Food & Drink

The Halloween “Pom” Queen

Sunday the 30th of April is southern hemisphere Halloween! There are so many ways to celebrate this most auspicious of nights. This year I’ll be celebrating the seasonal coronation of Persephone as she once again embraces her role as the Queen of the Underworld.

Persephone spends Spring and Summer in the land of the living and Autumn and Winter in the land of the dead. During the Autumn Equinox, Persephone makes her descent into the Underworld. On Halloween, we celebrate the seasonal coronation of Persephone as she regains her crown and guides us through the remaining dark half of the year.

To celebrate Persephone’s Halloween Coronation, I’m making hot chocolate. Chocolate is linked to death – and not just by the dessert Death By Chocolate! Cacao has been used in celebrations and rituals symbolising both death and rebirth for millennia. You can even buy Ceremonial Grade Cacao if you’re really keen. I’m adding mint and pomegranate to my hot chocolate which also have links to death and rebirth, so they are perfect ingredients for a Halloween drink dedicated to Persephone.

Mint is a key herb herb used in funerary rites, and also an ingredient in kykeon, a fermented barley drink used in the Eleusinian Mysteries dedicated to Demeter and Persephone. Interestingly, Minthe is the name of a nymph who was the lover of Hades. Minthe said some unflattering things about Persephone and was trampled on by either Persephone, or her mother Demeter. The herb mint sprang from the earth where Minthe was squashed. That’s a pretty powerful allegory for death and rebirth!

Pomegranate is a red fruit filled with seeds that oozes blood red juice when opened. Not surprisingly they are a fruit abundant in symbology. During her first trip to the Underworld, Persephone eats some pomegranate seeds which tie her forever to the realm of the dead. For each seed she has eaten, she must spend a month in the Underworld. There is no consensus on how many seeds she ate. As her journey represents a seasonal cycle of light and darkness, six seems to be an appropriate number. Pomegranate seeds bring Persephone back to the Underworld and on Halloween she reclaims her throne as Queen of the Dead. It is this for reason I call her my Halloween Pom (Pomegranate) Queen.

Mint Hot Chocolate with Pomegranate Whipped Cream

Ingredients (1 serving)
for the whipped cream
1/2 cup cream
1 tablespoon powdered (icing) sugar
1 teaspoon fresh pomegranate juice
pomegranate seeds for decorating
mint leaves for decorating

for the hot chocolate
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
20g finely chopped dark chocolate buds
2 tablespoons (or to taste) peppermint cordial

Instructions
Whisk the cream until slightly thickened.
Add the powdered sugar and whisk until soft peaks form.
Stir in the pomegranate juice until fluffy and combined. Set aside while you make the hot chocolate.
Heat the milk until hot, but not boiling.
Whisk in the cocoa powder until combined.
Add the chocolate and whisk until melted and combined.
Add the peppermint cordial and whisk until combined.
Pour into a heat-proof mug.
Top with whipped cream.
Decorate with mint leaves and pomegranate seeds.

April Fool’s Day Capers

To celebrate April Fool’s Day I’d like to pay tribute to one of my favourite pranks. On April Fool’s Day 1957, the BBC’s current affairs program Panorama aired a story about a family in Switzerland harvesting spaghetti from their spaghetti tree. The family were celebrating a bumper harvest due to a mild winter and the almost total eradication of the spaghetti beetle.

photo from wikipedia

Apparently, spaghetti was not well known in the UK at that time so many were fooled by the story. Some viewers contacted the BBC asking for advice on how they could grow their own spaghetti trees! Wouldn’t it be awesome if there really were spaghetti trees?

To celebrate this foodie prank I just had to make a big bowl of spaghetti. Naturally I couldn’t resist adding capers to my spaghetti. Not only do capers add a tasty burst of flavour to a dish, but a “caper” is also another name for an escapade, joke or prank.

