Food & Drink

Spring Crumble

The Spring Equinox is here again! This year it falls on Friday the 23rd of September. The Equinox symbolises balance as the hours of day and night are roughly equal on this night. After the Spring Equinox, our hours of daylight will slowly increase and the days will become longer than the nights as we head towards the Summer Solstice.

The Spring Equinox usually makes me feel like doing a spring clean. Sometimes it’s house cleaning, sometimes it’s cleaning up my emotional and spiritual state. This year I’m spring cleaning my living space! A collapsing clothes cupboard has forced me to take a look at my storage and has inspired me to do a big clothing purge.

Seeing my crumbling wardrobe made think of a fruit crumble, but rather than a sweet one I decided to make a savoury zucchini crumble. Vibrant green zucchini, combined with a light filling and topping, is a refreshing way to celebrate the Equinox and prepare for upcoming spring cleaning.

Zucchini Crumble

Ingredients
for the filling
500g zucchini, finely grated
1 tablespoon semolina
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
125g feta

for the topping
1 cup wholemeal flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
80g unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Lightly oil a 24cm x 18cm baking dish.
To make the filling:
Squeeze zucchini, making sure all liquid is extracted, then place in a bowl.
Add the semolina, rosemary, salt and feta and stir until just combined.
Spread the mixture into prepared dish.
To make the topping:
Add the flour and salt to a separate bowl.
Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips.
Add the nuts and continue mixing until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Sprinkle the topping over the zucchini mix.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the topping is lightly browned.

Sweet Tea For A Bloody Countess

August 21st is Elizabeth Bathory’s deathiversary. It’s also National Sweet Tea Day. When I realised this, I couldn’t help picturing Elizabeth sipping a sweet tea. Seeing as two of her epithets are the “Blood Countess” and “Countess Dracula”, maybe it isn’t sweet tea she is sipping.

Countess Elizabeth Bathory (born 7 August 1560 – died 21 August 1614) was a Hungarian noblewoman who was accused of torturing and murdering young girls. Bathory was eventually tried and convicted as a serial killer. She was imprisoned in her castle until her death. There is ongoing debate as to whether Elizabeth Bathory was a blood thirsty murderer or the victim of a witch hunt.

As a wealthy and influential landowner, there were many reasons to discredit her and take her land and power. This has led to questioning how the evidence brought against Bathory was gathered. Some testified that they had not seen her commit crimes but had heard stories about her while the eyewitness accounts from Bathory’s servants were mostly gained through torture. The enduring tales of her drinking and bathing in the blood of virgins to retain her youth appear to have been written after her death. Whether guilty or innocent of these crimes, Elizabeth Bathory has lived on in folklore, especially in vampire mythology.

And now onto something sweeter than blood – Sweet Tea!
National Sweet Tea Day is a day to enjoy the pleasures of a refreshing glass of iced sweet tea. The difference between sweet tea and iced tea is that sweetener is added to the tea at the time of brewing. National Iced Tea Day is celebrated on June 10.

To celebrate National Sweet Tea Day, I’ll be enjoying a sweetened Earl Grey tea. To pay tribute to the contribution Elizabeth Bathory has made to vampire mythology, I’ll be adding a slice of blood orange. It won’t be chilled either as I believe that tea, like blood, should be served warm.

Happy Drinking!

Imbolc Delight

As the wheel slowly turns toward Spring in the southern hemisphere, many are getting ready to celebrate Imbolc on August 1st.

Imbolc is the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It brings the promise of Spring in the midst of cold Winter weather. Nights are still cold but the days are warming as nature begins to slowly awaken from a Winter slumber. It’s a beautiful time of year and one of my favourites.

One of the things I like to start thinking about at Imbolc is spring cleaning. This year I began with my pantry and found a bottle of rose syrup that I had forgotten I had. I decided to use some of it to make a rose syrup jelly (jello) that reminds me of Turkish delight. Rose syrup is a syrup made from rose water with sugar added. If you don’t have rose syrup you can use rose water but you may have to add extra sugar to get that sweet flavour of Turkish delight.

I added hibiscus tea to my jelly as I wanted to get a nice pink colour. I also find the tartness of hibiscus balances out the sweetness of the rose syrup. If you don’t have hibiscus tea, you can add food colouring or just enjoy the almost pink blush of the jelly.

Rose Syrup Jelly

Ingredients
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 titanium strength gelatine leaf*
1 tablespoon rose syrup
1 tablespoon hibiscus flower tea leaves
cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Soak gelatine sheet in cold water for 5 minutes.
While the gelatine is soaking, place the water and sugar in a small saucepan and gently heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Squeeze out gelatine sheet and add to the saucepan.
Remove from heat.
Stir once or twice until the gelatine has melted.
Stir in the rose syrup and hibiscus tea.
Steep for 3-5 minutes.
Strain into a heatproof jug.
Allow to cool then pour into serving bowls or glasses.
Cover and refrigerate until set.
Serve with cream if desired.

*check the strength of your gelatine leaves and use as many as you need to set 1 cup of liquid.

Some Assembly Required

National Cream Tea Day is a British food day that is celebrated on the last Friday in June. This year it was celebrated on June 24th. I didn’t get to celebrate on Friday, but any day is a great day to celebrate the delight that is a cream tea!

National Cream Tea Day was created by two companies, one that specialises in cream – Rodda’s Clotted Cream and one that specialise in jams and preserves – Wilkin and Sons Tiptree. National Cream Tea Day is a fun day that encourages people to get together over a cream tea and raise money for charities. Both companies donate cream and jam for events through their joint organisation, The Cream Tea Society.

Apart from cream and jam, a cream tea needs scones to dollop the cream and jam onto, and lots of tea to wash them down with. The scone recipe I’ve chosen is not a classic British recipe but one from an Ikea cookbook called Hey Flavours! Children’s First Cookbook. Luckily you won’t need an Allen key to assemble these scones! If you’d like to know more about cream teas, and what order you should put the cream and jam on your scone, you can go to my previous post, The Battle Of The Cream Tea.

Scones
I was drawn to these scones as they are made with yoghurt instead of milk, which sounds delicious! I’ve tested them thoroughly and they do also taste delicious.

Ingredients
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
50g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup yoghurt

for serving
jam
cream
tea

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
Add the butter and, using your fingers, rub it into the flour.
Add the yoghurt and mix into a dough.
Place dough onto a floured surface and flatten until approximately 2cm thick.
Use a glass or cookie cutter to cut into round shapes.
Place onto prepared tray and sprinkle with a little flour.
Bake for 10 – 12 minutes.

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.