Drinks

Spiders For Xmas

I have to thank Sheila Renee Parker for sharing a post about the Legend of the Xmas Spider. I mean how did I not know that spiders were a part of xmas!

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The Eastern European folktale tells the story of a poor family who cannot afford to decorate their xmas tree. During the night, spiders spin webs, weaving them around the tree branches. When the family awake on xmas day, their tree is shimmering with sliver webs. The story has a few variations but the basic theme is of a poor family whose xmas tree is decorated by helpful spiders.

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In honour of the spiders it is traditional in some parts of the world to hang spider ornaments on the xmas tree which serve as reminders of the act of charity performed by the spiders. Spiders on your tree – whether real or ornamental – are also symbols of good luck. Decorating your tree with tinsel is supposedly inspired by the Legend of the Xmas Spider with the sparkling tinsel taking the place of gossamer spider webs. Will you be adding a little arachnid touch to your xmas tree?

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Even though I’ll be celebrating the Summer Solstice, I will pay tribute to the xmas spiders by mixing up one of my favourite summertime drinks – a Spider! Similar to an Ice Cream Float or Ice Cream Soda, you simply add a scoop or scoops of your favourite ice cream into a large glass. Pour over any flavours like syrups, juices or alcohol then top with a carbonated beverage that can be non-alcoholic or alcoholic. The drink will bubble over so it can be messy. The bubbles are supposed to look like spiderwebs. Have fun experimenting with different flavour combinations for your Spiders.

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A Haunting Beltane

It has taken a long time for Australians to embrace Halloween and there are still many Aussies who loathe what they believe is an American holiday. Those of us who understand the history of Halloween, or Samhain, know that the tendrils of this ghostly and haunting night are rooted in the deep, dark past of many cultures. A night when the veils between the world of the living and the dead are thin, and the dead may walk amongst us again, is an ancient belief as old as time. It’s my favourite night of the year but, unfortunately for me, Halloween is six months away!

In the upside down world of the southern hemisphere, many Australian Pagans have chosen to celebrate seasonal festivals during the appropriate season. As Halloween is an autumnal festival, we celebrate it in April. But don’t worry, I won’t be missing out. I’ll be honouring Beltane, the spring festival that is the companion to Halloween. While Halloween focusses on death, Beltane celebrates life, fertility and regeneration. Life down under has started to wake. Plants are blooming, magpies are swooping and snakes are becoming (a lot) more active. Yet, amidst this noisy and colourful cacophony of life, I still see dead things, as the spectre of Halloween has finally arrived in Australia. I can think of no better way to celebrate life than with Halloween iconography and ghoulish children trick-or-treating.

Only one thing can make this night even better and that’s a drink featuring a Pagan favourite – mead. I added cloudy apple to the drink in tribute to The Wicker Man, my favourite Beltane/May Day film. The dash of ginger is a nod to the end of the film which does get very heated. 😉 With lines like “killing me won’t bring back your apples!” The Wicker Man is a great film suited to both Halloween and Beltane.

Wicker Man Mead

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Ingredients
1 teaspoon ginger cordial
1/4 cup cloudy apple juice
1 cup spiced mead
soda water
slices of cucumber
slices of lime

Instructions
Add the ginger cordial, apple juice and mead to a glass.
Pour in as much soda water as you like.
Top with cucumber and lime slices.

This makes enough for one drink but you can scale up the amounts to make a punch for a large crowd or if you are particularly thirsty. 🙂

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.

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.

Sounds Of Silence

It’s been a long time since I’ve suffered from laryngitis but twice this year I have lost my voice. The first time was in March, when I was on holiday in the USA. I didn’t want to ruin my trip, so rather than resting, I ran around in the rain, sightseeing and having fun. I paid for it when I got home but it was worth it! Last week I felt the same head cold developing followed by a loss of voice. This time I decided to take as much time off as I needed.

Not knowing how long I would need, I decided to spend my days rereading The Hollows series by Kim Harrison, featuring awesome witch Rachel Morgan. What a pleasure it has been to finish a book and then go straight on to the next one!  

For much needed hydration during my convalescence, I sipped homemade barley water. I grew up on barley water and have always thought of it as an old fashioned recipe. After doing some research, I discovered it was older than I thought, as barley water has been drunk since ancient times.

An ancient Greek version of barley water, called Kykeon, was consumed during the Eleusinian Mysteries which honoured the Goddesses Demeter and Persephone. Demeter was said to like her barley water flavoured with mint. I added honey and lemon to my version with sprigs of mint for Demeter.

