Cooking With Alcohol

Rusty’s International Red Panda Day

Saturday the 19th is International Red Panda Day. IRPD is held on the third Saturday in September each year and is a day to celebrate all things red panda! Zoos around the world join in the celebration with a mix of live and online activities. You can find out more about IRPD and heaps of other red panda stuff at the Red Panda Network.

This year I will be celebrating IRPD with a very special addition to my fluffy and felty family – Rusty the Red Panda. Rusty is a famous escape artist red panda who escaped from the Smithsonian National Zoo in 2013. Luckily he was found safe and sound. You can read about his adventure in this Washington Post article.

It is no surprise that such an infamous red panda would make his way into Anne Belov’s The Panda Chronicles. Rusty has appeared in a number of her cartoons and is portrayed as a red panda activist. When Anne starting making felty versions of her Chronicles characters, she included Rusty and his famous protest signs. I think he is the perfect embodiment of IRPD!

Rusty is looking forward to celebrating IRPD with his new mate Kevin the Scorched Koala, another Chronicles critter who has emigrated Down Under. You can read Kevin’s story in A Tale Of A Felted Koala.

Naturally I wanted to make a special recipe for my new felty friend. Rusty’s name brought back memories of one of my favourite drinks – the Rusty Nail, which is made by mixing Scotch whisky with Drambuie, a honey and herb infused whisky liqueur. While researching the Rusty Nail I came across a variation which substitutes bourbon for the Scotch whisky and is called a Rusty Bob. I laughed as Bob T. Panda is one of the key characters in The Panda Chronicles! I was going to make both Rusty Nails and Rusty Bobs but then made a giant leap and turned these delicious cocktails into a rich and creamy dessert I call a Rusty Bob Cranachan. 

Cranachan is a Scottish dessert that is a delicious mix of raspberries, cream, honey, oats and Scotch whisky. Drambuie is sometimes added as a sweet optional extra. My version definitely includes Drambuie but, in the tradition of a Rusty Bob, substitutes the Scotch whisky with bourbon. Purists will be shocked, but I’ve always liked to cook on the wild side!

Rusty Bob Cranachan

Ingredients
(serves two)
1 tablespoon oatmeal
125g raspberries
3/4 cup double cream
1 tablespoon bourbon
1/2 tablespoon Drambuie
1 teaspoon honey

Instructions
Toast the oats in a frying pan over medium heat. Toss occasionally, being careful not to burn them, until they just start to brown and smell nutty, then remove from the pan and set aside.
Whisk together the cream, whiskey and Drambuie until just firm.
Fold in the oatmeal.
Put a few raspberries aside for serving and fold the remaining raspberries into the cream, being careful not to over-whip the cream.
Place in serving glasses or bowls.
Refrigerate for one hour or until chilled.
Top with reserved raspberries and drizzle with honey. 

Happy International Red Panda Day!

A Day For Mead

August 1st is Imbolc – the midway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is a time of hope, a time to remember that Winter is ending and Spring is on its way. Imbolc celebrates the return of Persephone as she takes leave from her role as Queen of the Underworld and returns to the Earth as a Goddess of Spring. Foods and drinks that are associated with Spring and the Sun are traditional Imbolc fare.

This year Imbolc coincides with Mead Day, which is celebrated on the first Saturday in August. Mead Day was created as way to forge friendships within the mead making community and to introduce (or reintroduce) the rest of us to the joy that is mead. 🙂 Mead is made by combining honey with water and yeast. Additional flavourings can be added such as fruits , herbs and spices. It can be served straight, in cocktails or as a warmed mulled wine.

I was first introduced to mead at a Pagan festival many years ago and immediately fell in love with its sweet and spicy honey flavour. I love drinking mead, but I also love cooking with it. Mead is a great addition to both savoury and sweet dishes, but especially to sweet ones.

To celebrate Imbolc and Mead Day I’ve made a mead cupcake with mead cream cheese frosting. If you can’t find mead, you can try substituting it with a sweet wine – the sweeter and stickier the better. The recipe can be scaled up and you can use the leftover egg yolk to make custard – with or without mead!