Spaghetti with Capers

Ingredients
180g spaghetti
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
good squeeze of lemon juice
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

Instructions
Cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente.
Drain and return the spaghetti to the pot.
Add the olive oil and lemon juice.
Toss until combined and the spaghetti is glossy.
Place into bowls and scatter with capers and parmesan.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

A Time For Corn

Monday the 21st of March is the Autumn Equinox in the southern hemisphere. It’s the midpoint between Lammas and Halloween. The hours of day and night are relatively equal on the Equinox. Following the Equinox, the darkness starts to gain ascendancy as the day slowly retreats into the dark half of the year.

The Autumn Equinox marks the second summer harvest festival. It represents the harvesting of grains and produce that can be enjoyed now and also preserved for the winter. Corn is one of the most sacred symbols for Autumn and is revered for its versatility. It can be eaten fresh, or preserved by being frozen or canned. It can be dried to make popcorn or ground into cornmeal and corn flour. The leaves and husks can also be used to make Corn Dollies, Corn Husk Dolls and other crafts.

Popcorn is one of the many ways I enjoy corn. I love it piping hot with lots of butter and a good sprinkling of sea salt. I’ve always used individual kernels but I recently discovered popcorn on the cob. These dried corncobs can be placed in a paper bag and popped in the microwave. I didn’t actually own a microwave but I bought one just so I could try popcorn on the cob!

Thankfully the popcorn was worth the investment. 🙂

A Day For Pancakes

This year we begin the month of March with Pancake Day!

Pancake Day, also know as Shrove Tuesday, is part of Easter observances so it doesn’t have a fixed date. It is followed by Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Shrove Tuesday is the last day to eat rich, sweet and fatty foods before a period of fasting begins. Thankfully I don’t celebrate Easter (so no fasting) but I do celebrate pancakes!

This year I am indulging in mini pancakes called pikelets. Pikelets are an Aussie and New Zealand treat and are enjoyed any time of the day. They can be eaten hot or cold and can be served with sweet or savoury toppings.

I’ve tweaked a traditional pikelet recipe to make an overnight version that also has oats. You’ll need to start preparing these the night before, as the oats and milk need to soak overnight.

Overnight Oat Pikelets

Ingredients
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
butter for frying

Instructions
Mix the oatmeal and milk together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning remove the oat mix from the refrigerator.
Stir in the beaten egg until combined.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a small bowl.
Add to the oat mix and stir until combined. (You want a thick batter so add more milk or flour to get the right consistency).
Melt some butter in a frying pan.
Drop tablespoons of batter into the pan, allowing room for spreading.
Cook for 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and the bottom is lightly browned.
Turn them over with a spatula and cook for 30 – 60 seconds or until lightly brown on the bottom.
Remove from the pan.
Eat them hot or cold with sweet or savoury toppings.

Lammas And The Year Of The Water Tiger

February 1st is Lammas (or Lughnasadh) in the southern hemisphere and Imbolc in the northern hemisphere. This year these festivals coincide with Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival. As Chinese New Year begins on a New Moon, February 1st is shaping up to be a very powerful day.

Lammas is the halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It is the First Summer Harvest and, in Australia, the first Pagan festival for the year. Baking bread, crafting and enjoying the produce of the first harvests are traditional ways of celebrating this festival.

In the Chinese zodiac, every New Year is ruled by a different animal that rotates through a twelve year cycle. This year is the Year of the Tiger. The tiger is the king of all the beasts and is associated with strength, confidence and bravery. Like all the animals in the zodiac, the tiger not only rules a year, but also a month (February 4th to March 5th), day (Saturday), and hour (3am to 4.59am).

To celebrate both Lammas and the Year of Tiger, I wanted to make tiger bread. Tiger bread, also known as Dutch crunch, tijgerbrood or tijgerbol, is a Dutch bread with a mottled crust. The crust is made by coating half-proofed bread dough with a rice flour paste. The resulting crackle crust is supposed to resemble the patterns of a tiger. However, after a three year old girl wrote to Sainsbury’s saying the pattern looked more like a giraffe than a tiger, the supermarket chain changed the name to giraffe bread. You be the judge!

(Photo from Wikipedia)

January has been a very hectic, but fun, month so I didn’t have time to make tiger bread. So to celebrate both Lammas and the Year of Tiger, I made Tiger Stripe Cupcakes instead. There are lots of ways to decorate cupcakes to look like tigers, but I went for two-toned chocolate and orange cupcakes piped with black and orange coloured cream cheese frosting.

