Food & Drink

Wake The Dead Cake

Saturday the 20th of April is Bram Stoker’s 107th deathiversary. To celebrate, I thought I would play around with a recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks – Death Warmed Over by Lisa Rogak. This cookbook is a collection of recipes and customs from different countries and religions around the world with a common theme of death. The recipe I have chosen is an Irish Wake Cake, in honour of Bram who was born in Ireland on the 8th of November, 1847.

Irish Wake Cake

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Ingredients
for the cake
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup mixed peel*
1 + 3/4 cups flour
1 + 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
170g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
80g (3oz) cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup buttermilk

for the glaze
1/2 cup icing (powdered) sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons brewed black tea**

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line a 22cm (9inch) loaf pan with baking paper.
Place the currants and mixed peel in a small bowl.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl.
Add 1/4 cup of the flour mix to the dried fruit and toss until the fruit is coated in flour.
Place the butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat until fluffy.
Add the eggs one a time and beat until combined.
Add the cream cheese and beat until combined.
Add 1/3rd of the flour mixture and 1/3rd of the buttermilk to the batter and mix until combined. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk.
Add the dried fruit and mix until combined.
Pour batter into prepared baking pan.
Bake for 1 hour and 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before placing on a wire rack placed over a tray.
Make the glaze by combining the icing sugar and tea together in a bowl.
Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake and allow to cool completely before serving.

*the original recipe just uses currants. I substituted half the currants for mixed peel as I like the flavour and texture.
**the original icing is a lemon icing. I substituted the lemon juice with black tea as I was curious to see how it would taste and used Earl Grey to compliment the citrus notes of the mixed peel.

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A Tale Of An Unripe Avocado

Every month our big chain supermarkets put out free cooking magazines which I love collecting. It’s an obvious advertising ploy as the recipes “encourage” you to use their supermarket brands. While I’m not usually interested in buying their products, I am interested in their recipes. 🙂 One of the recipes I couldn’t wait to make was an Avocado and Pistachio Cake. 

I bought my ingredients and eagerly waited for my avocado to ripen. Squeezing it every day, it finally felt ripe enough to use. I got my ingredients ready but left the avocado for the end as I didn’t want it to go brown. With a bench full of measured ingredients, the oven preheated and the pan ready, I cut open the avocado only to discover it wasn’t ripe. Instead of a beautiful soft inside, ready to be scooped out into the cake mix, it was tough as rubber and definitely not cake-friendly! 

Thinking quickly I grabbed a ripe banana that I had waiting for another recipe and substituted it for the avocado. The result was a delicious and aromatic banana cake that I would definitely make again! 

The recipe included a lemon icing which I omitted as the cake is sweet enough from the banana. As I wasn’t icing the cake, I didn’t have to wait for it to cool completely so I had a couple of slices warm from the oven. You can ice the cake if you like but I do recommend eating some while it’s still hot. And yes, I do plan on making this cake with avocado, I’ll just make sure I cut the avocado before I start.

Banana and Pistachio Cake

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Ingredients
70g shelled pistachios
70g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1 large ripe banana, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup almond meal

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 10cm x 21cm loaf pan with baking paper.
Process the pistachios in a food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a bowl until combined.
Add the banana and vanilla extract and beat until combined.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
Stir in the flour, baking powder, almond meal and pistachio meal until the mix is smooth.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes.
Slice and eat while warm or place on a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

Autumnal Nights

The Autumn Equinox is here and I’m excited. Even though there still may be hot days ahead, the Autumn Equinox signals a shift in power between day and night. The Equinox is a time of balance, a time when the hours of day and night are relatively equal. After the Autumn Equinox, the long days and short nights will slowly be overtaken by shorter days and longer nights. As a creature of the night, I’m looking forward to a return to the dark half of the year.

One of the things I love doing in cool weather is curling up with a good book. The one I’m reading now is The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, edited by Kate White. It is a collection of over 100 recipes from mystery writers. Each recipe is accompanied by fascinating facts about the author and their murderous works.

My recipe below is adapted from Margaret Maron’s recipe for Granny Knott’s Baked Toast which is a French toast recipe which gestates overnight before being baked and devoured the next day. I’ve added autumnal gingerbread spices to the recipe and serve it with an optional scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Gingerbread French Toast
“An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread,” wrote William Shakespeare in Love’s Labour’s Lost. This delicious and warming bread is definitely worth a penny or two.