Mead Cupcake with Mead Cream Cheese Frosting
(serves one)

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

Ingredients
for the mead cupcake
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg white
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon shredded coconut
2 tablespoons mead

for the mead cream cheese frosting
1/4 cup (60g) cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons icing sugar
2 tablespoons mead

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and combined.
Beat in the egg white.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt.
Stir in the coconut and mix until just combined.
Add the mead and stir until just combined.
Spoon the batter into a silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan lined with a paper case.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the frosting by mixing together the cream cheese and icing sugar until combined.
Add the mead and mix until smooth and combined.
Dollop or pipe onto cupcake.
If the frosting needs to thicken before piping, place in the refrigerator for a sort time.

For The Blood Is The Life

There are three interesting events coming up – National Bat Appreciation Day, Orthodox Easter and Bram Stoker’s Deathiversary.

April 17th is National Bat Appreciation Day, a day when we are asked to remember the important role bats play in our lives. Bats are insectivores, which means they eat insects which helps keep insect numbers down. This is especially critical with mosquitoes. Bats are also pollinators which means they move pollen from male to female flowers which helps bring about fertilisation, thereby providing a vital link in our food chain. There are heaps of other interesting facts about bats and April 17th is a great day to learn more about them.

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This year April 17th is also Orthodox Good Friday. This doesn’t happen every year so it’s a fun coincidence. Orthodox Easter Monday will be celebrated on April 20th which is also Dracula author Bram Stoker’s Deathiversary – another fun coincidence. Perhaps a more disturbing coincidence is that all three events have a blood connection.

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While my favourite bat is the fluffy and cuddly Australian flying fox, I’ve always been fascinated by the cute and uncanny vampire bat. Vampire bats are connected to vampires, not only in name, but also by being blood suckers! There are other connections too as the vampire’s cape is reminiscent of bats wings and some vampires are depicted as sleeping upside down like bats rather than in coffins. Dracula can also turn into a bat when necessary. With all the competing Easter traditions such as bunnies and chocolate eggs, it is easy to forget that Easter is actually a celebration focussing on blood, death and rebirth. 

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To celebrate this trilogy of bloody connections I’ve made dyed red Easter eggs – with a twist! Colouring eggs red is meant to represent the blood of Christ which is shed on Good Friday. I’ve used red wine to colour my eggs as red wine is symbolic of blood in Christian rituals. (Knowing this connection it always amused me that Bela Lugosi’s Dracula never drank wine.) I’ve also added spices, which symbolise the spices that Jesus’ body was anointed with before burial. The eggshell represents the tomb and the egg signifies rebirth. An Easter tradition I grew up with was the egg cracking game where you try to crack the shell of your opponent’s boiled egg without cracking yours! Because I’m not a traditionalist, I had to break the rules by cracking shells and turning them into Chinese marbled eggs. But don’t worry, there are still some unbroken eggs to play with. 🙂

Red Wine Eggs

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Ingredients
6 eggs
1 bottle red wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 cloves
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks

Instructions
Place the eggs, wine, sugar, cloves, star anise and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan, making sure the eggs are fully submerged in liquid.
Cover and bring to a boil.
Once boiling, turn off the heat and allow the eggs to cook for 15 minutes.
Remove half the eggs from the saucepan and allow to rest until cool enough to touch. Gently tap them with the back of a spoon to crack shells, making sure to keep the shell intact. The deeper the cracks, the more flavour will penetrate.
Place the eggs back in the wine with the remaining eggs.
Allow to cool then refrigerate and steep for a few hours or overnight.
Remove the eggs from the wine and allow to dry.
Peel the cracked eggs to show off their marbling.
Use the remaining eggs to play the cracking game.

Letting Go And Leaping Forward

This New Year’s Eve we celebrate the end of not only another year, but another decade. The new year and new decade will also begin in a leap year!

A leap year is a year in which an extra day has been added to the end of February. In the Gregorian calendar, a year is normally 365 days. It takes the earth a little bit more than 365 days to revolve around the sun, so to keep the calendar year aligned with the seasonal or astronomical year, an extra day is added to the year every 4 years with some exceptions. (Any year that is exactly divisible by 4 is a leap year except if it is exactly divisible by 100 but not 400.)