Tiger Stripe Cupcakes

Special Equipment (optional)*
Two piping bags

Ingredients
for the cupcakes
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
2 cups plain flour, sifted
3 teaspoons baking powder, sifted

for the chocolate cupcakes
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
black food colouring

for the orange cupcakes
1/2 teaspoon orange oil
orange food colouring

for the cream cheese frosting
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
125g (1/2 cup) cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered (icing) sugar

for the black cream cheese frosting
black food colouring

for the orange cream cheese frosting
orange food colouring

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a medium sized bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy.
Add the eggs one at a time and beat until light and fluffy.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Using a wooden spoon, fold in the flour and baking powder.
Divide the mixture into two half portions.
For the chocolate cupcakes, mix in the cocoa powder and enough black food colouring to achieve the desired black colour.
For the orange cupcakes, mix in the orange oil and enough orange food colouring to achieve the desired orange colour.
To create a stripe effect, dollop approximately half of the chocolate mix evenly into the bottom of the cupcake cases and wait until the mixture has spread to the sides of the cases.
Dollop approximately half of the orange mix evenly over the chocolate mix and wait until the mixture has spread to the sides.
Repeat with remaining chocolate mix and finish with the orange mix.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling, make the cream cheese frosting by creaming together the butter and cream cheese in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer.
Gradually beat in the powdered sugar.
Beat until frosting reaches a piping consistency.
Divide the mixture into two half portions.
For the black frosting, mix in enough black food colouring to achieve the desired black colour.
For the orange frosting, mix in enough orange food colouring to achieve the desired orange colour.
Spoon black frosting in one piping bag and the orange in the other.
Pipe alternating black and orange stripes onto cupcakes.

*if you don’t have two piping bags just pipe one frosting first, leaving spaces to fill in with the other frosting and wash the bag between frostings. You can also leave the cakes unfrosted and serve a frosting on the side.

Happy Lunar New Year and Happy Lammas (or whatever Pagan Festival you are celebrating!) 🙂

Sister Mary Fluffy’s Spiked Cocoa

Sister Mary Fluffy is a character from The Panda Chronicles created by Anne Belov. She is a Panda Nun who some may say has developed a few bad habits. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with a nun who likes to live a spirited life.

When Sister Mary Fluffy arrives at the Panda House in DC, she is welcomed with a mug of hot cocoa which the Panda House serves with “marshymellows” (marshmallows). Can we really blame her for wanting to “freshen” her cocoa with something more uplifting? After all, she has travelled a long way to get there.

When I decided to create a spiked cocoa for Sister Mary Fluffy, I thought about how she would go about making one. Would Sister Mary Fluffy need a recipe? I don’t think so! I think the unconventional Panda Nun would simply make something with what is it at hand – or in her case – at paw. Here is Sister Mary Fluffy in her felted form, obviously full of good spirits!

Sister Mary Fluffy’s Spiked Cocoa with Extra Spiked Marshmallows

To make the spiked marshmallows, pour some sugar in a small bowl and set aside (I used Demerara sugar).
Skewer large marshmallows onto cocktail sticks (I used vanilla and raspberry).
Half fill a shot glass with your chosen spirit or spirits (I used whiskey for the vanilla and red vermouth for the raspberry marshmallows).
Dunk in a marshmallow, making sure it is covered in alcohol.
Allow to sit for a few minutes (don’t leave it too long as it may dissolve).
Remove marshmallow, gently shaking off any excess alcohol into the glass.
Roll in sugar.
Place upright in a glass.
Repeat with remaining marshmallows.
Set aside while you make the hot cocoa.

To make the hot cocoa, heat your favourite milk in a saucepan or microwave (I use full cream milk).
Whisk in your favourite cocoa powder (I use dark cocoa powder).
Add sweetener if desired, remembering that the marshmallows will add sweetness (I leave mine unsweetened).
Add a good splash of your favourite spirit or spirits (I used whisky for both types of marshmallows).
Top with as many marshmallows as you like.