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Ingredients
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
75g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons treacle*
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
brioche loaf**
2 eggs
1 + 1/2 cups milk

for serving
vanilla ice cream (try experimenting with different ice cream flavours)
maple syrup

Instructions
Sprinkle the sugar over the base of a 20cm x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) baking pan.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
Add the treacle, ginger, cinnamon and cloves and stir until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Cut brioche into enough 1.5cm (1/2 inch) slices to fit snugly into the baking pan.
Place the slices in the pan.
Beat the eggs in a bowl.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Pour over the bread.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
While the oven is warming, remove pan from fridge.
Carefully pour any unabsorbed liquid into a bowl, making sure you don’t disturb the bread.
Spoon over the top of the bread.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the top is browned.
Serve with a dollop of ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

*you can substitute molasses for the treacle.
**you can use any heavy bread like sourdough or wholemeal.

Lammas Down Under

February 1st is Lammas or Lughnasadh in the Southern Hemisphere. In the pagan calendar it marks the halfway point between the Midsummer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It is the first of the harvest festivals and the first autumn festival of the year. It is a time of thanksgiving and sacrifice. The name Lammas is derived from an Old English term for “loaf mass” while Lughnasadh is derived from the name of the Celtic God Lugh.

Back in my coven days we followed a Celtic calendar so we celebrated Lughnasadh. When I left the coven I tried to continue embracing this ritual but found it difficult. Using the name Lammas rather than Lughnasadh helped as I could focus on bread and the harvest rather than a male Celtic God. Unfortunately Lammas is celebrated in Australia during the hottest time of the year. Temperatures soar, days are hot and sticky and nights are warm and muggy. It’s hard to get into the spirit of a festival focussing on baked goods when you yourself are baking as long and hot as a Lammas loaf. So instead of baking bread, I thought I would concentrate on the thanksgiving part of Lammas and make a sandwich I had on a recent trip to the USA. 

One of the things I am really grateful for is being able to visit my dear friend Anne on Whidbey Island in Washington State. She was a great host and tour guide and took us to some fantastic places to eat. For our last meal on the island we had lunch at Pickles Deli. There was so much on offer so I took my time devising the perfect sandwich. For the fillings I chose turkey with cranberry sauce and mayonnaise. This combination always makes me think of a thanksgiving dinner. Feeling adventurous, I did something I have never done before, I chose lettuce leaves instead of bread as my wrapping. My bread-free sandwich was a light and fresh taste sensation!

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The great thing about this sandwich wrap is that you can make it with homemade ingredients or store-bought ones and you can also substitute chicken for the turkey. I’ve made it many ways and they have all been delicious.

You can read more about my travels and recipes from Whidbey Island and other parts of the USA in my book Bites and Pieces of America. 🙂

When Life Gives You Peaches

Make peachade!

Some friends of ours went strawberry and peach picking and were kind enough to drop off some of their fruit for us to enjoy too. We ate the sweet and succulent strawberries with lashings of cream. We then ate a couple of the ripe and juicy peaches and made the rest into lemonade. The weather is heating up in Australia so I’ll be keeping cool with this sweet, refreshing and hydrating drink.

Peach Lemonade

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Ingredients
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
4 peaches, pitted and cut into segments
3/4 cup lemon juice

Instructions
Bring the water, sugar and peaches to a boil in a medium saucepan.
Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes or until the peaches are tender.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Place in a blender and blend until smooth.
Strain into a jug using the back of a spoon to squeeze as much juice as possible from the peaches.
Stir in the lemon juice.
Place in the refrigerator to chill.
Use as a cordial, adding as much juice as you like and topping it up with soda or mineral water.

Gothic Meditations

It’s been a long time since I’ve knocked on a stranger’s door for an esoteric experience. The first time was over 30 years ago when I was invited to a witches coven meeting. There were so many reasons why my hand was shaking when I knocked on that door. As an introvert, walking into a room filled with strangers had its own set of terrors. The fact they were witches was only one of them! Three decades later I was knocking on another stranger’s door. This time it wasn’t witches I was meeting. I was here to participate in a “Meditations on Death” workshop. I couldn’t wait to get inside!