So what is actually being leaped in a leap year? In the Gregorian calendar, a fixed date advances one day of the week year by year. So if March 1st falls on Monday one year then it will fall on Tuesday the next year, Wednesday the next and so on. When a leap year happens, this progression changes after February 29 and all fixed dates advance or leap a day. So if March 1st was going to fall on a Thursday the next year it will actually fall on a Friday if it’s a leap year. This happens all the way to the end of the next February when the daily progressions return to normal – until the next leap year.

The extra day that is added to a leap year is February 29. In numerology, the number 29 reduces to 11 (2+9) and then to 2 (1+1). February is also the 2nd month of the year so the number 2 is very important in a leap year. The two major arcana tarot cards that represent the numbers 11 and 2 are Justice which is card number 11 and the High Priestess which is card number 2.

image from the dracula tarot

Justice stands for balance, cause and effect, clarity, equality, fairness, impartiality, intellect, judgement, logic and truth. The Justice card aptly symbolises the leap year’s correction of the yearly imbalances the Gregorian calendar produces.

The High Priestess represents our descent into the unconscious mind, the land of dreams, visions, and hidden realms. The secret and magical world of the High Priestess may be reflected in the numerous myths and traditions that are associated with leap years. Part of that magic for me is knowing the legendary Bram Stoker died in a leap year!

To pay tribute not only to the upcoming leap year but also the end of the decade, I created the Let Go and Leap Forward tarot card spread which connects these two important events. It is based on the The Wheel of Fortune, which is card number 10 in the major arcana. The Wheel of Fortune is the card of destiny and explores the past, present and future. It symbolises our inability to control fate, no matter how hard we may try. It is a powerful card to work with when celebrating cycles of 10 such as the end of a decade.

Fortune

image from the dracula tarot

 

Let Go and Leap Forward Spread
This tarot spread uses only the 22 major arcana cards.
It will be in the form of two circles, one dealt anticlockwise and the other clockwise.

The Outgoing Decade
Shuffle the cards.
Deal 10 cards face down in an anticlockwise direction to form a circle.
These cards represent the themes that were significant to you in the outgoing decade. They provide insight into what successfully brought you to the turn of the decade.
Turn them over one at a time in an anticlockwise order. As you turn over each card reflect on its meaning, identify how it contributed to your last decade and whether it should be let go or will help you leap forward.
Once the 10 cards have been revealed, reflect on the themes that have become apparent and allow the understanding of how the past influences have positioned you for the future to sink in.

The Incoming Decade
Deal the next 10 cards face down in clockwise order, covering the first 10 cards.
These cards represent the influences that will become more significant over the coming decade.
Turn them over one at a time in clockwise order. As you turn over each card, reflect on its meaning and consider how it can assist you to leap forward.
Once the 10 cards have been revealed, reflect on the themes that have become apparent and allow the understanding of things that need to (or will) come into your life and/or be nurtured within it to settle within your mind.

The Leap Year Gifts
You have two cards remaining. These are only used when the start of the decade is a leap year. They signify the extra boost that the leap year gives.
Deal them face up side by side in the centre of the circle.
Consider the meaning of the cards and how they can help you move forward quickly.

Leap Year Recipe – Frog In A Pond
To celebrate leaping into the new year I made an adult version of an Australian childhood favourite. Frog In A Pond is a green gelatine dessert decorated with frog shaped chocolates. My version is a cross between the original childhood treat and an alcoholic jello shot – just perfect to ring in a new year and new decade!

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Ingredients
3 leaflets of gelatine
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup Midori or other green liqueur
2 chocolate frogs

Instructions
Soak the gelatine in cold water for 5 minutes.
Squeeze gelatine to remove excess liquid then place in a saucepan over a gentle heat.
Stirring once or twice, allow gelatine to melt.
Remove from heat.
Stir in the water and Midori.
Pour into two cocktail cups.
Place a chocolate frog into each glass.
Refrigerate until set.
If you want your frog to float on the surface, refrigerate until partially set, then add the frog. You can push it in as far as you like or just let it sit there.

A Day Of Gin And Tonics

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

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

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

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

Gin and Tonic Cupcake

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

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

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

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

Bites & Pieces

I celebrated the Winter Solstice weekend by launching my first travelogue cookbook!

It’s called Bites and Pieces of America: Exploring food and friendship in Whidbey Island, Salem, Boothbay Harbour and Boston. It’s filled with pieces from my trip last year from Australia to the USA where I got to visit a dear friend on Whidbey Island, celebrate July the 4th in Salem the Witch City, visit puffins in Maine and meet a baby sloth in Boston. There are also many bites of recipes from the foods that inspired me along the way.

