Thursday the 23rd is the September Equinox. On the Equinox, the hours of day and night are roughly equal. Following the Equinox, the days will become longer than the nights or the nights longer than the days, depending on where you live. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you’ll be celebrating the Autumn/Fall Equinox so your daylight hours will slowly decrease as nights become longer. For those of us in the southern hemisphere, we are celebrating the Spring Equinox so our hours of daylight will slowly increase and the days become longer as we head towards the Summer Solstice.
After grating too much carrot for a recipe, I decided to use the extra carrot to make something for the Spring Equinox. I’ve always wanted to make carrot cornbread or a cornmeal carrot cake so I decided to play around with some of my cornbread recipes and my previous Easter Bunny Cupcake recipe. With some trepidation I baked my carrot and cornmeal concoction in a loaf pan and hoped for the best. Thankfully the cake turned out to be sweet and moreish – perfect for the Spring Equinox!
Carrot and Cornmeal Cake
Ingredients 1/2 cup cornmeal 1/2 cup flour, sifted 1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted 1/4 teaspoon sea salt 2 tablespoons sugar 1/2 cup milk 1 egg, room temperature 30g (2 tablespoons) butter, melted 1 tablespoon maple syrup 1/2 cup grated carrot
Instructions Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F. Line a medium sized loaf pan with baking paper. Mix together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, melted butter and maple syrup. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in the grated carrot. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
International Red Panda Day was created by the Red Panda Network to promote the red panda and to find ways to fight for its survival. It is celebrated on the third Saturday in September. This year it falls on the 18th of September which is also World Bamboo Day. What a happy coincidence as bamboo is something red pandas love!
World Bamboo Day was created in the hopes it would increase global awareness about the importance of bamboo. The World Bamboo Organization encourages the use of bamboo in a sustainable fashion. They hope to introduce bamboo to new industries across the world and also protect traditional uses within local communities. The World Bamboo Organization is passionate about growing more bamboo around the world and have created the hashtag #PlantBamboo for this year’s celebrations.
Red pandas are all for planting more bamboo because they can’t survive without it. About 95% of their diet consists of bamboo. While the giant panda eats nearly every part of the bamboo, like the woody stem, the red panda is very selective and only eats the more nutritious leaf tips. They also eat tender bamboo shoots when they are available.
Thinking of red pandas enjoying nutritious bamboo tips reminded me of the bamboo leaf tea I bought a while ago. Bamboo tea is becoming popular as it is supposed to boost the immune system. It is good for the skin and can improve bone density. Bamboo tea also promotes healthy nail and hair growth, which may explain why red pandas have such beautiful, thick fur!
Bamboo tea has a subtle flavour, so you may need to experiment to find the right brew for you. I decided to pump up the flavour by using bamboo tea to make a spiced apple tea. This tasty tea can be served hot or enjoyed chilled as an iced tea. You can also make ice cubes with it and pop them into a gin or vodka cocktail. I mean why should pandas be the only ones having fun with bamboo! 🙂
Bamboo and Apple Tea
Ingredients 2 cups bamboo tea brewed to your liking 1 apple 1 cinnamon stick 4 cloves 1 teaspoon brown sugar
Instructions Strain the tea into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cut the apple into thick slices crosswise so you can see the star shaped core. Add the apple slices, cinnamon, cloves and sugar to the boiling water. Simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and serve with a slice of apple if desired.
One of the things I love doing on the weekends is going for a drive and popping into a bakery for a sausage roll. I have a few favourite places I go, but am always keen to try out new places. Unfortunately we’ve been in lockdown for a while and are restricted in how far we can travel. So if I can’t get to the sausages rolls, the sausage rolls will have to come to me! Thankfully my partner makes a great sausage roll so I spent the weekend indulging in these fresh baked pastries. 🙂
A sausage roll is basically puff pastry rolled around seasoned sausage meat and baked to golden perfection. The beauty of the sausage roll is that there is no exact recipe for what it should contain. You can use all ground pork or a combination of meats, vegetables are optional and seasonings can vary from simple salt and pepper to any combination of sauces, spices or herbs.
The recipe below is really just a guide. You can experiment with what meat, vegetables and spices you like. You can even sprinkle them with sesame or poppy seeds before baking. Sausage rolls are great piping hot from the oven and equally tasty cold the next day. They also make great picnic food.
For those who like a bit of trivia, sausage rolls are a plot device in Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera The Grand Duke; or, The Statutory Duel. Part of the story involves characters eating sausage rolls. I would have loved a starring “roll” in that opera!