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I walked into a room where a diverse group of people were sitting on cushions. I found a cushion with a cupboard behind me so I could sit in a comfortable position. As expected, we all had different backgrounds and different reasons for being there. Some had friends or family members who were dying, others had been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and a few just wanted to be comfortable with the concept of death. I was there continuing my life long journey of exploring death in all its forms. The only thing we all had in common was that one day we would die. But the point of the workshop was not to see that truth as morbid, but rather to use it to empower our lives.

The workshop explored the different ways we have viewed death historically and from different cultural perspectives. I found my head was nodding in agreement with many of the things our host was saying. As a Goth, I am comfortable in the world of the dead. But as the workshop continued, I found myself reflecting on how I was brought up. Coming from an Eastern European background, death was no stranger to me. I grew up on stories about the horror of war, pain, loss and death. I was taught from a young age how precarious life is and how easily it can be taken away. These lessons weren’t meant to instil fear, but rather to highlight how precious life is. Understanding the fragility of life and how close we are to death at any moment, can be liberating. It can help you live your life more fully because you don’t know how long you have left. At least that’s the way I have always viewed it.

Another lesson I learned growing up was that accepting death as a natural part of life doesn’t stop you from feeling pain and loss when loved ones die. Quite the opposite actually. As the workshop wound its way to a conclusion, my thoughts roamed to the elaborate death rites and rituals I grew up with. Some of them were challenging, like kissing a dead body in a coffin, others were less extreme. All of them were ways of dealing with the loss of a departed loved one, the need to say goodbye and the importance of moving on. It was during these reminiscences that I had the most disturbing thought of all – I was raised by Goths! I had always thought my love of vampires had turned me into a Goth but I realised I had been born into a culture where being a Goth was a way of life and death. As I pondered on these revelations, the workshop moved on to the next stage and the one I was really looking forward to – a death bed meditation!

We were first asked to stretch out on the floor if we were comfortable to do so. I pushed away from the cupboard and stretched out. With my eyes closed, I listened as our guide asked us to feel what it would be like to die. We began by releasing from our bodies each of the four elements in turn. It was an extraordinary experience. When it came time to release the element of air, I had a minor panic attack. Being claustrophobic, I hate being in situations where I feel like I can’t breathe. Being asked to feel like all the air was pushed out of my body had me almost physically clawing at the air. I really did feel like I was dying and I was surprised at how panicked I felt.

Calming myself, I continued with the meditation and was rewarded with some extraordinary insights and a feeling of peace. But there was pain and sadness too. I don’t want to die, but one day I will. All I can do is live my life as best I can. Experiencing this symbolic death was more powerful than I thought it would be. I left the meditation will many things to ponder. But the one thing I was truly grateful for was that I was born and raised a Goth.

Black Tahini Cookies
To ground myself after esoteric explorations I always have something to eat and drink. I thought a plate of black cookies and a pot of black tea would be most appropriate. I used black tahini as a natural food colour and because I love tahini. These biscuits are really strong in flavour so you can try substituting the tahini with peanut butter or another nut butter and adding a few drops of black food colouring if you like.

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Ingredients
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup caster sugar
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup black tahini
1+1/2 cups plain flour

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 320F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Mix together the sugars, butter, beaten egg and vanilla in a large bowl until combined.
Add the tahini and mix until combined.
Add the flour and mix until combined.
Place tablespoons of batter on prepared trays, flattening slightly with a fork.
Bake for 10 – 15 minutes. The shorter they cook the softer they will be. 
Allow to rest for 5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Cosy To A Tea

When you’re rumoured to have the best scones in Sydney you better deliver! Happily the Tea Cosy did just that. When we arrived we were greeted by a long queue of people eager to sample the Tea Cosy’s world-famous scones. We debated whether we should wait or leave, but when we saw the trays of scones being delivered to lucky tables, we eagerly joined the queue.

Located in Sydney’s famous Rocks area, the Tea Cosy is a heritage listed terrace house transformed into a sumptuous tea house. Adding to the old-world ambience are eclectic decorations and artworks which are scattered throughout the grand house. There are a variety of eating areas downstairs and a staircase leads to extra eating spaces upstairs including a few tables out on the balcony. The tables are decorated with baskets of wool with knitting needles and I watched lots of people knitting while they waited for their orders to arrive. A few patrons were chilly and they were offered knitted rugs to keep them warm. It had such a cosy feel, I couldn’t wait to be seated. 

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After waiting a surprisingly short time, we were told we had a table upstairs on the balcony. This was just where I was hoping we would be seated! We had a lovely view of the street below which kept us entertained while we waited for our much anticipated afternoon tea.