While I’m hoping you’ll rush out and buy the book 🙂 I will share parts of the journey here. I’ll also include recipes that nearly made it into the book but just missed out like my Stout Pancakes (below). These are perfect for Winter in Australia. If you’d like pancake recipes that are more in tune with Summer – like Blueberry Pancakes or Carrot Cake Pancakes – you can find them in my book!

B&P cover 

Bites and Pieces is currently available from Lulu. An ebook is on the way and it will be in other online stores soon 🙂

Stout Pancakes

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Ingredients
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons maple sugar*
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup stout**
butter for frying

Instructions
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar into a large bowl. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and stout.
Add to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Heat a small amount of butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat.
Pour some batter into the pan. Remember that the bigger the pancakes, the harder they are to flip, so don’t make them too big.
Cook until bubbles start to form.
Flip and cook for a further 1 – 3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with your choice of toppings.
I like them with a good drizzle of pure maple syrup, golden syrup or honey.

*You can substitute brown sugar for the maple sugar.
**Try different flavoured stouts like chocolate or coffee ones. I used a maple flavoured stout.

By The Light Of A Scorpion Moon

Halloween falls between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. As an Autumn festival, many Australian Pagans and Witches celebrate Halloween on the 30th of April. I’m a bit of a traditionalist so I celebrate Halloween on the 30th of April AND the 31st of October. One Halloween a year is never enough!

April 30th is also Walpurgis Night – a night when spirits walk the Earth and witches are thought to fly through the night skies on their way to various celebrations. Bram Stoker hauntingly invokes the spirit of Walpurgis Night in Dracula’s Guest, his short but compelling prequel to the novel Dracula. This quote by Stoker always sends a delightful chill down my spine:  

“Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.”

Bram Stoker was born in the sign of Scorpio so it’s not surprising he wrote so beautifully of hidden secrets and creatures of the night.

To add more magic, mystery and a touch of Stoker to April 30 activities in Australia, a Full Moon in Scorpio will be shining upon our festivities.

After an evening of celebrating Halloween, Walpurgis Night and a Scorpion Full Moon, I can think of no better way to end my evening than with a bowl of soul warming soup. Pumpkins and apples are traditional Halloween fare and I never say no to a good drop of alcohol, either in a glass or in my soup!

Pumpkin & Apple Cider Soup

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Ingredients
1kg butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into cubes 
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup apple cider
cream for serving

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
Place the pumpkin into a baking pan.
Add the oil, rosemary and salt.
Toss until combined.
Bake for 30 minutes or until cooked.
While the pumpkin is baking, prepare the soup.
Heat the butter in a large saucepan.
Add the celery and cook until soft but not browned.
Stir in the apples.
Pour in the stock and apple cider.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat to a simmer.
Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until the apple is cooked.
Add the roasted pumpkin to the soup.
Blend the soup with a stick blender until smooth.
Pour into bowls and serve with a splash of cream.

Moon Days

When I went to buy my pocket diary for 2018, I noticed many of them had the first day of the week as Sunday. This was disturbing to me, as I think of Monday as the start of the week and Sunday as the end. When I look at my page a week diary, I like to see what I have planned for my weekdays and weekend in one glance. I don’t want to have to turn a page to see what is happening on Sunday.

As I checked diary after diary I was losing hope that I would find a diary with my preferred formatting. Finally, at the bottom of the pile, I found one! I was so happy – especially as the cover was black. In fact it’s exactly the same brand as my 2017 diary. I’ll have to start looking much earlier for my 2019 diary as it seems I’m not the only one who wants to start their week on Monday.

Starting the week on Monday is more than just a way of staying in tune with the common separation of working and leisure days. Monday is named after the Moon and, as it is lunar cycles that resonate most with me, it seems fitting that I begin my week on the Moon’s Day. I was happy that 2018 began on a Monday as it reconfirmed my lunar commitment. January 1st was also the eve of the Cancerian Full Moon. The monthly lunar cycle is very time specific so you need to make sure you know where the Moon is in your time zone. When I give Moon cycle dates they are for Melbourne, Australia. Having January 1st fall on a Monday and on the eve of a Full Moon is a wonderfully powerful way for me start a new year.