Ingredients 1 tablespoon olive oil 1/2 cup finely chopped carrot 1/3 cup finely chopped celery 1/4 teaspoon sea salt 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds 1/8 teaspoon ground aniseed good crack of black pepper 2 slices of toasted white bread 250g pork mince 250g beef mince 2 sheets of puff pastry, partly thawed 1 egg, beaten
Instructions Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F. Line two baking trays with baking paper. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the carrot and celery and fry until soft. Stir in the salt, caraway seeds, aniseed and pepper. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Blend the toasted bread in a food processor until they form breadcrumbs. Place the pork, beef, vegetable mix and breadcrumbs in a bowl and mix with your hand until combined. Cut each sheet of pastry into two. Lay out a rectangle of pastry with the long edge closest to you. Roll a 1/4 of the meat into a sausage shape and place it along the long edge. Make sure the meat is tightly rolled and that there are no gaps. Roll the long side of the pastry around the sausage. Crimp the long side to seal, leaving the shorter edges unsealed. Place on prepared tray, seal side down. Cut into three pieces (or four if you prefer smaller). Repeat with remaining meat and pastry. Brush with beaten egg. Bake for 30 minutes or until they are a deep golden brown.
This weekend is Imbolc, the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Imbolc heralds the promise of spring, but cold weather is still abundant. The days have occasional bursts of sunlight but the nights are cold and dark.
For me it’s a time of in-betweens. One part of me wants to go out and enjoy the brief rays of sunshine while the other part hasn’t had enough winter down-time. I still want to spend a little bit more time snuggled under my cosy blankets and indulging in warm drinks and comfort foods.
One comfort food I love is potsticker dumplings. These delicious parcels of yumminess are filled with a meat or vegetable filling. They are fried and steamed so the bottoms become crispy as the tops steam, producing a flavour and textual taste sensation.
I recently discovered an interesting twist to the classic recipe where a flour and water mix is added during the cooking process to produce an extra crispy crust. The dumplings are served inverted on the plate so they are covered with the crust which is called a skirt or lace.
For this recipe you can make your own dumplings or use frozen ones. Try not to crowd the pan too much as they will take longer to cook. Having said that, I crammed 15 into my frying pan because I didn’t want to cook them in batches! They did take a while to cook but they were delicious. If you do cook them in batches, just repeat the lace recipe for each batch.
Dumplings with Lace
Ingredients for the dumplings About 15 homemade or frozen dumplings 2 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil
for the lace 1/2 cup water 2 teaspoons flour pinch of sea salt (optional)
Instructions Heat oil in a large, lidded, non-stick frying pan. Place the dumplings close together and fry for 3 – 5 minutes or until golden on the bottom. While dumplings are frying, make the lace by whisking together the water, flour and salt. Once dumplings are golden, slowly pour the lace mix into the frying pan. Be careful as it may splatter. Cover and steam for 5 minutes. Remove lid and cook for a few more minutes until the water has evaporated and the lace is crisp and golden. Move the pan around to make sure the lace browns evenly. Cover pan with a plate and carefully flip so the lace is now on top of the dumplings. Serve dumplings with your favourite dipping sauce on the side.
As the wheel spins towards the winter solstice, I find myself craving the drinks of xmases past. Growing up, spiced eggnog was one of my favourite xmas drinks, especially if it had a good slug of rum or whiskey. Xmas is celebrated in summer down under, so a cool drink was the perfect tonic for the often warm weather typical for December.
As an Aussie Pagan, I celebrate the winter solstice in June, which in Melbourne is usually very cold. While I craved the creamy and boozy pleasures of an eggnog, I wasn’t too keen on sipping a chilled drink.
As I researched warm eggnog recipes, I discovered a drink called Southern Boiled Custard. Despite the name, the custard is not boiled but gently simmered and is usually served chilled like eggnog. While I loved the idea of drinking custard, I was still keen to find a warm drink for the winter solstice. After a bit more research I found a few recipes that suggested serving drinking custard warm!
I’ve added a good splash of bourbon to my recipe, making it a perfect festive drink for midwinter. 🙂
Warm Drinking Custard
Ingredients 2 eggs 1/4 cup sugar pinch of sea salt 2 cups milk 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 60ml bourbon
Instructions Whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl. Bring the milk to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Slowly pour the hot milk mix into the egg mixture, whisking continually. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Whisk until the custard begins to thicken. Remove from heat. Whisk in the vanilla extract and bourbon. Pour the custard into heatproof glasses or mugs. (Makes two generous serves.)