Solstice Gingerbread

The Summer Solstice is almost here and this year it falls on Wednesday the 22nd of December. On this day, the Sun reaches its zenith, its highest point in the sky. The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. After the Summer Solstice, the days start to get shorter as we wind our way toward Lammas.

The Summer Solstice in the southern hemisphere is mirrored by the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere. It also occurs near Xmas which in many ways is a Midwinter festival. To celebrate this hemispherical duality, I thought I would make a gingerbread cake which is perfect for the Winter Solstice. I’m also going to show you how to use this cake for a Summer Solstice treat!

The recipe I’m using is from A Gothic Cookbook by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino. A Gothic Cookbook is being crowdsourced through Unbound so hopefully it gets fully funded because I want a copy! The book is beautifully illustrated by Lee Henry and features recipes inspired by classic and contemporary Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Rosemary’s Baby, Frankenstein and one of my favourites – Dracula. You might assume I’d be making a recipe inspired by Dracula, but the gingerbread cake recipe is actually inspired by Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

That Very Special Gingerbread
I followed the recipe below without making any of my customary tweaks. I was briefly tempted to try a different icing, but I’m glad I didn’t. The lemon icing was tart and refreshing and complimented the deep treacle flavour of the cake beautifully.
(You can use molasses or blackstrap molasses if you don’t have black treacle)

My partner and I tried our best to eat all the cake but it was looking like we would fail. I was planning to freeze the leftovers, but then realised I could use the leftover cake to make a quick and easy Summer Solstice treat – Gingerbread Ice Cream!

Gingerbread Ice Cream

Ingredients
Roughly chopped pieces of gingerbread cake, including the bits with icing
Good quality vanilla ice cream, softened slightly

Instructions
Mix the cake and ice cream together in a bowl.
Place in a container and freeze.
That’s it!
There are no measurements for the ingredients so you can make as much or as little as you want. You can also add as much cake to the ice cream as you like.

Happy Solstice!

Make It A Double!

Did you know that there are two days a year dedicated to honouring bartenders?

World Bartender Appreciation Day is an international celebration for bartenders and is held on the 24th of February, while Bartender Appreciation Day is a US national celebration held on the 1st Friday in December. Bartender Appreciation Day was founded by Sailor Jerry Rum in 2011. This year it will be celebrated on Friday the 3rd.

As the name suggests, Bartender Appreciation Day is a day to honour those who tend our drinks, and often our emotions. As someone who has spent a lot of time in bars, I’d like to say thank you to all those bartenders who mixed me awesome drinks, listened to my drunken stories, commiserated with me when I was sad, and celebrated my happy times.

A great way to celebrate a day dedicated to mixologists is to experiment with your favourite cocktail recipes. I like playing around with the ratio of ingredients, so I was happily surprised when I discovered reverse cocktails! To make one, you simply reverse the proportions of the main alcohol ingredients. For example, a Lone Tree Cocktail (one of my favourites) is 2 parts gin to 1 part sweet vermouth. To reverse it you’d do 1 part gin to 2 parts sweet vermouth. Reversing a cocktail can have a dramatic effect on the flavour, and sometimes on the alcohol content as well.

An extension of this concept is to play around with the ingredients themselves. So with the Lone Tree example you could do 1 part gin, 1 part sweet vermouth, 1 part dry vermouth. You could also use a blood orange gin to add an orange flavour. With all the different gins and vermouths available, your combinations could be endless!

Reverse Lone Tree Cocktail

Cheers!

Dining With Dracula

November 8th is Bram Stoker’s birthday. Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1847, Bram’s most famous work is his 1897 novel Dracula. It’s one of my favourite books, and not just because it has vampires.

One of the many things I love about Dracula is that is an epistolary novel, meaning it is written as a series of documents. In Dracula, the narrative unfolds through letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, ship logs, telegrams and even translated phonograph recordings. There is no main narrator in Dracula, as many of the characters use the medium of writing to tell their own stories. This allows us to form an intimate connection to them, and offers us insight into the characters they interact with. It also means there are multiple viewpoints and interlacing narratives. Part of the pleasure of reading Dracula is trying to piece together all the different narratives and their timeframes.