Our pots of tea arrived, snuggled in knitted cosies, followed by scones, jams and cream served in baskets. I loaded my scones with jam and cream and bit into them. Wow! I have eaten a lot of scones in a lot of different places and these were some of the best. 

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Feeling nourished and nurtured we relaxed and watched as two curious birds paid us a visit. The Tea Cosy is one of those rare places that lives up to its name and reputation.

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Not sure whether to add jam or cream first on a scone? Check out my previous post on cream teas which also includes a recipe for a cupcake cream tea 🙂

Shakespeare Under The Stars

When Shakespeare’s Pop-up Globe came to Melbourne recently I was hoping they would stage Macbeth or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They didn’t. Happily the two shows we did see, Around The Globe In 60 Minutes and Henry V, were awesome so I wasn’t disappointed.

When it was announced that Shakespeare’s Pop-up Globe would be going to Sydney, I was annoyed to see that both Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were going to be performed. There was only one thing to do – go to Sydney!

I’ve never read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I had a rough idea of the plot. One thing I knew for sure was there were fairies. Imagine my shock when Titania, Oberon and Puck came onto stage, not as fairies, but as New Zealand Maoris. That was some surprise! It was then that I remembered that the Pop-up Globe began in Auckland, New Zealand. I was disappointed that there would be no fairies on stage, but also excited as I’m a big fan of New Zealand. I was very curious to see how this twist would play out.

If you had no idea what A Midsummer Night’s Dream was about, having one section of the play spoken in Maori would have been very confusing. Happily my limited knowledge of the play allowed me to follow what was happening on stage. It was jolting but fun to hear Maori spoken alongside Shakespearian English and to see traditional Maori costumes among the Elizabethan ones. If that wasn’t weird enough, the actors performing the play within a play were dressed as Aussie tradesmen. By the end of the performance I felt like I had been on a wild ride! I couldn’t wait for our next visit to the Globe.

It’s no surprise that Macbeth, a play that features three witches, is one that I have read and seen many filmic adaptions of. Unlike A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this was a more traditional production. The roles of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Macduff were brilliantly acted and gave me new insights into characters I thought I knew well. There was a school group in the audience, standing in the front section. Watching them, wide-eyed as the characters drew us into their emotional rollercoasters, was a stark reminder that Shakespeare was a playwright and his works are best enjoyed on the stage.

One of the reasons I love Macbeth is the witches and they did not disappoint! They commanded the stage and sent chills down my spine with their wicked performances as the three weird sisters. Like wraiths they moved, swayed and stalked across the stage while treating us to eerily sung songs that vibrated through our souls. At one point in the play the witches left the stage and came up behind the group of school children. Weaving through the audience, they scarily reached out to the school children while the children shrieked and tried to run away. I wonder if I was the only one in the audience who wanted to run down and join the witches? The whole play was a grand spectacle from start to end. It was well worth the trip to Sydney. I hope I get to see more performances of this incredible play.

Posset
To aid in the murder of King Duncan, Lady Macbeth drugs the possets of his guards so they will stay asleep while their King is slain. Modern possets, like my Lime Posset, are delicious, creamy desserts. The possets Lady Macbeth drugs were drinks made with warm, spiced milk mixed with either wine or ale. Some possets have beaten eggs added, much like an eggnog. As a fan of eggnog, I just had to add egg to my posset drink. However, unlike Lady Macbeth, I didn’t add a sleeping potion 🙂 

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Ingredients (per drink)
1/2 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
1 egg, room temperature
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup ale
freshly grated nutmeg for serving

Instructions
Combine milk, cinnamon, cloves and mace in a saucepan.
Gently bring to the boil over low heat.
Whisk together the egg and sugar in a heatproof bowl until fluffy.
Whisk the hot milk slowly into the egg.
Return to the saucepan.
Add the ale and whisk until warm but not boiling.
Pour into heatproof mugs.
Serve with a sprinkle of grated nutmeg.

Sydney Under The Stars

My home state of Victoria is famous for having a public holiday for a horse race. Now we are becoming infamous for having a public holiday for a football match. Actually, it’s a holiday for the day before the football match which makes it even stranger. I’m not complaining. I’m grateful for any public holiday we can get! And it’s on a Friday, which I think is a great day to start a long weekend.