I haven’t read many Shakespeare plays, but of the ones I have read, Macbeth is my favourite. I love the way Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s lives change after Macbeth meets the three witches and hears their prophecies. The play is filled with so many fabulous speeches and unforgettable moments. Naturally the scenes that bewitch me the most are those with the three witches.
“When shall we three meet again?” ask the witches. “Whenever Macbeth comes to town!” is my answer.
So when Verdi’s opera Macbeth came to Melbourne recently, I couldn’t wait to get there and meet the three witches again. 🙂
The opera was staged at the historic Her Majesty’s Theatre. Before the show started an announcement was made that Helena Dix, the lead soprano playing Lady Macbeth, had severe sinusitis and couldn’t sing. However, in the grand tradition of the show must go on, she was going to act the role and another soprano would sing her part offstage. While the crowd groaned in disappointment, I was excited. A disembodied voice at the opera? How very Macbeth!
The curtain rose for the first act and I was pleasantly surprised to see not three witches but thirty! The fascinating coven of witches were hypnotic as they sang, spun and wove their way through the scene. Hearing them sing their lines in Italian was appropriately eerie. My eyes occasionally darted to the monitors with English translations, but, not wanting to miss too much of the action happening on stage, I relied on my knowledge of the play to get me through the language barrier.
As much as I love the witches, I was getting excited about Lady Macbeth’s entrance. I couldn’t wait to see a soprano lip-syncing. I was even more excited when I realised I could see the woman singing the role from my seat. My eyes jumped from the miming opera singer on stage to the singing soprano just offstage. In the end, voice or no voice, the power and brilliance of the artist playing Lady Macbeth enthralled me. I soon forgot about lip-syncing as the divine opera performer took me through the tragic journey that is Lady Macbeth’s life. By the time the play ended I was bewitched, not only by the witches, but by the unforgettable performance of an opera singer without a voice.
Ironically, not long after seeing Macbeth I was struck with a severe cold, sinusitis and laryngitis. It made me wonder if the superstitions surrounding Macbeth may have been visited upon me! Unfortunately, it’s something that happens to me occasionally so I wasn’t too worried. When I was young and suffering from a cold or sore throat, my parents would make me a cup of tea with honey, lemon and a good splash of whisky. This drink is similar to a Hot Toddy which is usually made with hot water instead of tea. As a tribute to the witches in Macbeth, I’m making my toddy with Strega Liqueur (witches liqueur) named in honour of the Benevento Witches!
Ingredients 1 teaspoon honey 1 cup hot water 30ml (1 oz) Strega 15ml (1/2 oz) whiskey 1 slice of lemon
Instructions Place the honey in a heatproof glass or mug. Add the water and stir until the honey is dissolved. Pour in the Strega and whiskey. Top with a slice of lemon. Sip slowly and enjoy its magical properties. 🙂
May 26 is World Dracula Day. This is the day that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was published in 1897. There are so many brilliant characters in Dracula who, although they do not appear very often, are nonetheless unforgettable. The three vampire women who live in Castle Dracula are such creatures.
The three female vampires are never individually named in Dracula but are collectively called the “weird sisters” or “sisters”. It is Jonathan who calls them the “weird sisters”, a name that links them to the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They are known as the “Brides of Dracula” in popular culture but that name was never used in the novel. Intriguingly, it is the name “sister” that the female vampires themselves embrace.
After Mina is been bitten by Dracula and slowly starts to turn into a vampire, she travels to Transylvania, where she meets the three female vampires. They recognise her vampiric nature and welcome her into the sisterhood with the words “Come, sister. Come to us. Come! Come!” Another form of sisterhood is the relationship between Mina and Lucy in which Mina describes Lucy as a sister. The nuns that take care of Jonathan when he escapes from Castle Dracula are another important form of collective “sisters” that highlight the importance of sisterhoods in Dracula.
While the vampire sisters are never named, they are certainly described in graphic detail by Jonathan who meets the beguiling vampire trio at Castle Dracula.
“In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner.”
“Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires.”
“All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips.”
“I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips.”
While Johnathan is both seduced and repulsed by the vampire sisters, they only see one thing in him – blood!
“He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.”
To celebrate the sisters’ desire for bloody vampire kisses I thought I would make them a Vampire’s Kiss Cocktail.
A Vampire’s Kiss is a delicious drink made with Chambord, vodka and cranberry juice. Chambord is a French liqueur flavoured with red and black raspberries. The colour of the red and black raspberries made me think of the two dark haired sisters and the vodka made me think of the pale sister. The red cranberry juice adds to the bloody colour of the cocktail and is a perfect reflection of the bloody lips and bloody desires of the vampire sisters. While cranberry juice is traditional, I used pomegranate juice as pomegranates are linked to Demeter, Persephone and Hades. There are many references to this myth in Dracula, especially in the name the Demeter, the ship that brings the Count to England.