As part of my new year celebrations I am going to try a ritual which I just found out about. I caught up with one of my friends a couple of days ago and she told me she spent New Year’s Eve in a forest with a group of “alternative” friends. 🙂 Sitting by a campfire they introduced her to a ritual called “Rose, Thorn, Bud.” The rose represents what came to fruition in the year just passed, the thorn represents the snags that held us back and the bud symbolises a seed that has been planted and will hopefully bloom in the new year. After telling me her Rose, Thorn and Bud revelations Jenny eagerly asked me what I thought mine were. I thought about it and gave her an answer, but what I was really thinking was that it was a beautiful ritual and I wished I knew about it before New Year’s Eve and not after!

Luckily, living a Pagan life means there are many times of the year when we can celebrate a symbolic New Year’s Eve. The upcoming Capricornian New Moon is one such time. It’s a perfect night to devise your own version of a Rose, Thorn and Bud ritual.

Pagans love ending their rituals with food and drink. I thought I would make it easy by combining the two in a cherry and wine offering. Cherries are part of the Rose family so they are a perfect food to enjoy after a Rose, Thorn and Bud ritual.

Cherries in Red Wine

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Ingredients
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup red wine (I used Shiraz)
1 cup pitted fresh cherries (about 225g / 8oz)

Instructions
Bring the water and brown sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan.
Add the red wine and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the cherries and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove from heat.
Cover and allow to cool before refrigerating until cold.
Serve in cups so you can drink the wine after you’ve eaten the cherries.

The Austen Tea Room

A Tale Of Two Valentines, my first post about Valentine’s Day, was about love and death and the history of the day. As we move toward another Valentine’s Day, the shadow of death moves with me.

Someone very dear to me passed away just after xmas. Although neither of us were Eastern Orthodox any more, we were both born into that religion and some of the traditions still have special significance for me. One such tradition is the ritual performed on or around the 40th day after a death.

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In Orthodox theology, the soul of the departed stays on earth for 40 days after death. The soul wanders around, visiting their home and places of personal importance. Many rituals are performed during this period to help the soul on its journey. On the 40th day, the soul leaves the earth. This final departure is celebrated with family and friends. Rituals are performed culminating in a meal, usually eaten at the grave or at the home of the departed. Traditional funeral foods and the favourite foods of the departed are served. It is a time of celebration and the ending of the official mourning period for most involved.

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As the 40th day approached, I wondered what I would to do to honour this ritual. A visit to her grave was a must. But what about food? It was an important part of our relationship. We loved going out to eat and we spent most of our visits together talking about food and recipes. I thought about making one of her favourite dishes and bringing it to the grave but it didn’t feel right. Then, while doing research for an unrelated event, I found the perfect solution – The Austen Tea Room – a tearoom honouring the late and great romantic writer Jane Austen. Located halfway between my home and the cemetery, it was the perfect place to have a a celebratory funeral meal.

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The Austen Tea Room brings us right back to Valentine’s Day. What could be more romantic than dining under the watchful gaze of the creator of Mr Darcy! I had a toasted cheese and ham sandwich with coffee followed by scones with jam and cream and a pot of tea. The surroundings in the cafe section were informal but the rooms where the high teas are served were incredible. I am definitely going back for high tea.

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I must admit that I have read only one of her books – Northanger Abbey – but I do love the television and movie versions of Pride and Prejudice – especially Pride, Prejudice and Zombies! I also own the Tarot of Jane Austen 🙂

The scone recipe below is not traditional, but you can serve it with traditional jam and cream. I wanted something different so I went with butter and maple syrup which works really well with sparkling wine.

Sparkling Scones

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Ingredients
2 + 1/2 cups self raising flour
200ml cream
200ml sparkling wine
butter for serving
pure maple syrup for serving

Method
Preheat oven to 225C / 440F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Sift flour into a medium sized bowl. Add cream and sparkling wine. Mix together until just combined.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead into a 4cm thick square. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares.
Place scones so they are just touching on baking tray.
Bake for 12 – 15mins or until golden brown and cooked through.
Serve with butter and maple syrup or your choice of accompaniments.