Lemon Barley Water

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Ingredients
3/4 cup pearl barley
2 lemons, zested and juiced
6 cups water
1/2 cup honey
sprigs of mint (optional)

Instructions
Add the barley, lemon zest and water to a large saucepan.
Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Strain liquid into a heatproof container, discarding the barley and zest.
Add the honey and lemon juice and stir until the honey has dissolved.
Refrigerate overnight.
Serve with sprigs of mint or a herb of your choice.

A Twitch Of History

Growing up I hated learning history in school. Our lessons seemed to be focussed mainly on memorising dates which made history boring and devoid of life. Happily there was one place that taught history in a fun and exciting way. That place was my lounge room and the vehicle was Bewitched, one of my favourite television shows.

Throughout the eight seasons of this magical show, a bevy of historical figures were zapped into the future and forced to deal with the modern world. At other times characters were zapped back in time to experience history first hand. During the ensuing mayhem I learned so many things, not only about history, but about race relations, class prejudice and gender politics.

One historical lesson I thoroughly enjoyed was when Samantha and Darrin go for a holiday to Salem, Massachusetts. One of the places they visit is The House of the Seven Gables, an historic New England home and the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic novel of the same name. This episode features a spooky bedwarmer that follows Samantha and Darrin back to their hotel room at the Hawthorne Hotel, named after Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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Bedwarmer from the historic Altona Homestead in Melbourne

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born Nathaniel Hathorne in Salem on July 4th, 1804. It is believed that Nathaniel added the “w” to Hathorne to distance himself from his great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, a notorious lead judge in the Salem witch trials. Nathaniel used his ancestors as inspiration for many of his novels which explore colonial times and puritanical beliefs. He died on May 19th, 1864.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s deathiversary this Saturday is a special one for me. Last year I fulfilled a childhood dream to visit Salem Massachusetts and The House of the Seven Gables. I did this on July 4th, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthday. It was also Independence Day which added to the magic. My trip to Salem, and other parts of America, was so inspirational that I have written a book about it. I’ll be doing the final edit on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s deathiversary.

Before visiting The House of the Seven Gables for my own spooky adventure, I stopped in a cafe called Gulu-Gulu for a fortifying steamed milk drink. My version has a touch of Halloween pumpkin because I can never think of Salem without thinking of Halloween 🙂 

Pumpkin Pie Steamer

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Ingredients
I cup milk
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree, (homemade or canned)
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mix*
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
whipped cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Place the milk, pumpkin and spice mix into a blender and blend until smooth and combined.
Pour into a small saucepan.
Whisk over medium heat until warm.
Add the maple syrup and keep whisking until the milk is simmering but not boiling
Poor into a heatproof cup and top with whipped cream if desired.

*Pumpkin pie spice mix is a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and sometimes allspice.

This is my version:
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Mix the spices together in a small bowl.
Store unused spice mix in a spice container or small jar.

You can experiment with your own version but cinnamon should be the dominant spice.

White Solstice

The Summer Solstice in the southern hemisphere this year falls on Friday the 22nd of December at 3:28am. On the Summer Solstice, the sun reaches its zenith – its highest point in the sky. It is our longest day of the year.

As part of my summer celebrations, I went to a berry picking farm to load up on fresh berries. I bought enough to enjoy a few days worth of fresh berries and plenty to freeze for the rest of the year. As I was about to pay, I saw some strange white berries on the counter and asked what they were. They were whitecurrants. The staff said you could eat them just like that but that most people bought them to make sauces with. I’ve eaten redcurrants, but never whitecurrants, so I bought a punnet to see what they would be like.

On the drive home I started thinking of how I was going to use them. I was originally going to make a whitecurrant version of a redcurrant sauce, maybe with a bit of apple or apple juice. But when I tasted a few fresh ones, I quickly changed my mind. These tiny berries packed a punch with a tart sharpness mellowed by only a hint of sweetness. My first thought after tasting them was they would go great with gin and tonic! I immediately started thinking of the many ways I could play with a gin, tonic and whitecurrant combination. After a little experimenting and the addition of apple juice, I came up with a surprisingly delicious and refreshing concoction – perfect for the Summer Solstice.

White Currant Gin and Tonic

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Ingredients
3/4 cup whitecurrants, stems removed
3/4 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup gin
tonic water

Instructions
Place the whitecurrants and apple juice in a blender and blend until smooth.
Strain into a jug.
Stir in the maple syrup.
Divide the gin between two glasses.
Pour the juice evenly over the gin.
Top up with tonic water to taste.