This year we went to Sydney and stayed at the Ultimo Hotel which is purported to be the world’s first astrology hotel. Among the services they offer are astrology reading packages that you can add to your booking. We didn’t do this but there was still heaps of astrological fun to be had.

On arrival we were greeted in reception by staff eager to talk astrology. They had city guides based on your star sign and astrologically appropriate “do not disturb signs.” I told them I was a sun sign Taurus with a Moon and Rising Sign in Sagittarius so they gave me both the Taurus and Sagittarius city guides. They offered me both a Taurus and Sagittarius door sign too but I only took the Taurus one as it said all that needed saying!

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Shifting seamlessly from astrology to astronomy, I booked myself two tours at the Sydney Observatory. My first tour was at night. It was a full moon which isn’t great for star gazing but I loved it, especially when bats started flying around! Peering through the enormous telescope I got to see Mars and Saturn. On the day tour I got to see the Sun which is a real treat as you have to have a special filter on the telescope to view it. Many years ago I was lucky enough to see Venus (my ruling planet) transit the Sun. While this Sun viewing wasn’t as spectacular it was still amazing. Both tours ended with a visit to the planetarium which was fun and informative.

When I returned to the hotel I noticed a selection of “Astrolo-Teas” in reception. These teas are specially selected to match your star sign. I looked at the one for Taurus which was English Breakfast. Not bad! I love English and Irish Breakfast although my favourite tea is Earl Grey. I then went to the Sagittarius tea which was Lemongrass and Ginger. This was another great match as I love ginger tea. Naturally I wanted to experiment with these flavours when I got home. 

As the weather is heating up here, I wanted to make an iced tea. I decided to create a chai blend because it can be served hot or cold. I used English Breakfast for Taurus and added ginger for Sagittarius. The great thing is you can mix and match ingredients for your own personal taste or create a blend that you think reflects your astrological profile!

Astrological Iced Chai

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Ingredients
3 cups milk
4 cardamon pods
4 black peppercorns
4 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
30g fresh ginger, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons black tea leaves (I used English Breakfast)
2 tablespoons honey
ice cubes for serving

Instructions
Place the milk in a saucepan.
Crack the cardamon pods open and place the seeds and shells into the milk.
Crack the peppercorns and add to the milk.
Add the cloves, cinnamon stick and ginger to the milk.
Bring very slowly to the boil (you want it to take about 10 minutes) 
Once boiling add the tea leaves and simmer for 2-5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea.
Stir in the honey.
Strain tea and refrigerate until cold.
Serve over ice cubes.

Hot & Cold Equinoxes

This Sunday is the Spring or Vernal Equinox in Melbourne. It is the midpoint between Imbolc and Beltane. After the Spring Equinox there is a shift in power between day and night. The short days and long nights will slowly be overtaken by longer days and shorter nights. On the other side of the world the opposite is happening. The Autumnal or Fall Equinox is the midpoint between Lammas and Halloween. Following the Autumn Equinox, the long days and short nights will slowly be overtaken by shorter days and longer nights.

The Equinoxes offer us a moment of balance, when day and night are relatively equal. At the end of the Equinox, one part of the world will fall into spring and the other into autumn. In six months time we will meet again for a moment of balance before continuing in our oppositional seasonal dance.

A perfect blend between hot and cold, fried ice cream is a delicious symbol of the Equinoxes. One part frozen and icy, the other piping hot. Drizzled with syrup these golden orbs are a perfect treat for spring or autumn.

Fried Ice Cream

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Ingredients
6 scoops – approximately 500ml, best quality vanilla ice cream
2 eggs
1/2 cup plain flour, sifted
1/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
150g shortbread biscuits, finely crushed
2/3 cup rice crumbs
vegetable oil for deep frying (I use peanut oil)
golden or maple syrup for drizzling

Instructions
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Use a large ice-cream scoop to form 6, round scoops of ice cream.
Place on baking tray and freeze for 30 minutes or until firm.
Whisk together the eggs, flour, milk and sugar until smooth in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine biscuits and breadcrumbs.
Working quickly, dip ice-cream balls in batter then roll in crumb mix.
Return to tray and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Dip the balls in a second layer of batter and roll again in the crumb mix, making sure the balls are completely coated in crumbs.
Return to tray and freeze for at least 1 hour or overnight.
When ready to cook, heat oil in a medium sized pan to 185C / 365F.
Fry 1 – 2 balls at a time for 2 – 3 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
Serve immediately with a good drizzle of syrup.