To make sure we don’t disappoint the vampire sisters by running out of liquid kisses, the amounts below are easy to scale or up or down so you can make a small cocktail for one or a pitcher for a crowd!
Ingredients 1 part Chambord 2 parts vodka 2 parts pomegranate juice
Instructions Pour the Chambord and vodka into a chilled glass or jug. Top with pomegranate juice.
One of the quirks of celebrating Halloween on April 30th in the southern hemisphere is that it sometimes coincides with Eastern Orthodox Easter. Due to the differences between the way Orthodox and Western churches calculate Easter, they are often on different days. Halloween and Western Easter cannot fall on the same day, but that’s not so for Orthodox Easter. You can read about the complicated reasons for the differences in Easter dates in my previous post Moon Over Easter.
This year Orthodox Good Friday falls on Southern Hemisphere Halloween, which got me thinking about the similarities between those two special days. Naturally I thought about Halloween’s focus on ghosts and spirits and Easter’s focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. How much more Halloween can you get than a story of a man dying and then returning from the dead? It doesn’t even matter if he returns as a man, zombie or ghost – it all fits with the spirit of Halloween!
Another Halloween/Easter theme is blood. Gory and scary looking food is a feature of Halloween celebrations, while the Easter tradition of colouring eggs red is meant to represent the blood of Christ that is shed on Good Friday. The hard eggshell represents the tomb Jesus is sealed in, and when you crack the eggshell, it symbolises Jesus’ release from the tomb and his resurrection from the dead. This connection of the egg with blood, death and rebirth, makes eggs perfect symbols for Halloween too.
A tasty egg dish that is traditionally served for both Easter and Halloween is Devilled Eggs. I’ve already shared a recipe for Devilled Eggs in my Dracula’s Journey post. I’ve added a Halloween tweak to the recipe, which now features pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice. I also decorated the eggs with pumpkin seed flour, pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin seeds to really pump up the pumpkin flavours. You can also drizzle with pomegranate molasses or another red sauce to give them a ghoulish look. 🙂 The great thing about Halloween food is that you can go all out with the decorating!
Pumpkin Devilled Eggs
Ingredients 6 boiled eggs 2/3 cups pumpkin puree 1 tablespoon sour cream sea salt to taste pumpkin spice to taste*
for decorating pumpkin seed oil pumpkin seed flour pumpkin seeds
Instructions Cut eggs in half lengthways and scoop out the yolk into a bowl. Mash the egg yolk then add the sour cream and pumpkin puree. Mix until combined. Add salt and pumpkin spice to taste. Spoon or pipe mixture back into the eggs. Decorate your eggs your way!
*you can use store-bought pumpkin spice mix or make your own. This is my version: 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg Mix the spices together in a small bowl.
This year I thought I would commemorate Bram Stoker’s April 20th Deathiversary by exploring Quincey P. Morris, an important but often overlooked character in Dracula.
Quincey P. Morris is a young, rich American from Texas. He’s a larrikin who carries a bowie knife. He has travelled and had many adventures and is a bit rough and ready. He loves using American slang when he is with friends but is also a gentleman with impeccable manners. Quincey is close friends with both Arthur Holmwood and Dr Seward. All three are in love with Lucy Westenra and all three propose to her. Although Lucy chooses Arthur, Dr Seward and Quincey remain loyal and devoted friends to both Arthur and Lucy. When Lucy is bitten by Dracula, Arthur, Dr Seward and Quincey join forces with Abraham Van Helsing to try and save her life. Sadly they fail and Lucy becomes one of the undead and is eventually staked by Arthur.
When Mina Harker becomes the next target of Dracula, Arthur, Dr Seward, Quincey and Abraham Van Helsing join forces with Mina and her husband Jonathan Harker, to do battle with Dracula for the life and soul of Mina. After mighty struggles and an arduous journey to Transylvania, Mina watches as Jonathan and Quincey fight a band of gypsies protecting the fleeing Dracula. As they fight their way towards Dracula’s crate, Quincey is stabbed by one of the gypsies. Undeterred, Quincey makes it to Jonathan’s side and together they pry open Dracula’s crate. A horrified Mina watches as Jonathan slits Dracula’s throat and Quincey stabs Dracula in the heart with his bowie knife. Dracula’s body crumbles and disappears before their eyes. A dying Quincey watches as the symbol of Mina’s corruption, a wafer burn scar on her forehead, vanishes. He dies a happy man knowing that Mina’s soul is restored.