The first chapter of the novel is written like a travelogue, as Jonathan Harker writes about his journey from England to Castle Dracula. One of the things Jonathan describes in detail in his journal is the food he has eaten along the way. His descriptions of the exotic dishes, such as paprika hendl, mamaliga and impletata, fascinated me, while his description of robber steak made my mouth water – until I got to the last bit!

“I dined on what they called “robber steak”—bits of bacon, onion, and beef, seasoned with red pepper, and strung on sticks and roasted over the fire, in the simple style of the London cat’s meat!”

Thankfully cat’s meat refers to meat classed as unfit for human consumption which was sold as meat for pets, and not actual cat meat. It was sold by street vendors known as cat’s meat men and women.

To celebrate Bram’s birthday I thought I would share my version of Robber Steak, or as I like to think of it, Robbed Steak, as I’ve robbed it of everything but the beef! Basically it’s my recipe for Beef Skewers. As I’m allergic to the chilli family, which includes paprika and red peppers, I’ve used cumin, cinnamon and white pepper as my spices. Feel free to replace them with paprika. I think Hungarian paprika would be most appropriate. 🙂

Beef Skewers aka Robbed Steak

Special Equipment:
metal skewers or bamboo skewers (if using wooden skewers, pre-soak them for at least 30 minutes to prevent them from burning)

Ingredients
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
500g beef, cut into 2cm cubes
extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients
Make the marinade by placing all the ingredients, except the meat, in a bowl and stir until combined.
Add the meat, making sure it is fully coated in marinade.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight if possible.
Preheat the grill to high.
Thread cubes of beef onto the skewers.
Lightly brush with olive oil.
Grill, turning occasionally, for 10-15 minutes or until cooked to your liking.

The Dracula Tarot

A Duality Of Holidays

Halloween is my favourite time of the year – especially now that Australia has finally gotten into the spirit of things. Halloween candy and decorations compete for shelf space with xmas paraphernalia in stores, making it one of the rare times that I love to go shopping. As I go for walks around my neighbourhood, I’m rapt to see so many houses proudly showcasing ghoulish displays. The signs of Halloween are all around me, but so too are the signs of Beltane, the Spring festival that many southern hemisphere Pagans will be celebrating on October 31st.

On one of my morning walks, I was reminded that Spring is here when I saw an adorable tiger snake on the footpath. I watched, spellbound, and then took photos and video, from a very safe distance! I kept watch as the graceful creature slithered onto the road, making sure it made it safely across. The little snake found a nice place to rest and sun-bake while I continued on my walk. While a snake is a perfect symbol for Halloween, it’s also a perfect symbol for Beltane.

To celebrate northern hemisphere Halloween and southern hemisphere Beltane, I’d like to share a recipe that utilises apples, a fruit appropriate for both festivals. I found this recipe in a cozy mystery novel, appropriately called The Uninvited Corpse, from the Food Blogger Mystery series by Debra Sennefelder. All the recipes included in the book sounded divine, but it was the Cinnamon Apple Bread that had me heading to the kitchen.

The first time I made it I used a sweet red apple. The cake was very sweet and very delicious. The second time I used a green granny smith apple and it was perfect. To add a touch of Halloween to the recipe, I substituted pumpkin pie spice for the cinnamon. Pumpkin pie spice mix is a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and sometimes allspice. I’ve made a few pumpkin pie spice mixes, but my favourite combination is:
4 parts ground cinnamon
2 parts ground ginger
1 part ground cloves
1 part ground nutmeg

Spiced Apple Bread

Ingredients
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
1 + 1/2 cups flour
1 + 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 + 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a loaf pan with baking paper. (I used a 22cmx12cm / 9x5inch pan).
Mix together the brown sugar and spice. Set aside.
Sift together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and white sugar until smooth.
Beat in the eggs one at a time until combined.
Add the vanilla extract and mix until combined.
Mix in half of the flour mix followed by half of the milk and mix until combined.
Repeat with the other half.
Pour half the mixture into prepared pan.
Add half the apple and half the brown sugar. Press lightly into the batter.
Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Bake for 55-65 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to sit in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Happy Beltane and Happy Halloween!