.

To symbolise the balance reflected in the Equinox, I sprinkle paprika only over half of the hummus.

Cold Snaps And Warm Dumplings

Just as Spring was slowly starting to warm us up, Winter treated us to a final cold snap. I celebrated (because weather, good or bad, should always be celebrated!) by cooking what might be my last stew for the season. I thought long and hard about what it would be and finally chose an all time classic – chicken and dumplings!

I don’t have a recipe for the stew, as I usually just brown off some chopped chicken breasts which I’ve tossed in flour and then cook them in a stock with vegetables such as carrot, celery, mushrooms and parsnip. 

When the stew is almost cooked I add the dumplings. It is these pillowy delights that make this humble dish a truly warm and comforting treat.

Dumplings

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Ingredients
1 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
100ml milk

Instructions
Place the flour and baking powder in a bowl.
Rub in the butter until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Stir in enough milk until you have a batter of dropping consistency.
Drop spoonfuls of batter into simmering stew.
Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the dumplings are puffed and cooked through.

Dressing For Spring

Imbolc, the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, is celebrated on August 1st in Australia. Imbolc celebrates the return of Persephone as she begins her ascent from the Underworld, slowly transforming from our Queen of the Dead into our Goddess of Spring.

To celebrate Persephone’s journey, I bought a bottle of pomegranate vinegar. I was really excited, as I have tried lots of different vinegars but never a pomegranate one. I couldn’t wait to start experimenting with this new ingredient. My mind was reeling with ideas for an Imbolc recipe and I became fixated on using the vinegar in a cocktail. After much thought, I experimented with a gin and elderberry cocktail, which was interesting, but not something I would try again. As Imbolc neared, I almost panicked as I couldn’t think of what to make.

Today is the eve of Imbolc and the night of a Dark Moon. The sun is streaming through my windows and the birds are singing outside. I stare at the bottle of pomegranate vinegar, hoping for inspiration. Finally I am gifted with a memory of being served a platter with bread and three dunking bowls containing extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt. I remember dipping pieces of bread into the oil, vinegar and finally the salt. I also remember how much I loved it. At last I have a recipe idea for Imbolc! 

Rather than serve three individual bowls for bread dunking, I decided to make a dressing. I began by mixing equal parts of oil and vinegar, but I couldn’t taste the pomegranate, so I went with a 1 part oil to 2 parts vinegar ratio. I liked it, as it was fruity and almost unbearably tart. Happy with my decision, I sprinkled salt on top and grabbed a slice of sourdough bread. I sat outside dunking my bread into a flavoursome dressing while birds flitted through my bamboo heralding the coming of spring and the return of Persephone.

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The fun thing about this dressing is that you can choose what ratios suit you. You can also use it as a salad dressing or as a marinade.

Happy Imbolc!

Slowing Down For Winter

With winter in full swing it is time for slow cooking. One of my favourite winter meals is corned beef gently simmered in spices. Start this recipe early in the day and let your mouth water as the house slowly fills with the aroma of midwinter spices. Hot slices of corned beef go great with vegetables and parsley sauce. The next day reward yourself with cold corned beef sandwiches topped with sauerkraut and sour cream.

Corned Beef

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Ingredients
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1.5kg corned beef or silverside
15 peppercorns
8 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 cups water

Instructions
Place the carrots and celery in a slow cooker.
Rinse the corned beef then place on top of the vegetables.
Add the remaining ingredients.
Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Midwinter Morsels

The solstices are upon us and here in Australia we’re about to celebrate the longest night of the year. After the winter solstice the nights will get shorter and the days longer but the weather will get colder! Midwinter always reminds me of fruitcake and pinecones so I just had to add a sprinkling of pine nuts to my fruitcake recipe.

Fruitcake Cupcakes

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Ingredients
3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup sultanas
1/4 cup mixed peel, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
24 maraschino cherries, cut in half

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 150C / 300F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a large bowl cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs one at a time.
Add flour, salt, mixed spice and ginger and mix until combined.
Stir in the dried fruit, mixed peel and pine nuts until just combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Push four half maraschino cherries into the top of each cupcake. 
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

When Life Gives You Pineapples

I thought I had all the ingredients to make my version of a wolf bite cocktail, but I had forgotten to get pineapple juice. Rather than make another trip to the store, I opened a can of pineapple pieces and used the juice from the tin instead. Disaster averted, I made the cocktail and it was a tasty success.

Not wanting to waste the pineapple pieces, I tried to think of what to do with them. I had been craving fruit crumble all week so I thought I would try making a pineapple crumble. I was feeling lazy, so rather than rubbing butter into the crumble mix, I decided to melt it instead. The result – a sweet, golden crumble that is now one of my favourite treats!

Pineapple Crumble

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Ingredients
440g canned pineapple pieces, drained
1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
60g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Spread the pineapple pieces into a small baking pan.
Mix together the flour, sugar, coconut and salt in a small bowl.
Add the vanilla extract to the melted butter.
Pour butter over the flour and mix until just combined.
Spoon the crumble mix over the pineapple.
Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until the crumble is browned and the fruit is bubbling.
Serve with your favourite topping.