 

Mixing It With The Locals

My partner Paul and I were talking recently about the concept of a local bar. Growing up watching tv shows, “the local” was a place you could drop in after work, have a drink, catch up with friends and generally unwind before going home. Cheers is a perfect example. Not only does everyone know your name, but they also know your drink!

The closest either of us had come to a local bar was when we were at University. Our uni was the only one that had an actual bar on campus. I lived on campus, so it really was my local. I loved going there. No matter what time of day or night, I was bound to bump into someone I knew. I’d drop in for a beer before a lecture or pop in afterward for a couple of rounds. Lunchtime was great, as we all caught up around plates of chips and gravy. I later discovered that the Canadians have a similar dish – poutine. While the staff didn’t know our names or our drinks, it was still a great place to unwind before hitting the books for a long night of study.

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After leaving uni, we never really found a favourite place to drink. The closest we came recently was our local cafe, Corinthians. With great food and great coffee, combined with wonderful staff, it soon became our favourite coffee place. The staff are friendly, they know our names and, very importantly, they know how we take our coffee! But it’s not a local bar, and not just because it doesn’t sell alcohol. While the staff are great they are always on the run and don’t have time to sit down for for a chat. Nor are there other regular patrons there we know, so there is no communal catching up. It’s just Paul and me having a damn good coffee – and it is damn good coffee! Occasionally we may catch up with a friend or bump into one but that is not the norm.

And then it happened. Last year a craft beer bar opened just down the road from us. Could this be the local we so dearly desired?

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The moment we walked into Hopheads we loved it. From the graffiti style logo on the wall, to the 8 beers on tap, to the shelves stocked with interesting and tantalising libations, we knew we had found a gem. And we weren’t the only ones! Over the year, a steady group of regulars have come together to drink and catch up with each other. I never thought I would be as excited to see friends as I was to drink beer 🙂 But that’s what Hopheads is like – it’s not just the drinking, but the socialising.

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Part of what makes Hopheads so wonderful are the owners – Adrian & Wai Lee. We have never been made to feel so welcome in an establishment than we have here. We hit it off with them straight away and were delighted we shared similar views on politics and life in general. Many an afternoon and evening has been pleasantly spent drinking and engaging in riveting conversation. They not only welcomed us, but our dogs too 🙂

We didn’t know what to expect when Hopheads opened. We expected great beers and we got them (the beer is excellent). We hoped it would be a place where locals would congregate and have a good time and we got that too. We didn’t expect to meet people we genuinely care about and to form deep friendships, but we have. What we really didn’t expect was the depth of friendship that blossomed between the owners and us. Adrian and Wai Lee are more than just publicans who know our names and know what we drink. They are dear and cherished friends with whom we have shared a turbulent year. We look forward to sharing many more years of friendship – and many many more beers!

One of my favourite ways of cooking with beer is Beer Can Chicken. I’m allergic to chilli so I use a mild spice rub. You can make your own spice rub based on what you like. If you have room and want something sweet afterwards, you can make these Beer and Bacon Cupcakes!

Beer Can Chicken

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Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly grated turmeric
1 tablespoon mixed dried herbs
1 free-range chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can of beer

Method
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Position the oven rack low enough to accommodate the height of the chicken on the beer can.
In a small bowl mix together the salt, turmeric and mixed herbs. Set aside.
Remove any giblets from inside the chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
Rub the chicken all over with olive oil. Using the spice rub, season the inside cavity of the chicken, and the outside of the chicken, rubbing well into the skin.
Drink half the beer.
Place the beer can in the middle of the baking tray. Carefully place the chicken on the beer can so it is sitting upright and the can is inserted into the chicken. Position the chicken legs so they help stabilise the chicken on the can. You want the can to hold the majority of the weight and the legs to stop it from falling over.
Place the chicken in the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes per 500g plus an extra 20 minutes. Check every 20 minutes and baste if there are any juices.
The best way to check if the chicken is cooked is by placing a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh or the breast without touching the bone. It should be approximately 82C / 180F.
Allow to rest for 10 minutes before removing from beer can.
To remove the chicken, hold the chicken upright with one hand and a pair of tongs then use your other hand to carefully wiggle the can free using another pair of tongs or by wearing a heat-proof glove. Work over a sink or in the baking tray being very careful of the hot liquid inside the can.