Black Apples & Vernal Equinoxes

I was wondering why I was finding it hard to get excited about the Spring Equinox this weekend. Then it hit me. I’m in mourning for winter. The Spring or Vernal Equinox is a time of balance, when day and night are relatively equal. It signifies a change in power between day and night. After the Spring Equinox the day wins ascendancy as long nights are overtaken by longer days. My short cold days and comforting long nights are almost over. I will miss them but know they will return when the wheel spins its way to autumn once more.

To mourn the loss of winter I thought I would create a variation of a Black Velvet. The Black Velvet was supposedly created by a London bartender in 1861 to mourn the death of Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Consort, Prince Albert. The colour of the drink was meant to symbolise the colour of the black armbands worn by mourners. A Black Velvet is a mix of equal parts champagne or sparkling wine and stout. To make, fill a glass halfway with chilled sparkling wine or champagne then slowly top with chilled stout.

A Poor Man’s Black Velvet, also called Mud and Blood, is a variation of a Black Velvet which substitutes the sparkling wine or champagne for apple or pear cider. One way of serving either drink is to try slowly pouring the stout over the back of a spoon into the sparkling wine or cider. If done right, the stout will sit on the top and create a layered effect. I tried this but failed 🙂 If you can achieve the separation of colours, these Black Velvets would be perfect for the Equinoxes as they visually symbolise the balance between day and night.

While I am celebrating the Spring Equinox, I am also mourning the end of winter and its long cold nights which were warmed by comforting hot drinks. To commemorate this loss I thought I would make a warm and spicy mulled version of a Poor Man’s Black Velvet.
I’m calling it a Dark Queen’s Black Apple.

Dark Queen’s Black Apple

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Ingredients
1 orange
1/4 cup brown sugar
8 cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
2 cups apple cider
2 cups stout

Instructions
Using a knife or vegetable peeler, peel the skin from the orange leaving behind as much of the white pith as you can.
Place the orange peel and all the other ingredients into a saucepan.
Simmer gently over low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the drink is hot but not boiling.
Strain into heatproof mugs or glasses.
Refrigerate any leftover drink.
You can reheat it or drink it chilled.

Hot & Cold Lemonade

As winter slowly moves into spring, the weather in Melbourne goes topsy turvy. Yesterday was so warm and sunny I was wearing a teeshirt and sandals. This morning I’m rugged up in pyjamas and a dressing gown, listening to the rain pouring outside. That’s change of season time in Melbourne – and I love it!

Last week I celebrated the last nights of winter by visiting the Queen Victoria Winter Night Market. I was pretty excited as there were so many new food stalls and some of them had food I could eat!

I started with dessert because it’s one of the safest food groups 🙂 for me due to my allergies and sensitivities. (Also the queue was short and I had a feeling it would get longer.) I wasn’t disappointed with my huge serve of apple crumble with granola topping served with custard and ice cream.

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I wasn’t really looking for a drink but a stall selling hot buttered lemonade caught my eye.
Butter in lemonade? I just had to try it. It was as I suspected – fresh lemonade mixed with butter and a surprise hint of cinnamon and it was divine. The butter added a creamy element to the drink and helped balance the sweet acidity of the lemons. I loved that it was served hot. Excited at the new food on offer I continued my culinary journey.

As I wandered the food stalls I stopped and drooled at one serving polenta. A mound of soft, piping hot polenta was just waiting to be scooped up and topped with a choice of delicious accompaniments. My mouth watered as I wondered if any of the toppings had chilli or tomato. And then I saw them; fried polenta chips. My choice was made and my order quickly placed. As I bit into the crispy crust I was rewarded with a mouthful of that soft, creamy polenta. The dipping sauce of lemon myrtle mayonnaise paired beautifully with my buttered lemonade. It was a wonderful way to enjoy the last of our winter nights.

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I couldn’t get the hot buttered lemonade out of my mind so I just had to make some myself. I decided to make another one of my favourite lemonades – pink lemonade – and then turn it into a hot buttered lemonade. The recipe below makes about 3 cups of lemonade so you can have some cold and some hot – just like Melbourne weather!

Pink Lemonade
Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed ruby grapefruit juice

Instructions
Place the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan.
Heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Remove from heat. Set aside.
Pour the remaining 1 + 1/2 cups water, lemon juice and grapefruit juice into a jug.
Stir in the sugar syrup.
Place in the refrigerator and chill before serving.

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Buttered Pink Lemonade
Ingredients
1 teaspoon butter (or to taste)*
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup Pink Lemonade

Instructions
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
Add the cinnamon stick and juice.
Stir until the juice is cloudy and hot.
Pour into a mug or heatproof glass.

*my drink was quite buttery so you may want to experiment with the amount of butter and tailor it to your taste 🙂