On the anniversary of Quincey’s death, Mina gives birth to a son. Quincey Harker has a bundle of names that link all the vampire hunters together but they call him Quincey in honour of his ultimate sacrifice. Quincey P. Morris is in many ways the true hero of Dracula. As a big fan of Quincey, I’m happy that his name and spirit live on.
To pay tribute to Stoker’s fascinating yet underrated character, I was considering making a Texas Funeral Cake. This way I could honour Quincey’s Texan heritage, and also enjoy a chocolate sheet cake topped with chocolate frosting and pecans. But as I thought of Quincey, I couldn’t help thinking of quinces. The name play being too tantalising for me, I started working out how I could add quince jam or paste to a Texas Funeral Cake. As I pondered whether to add quince to the cake batter, the cooked cake, or add it to the frosting, the thought hit me that as Dracula dies he crumbles. My mind then went straight to a Quince Crumble!
The joy of using fresh quinces is that, as they cook, an amazing alchemical process takes place and the white flesh slowly transforms to a reddish pink colour. Watching the quince change colour naturally makes me think of blood, which is so appropriate for a recipe honouring the deaths of the author of, and a character in, a vampire novel! I’m sure Bram will enjoy my playful take on Quincey’s role in Dracula’s crumbly end. 🙂
Ingredients 750g quinces, peeled, cored and quartered 1/4 cup caster sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 + 1/4 cups plain flour 175g unsalted butter, diced and chilled 4 tablespoons brown sugar 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Instructions Place the quince in a medium sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the caster sugar, vanilla extract and enough water to just cover the fruit. Bring to the boil then simmer for 3 – 4 hours or until the quince have turned a pinkish red. Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F. Add the flour and chilled butter to a medium sized bowl. Using your fingertips, rub the mixture together until you form large crumbs. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and mix through until combined. Spoon the quince into a baking dish, leaving behind any excess liquid. Sprinkle the crumble topping over the fruit. Bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes or until the crumble is golden brown. Serve with cream, ice cream or custard.
During the lead up to Easter, a recipe for a Cadbury Creme Egg “Scotch Egg” was doing the rounds and the reactions ranged from Yum? to Yuck! When a friend asked me what my take on this twisted treat would be, I put my thinking cap on and did a bit of research.
First step was to check the ingredients in the Creme Egg. Palm oil is an ingredient which was a concern because of its environmental impact, however, Australian Cadbury products are supposed to use palm oil sourced from sustainable producers which is great. The next ingredient that caught my attention was the red/orange food colouring 160c – aka paprika – yes paprika! I am allergic to paprika and all other chillies, so I couldn’t use that egg for my recipe. Undeterred, I decided to use Caramello easter eggs which I know don’t contain paprika. 🙂
My next step was to decide what coating I would use to wrap around my eggs. After some thought I went with a condensed milk and biscuit (cookie) crumb truffle mix. I couldn’t decide whether to add cacao powder into the mix so I made one batch with cacao powder and another one with milk powder. The milk powder mix is drier than the cacao mix which is really sticky, making it slightly challenging but heaps of fun to work with. I can’t decide which one I like best as they are both so tasty!
You can experiment with your own flavour combinations by mixing and matching different flavoured easter eggs such as Turkish delight or peppermint cream. You can also experiment with different toppings such as crushed cookies, sprinkles, grated chocolate, cocoa or cacao powder.
Easter Egg Truffles
Ingredients 125g shortbread cookies 25g cacao powder 25g milk powder 150ml sweetened condensed milk 12 mini caramel filled easter eggs shredded coconut for topping
Instructions Crush the shortbreads into fine crumbs in a food processor or by placing in a ziplock bag and smashing with a rolling pin. Divide the shortbread crumbs evenly into two bowls. Add cacao powder to one bowl and mix until combined. Add milk powder to the other bowl and mix until combined. Add half the condensed milk to the cacao powder mix and stir until combined. Add the remaining condensed milk to the milk powder mix and stir until combined. Place coconut in a bowl. Remove wrapping from the easter eggs. Place a tablespoon of milk powder mix in your hand, top with an easter egg, then shape the mix around the egg. Roll in coconut. Repeat until 6 eggs are covered. Place a tablespoon of cacao powder mix in your hand, top with an easter egg, then shape the mix around the egg. Roll in coconut. Repeat until remaining 6 eggs are covered. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You can serve them straight from the fridge or bring to room temperature if you want a gooey centre.