Drinks

A Day For Red Pandas And Bamboo

International Red Panda Day was created by the Red Panda Network to promote the red panda and to find ways to fight for its survival. It is celebrated on the third Saturday in September. This year it falls on the 18th of September which is also World Bamboo Day. What a happy coincidence as bamboo is something red pandas love!

World Bamboo Day was created in the hopes it would increase global awareness about the importance of bamboo. The World Bamboo Organization encourages the use of bamboo in a sustainable fashion. They hope to introduce bamboo to new industries across the world and also protect traditional uses within local communities. The World Bamboo Organization is passionate about growing more bamboo around the world and have created the hashtag #PlantBamboo for this year’s celebrations.

Red pandas are all for planting more bamboo because they can’t survive without it. About 95% of their diet consists of bamboo. While the giant panda eats nearly every part of the bamboo, like the woody stem, the red panda is very selective and only eats the more nutritious leaf tips. They also eat tender bamboo shoots when they are available.

Thinking of red pandas enjoying nutritious bamboo tips reminded me of the bamboo leaf tea I bought a while ago. Bamboo tea is becoming popular as it is supposed to boost the immune system. It is good for the skin and can improve bone density. Bamboo tea also promotes healthy nail and hair growth, which may explain why red pandas have such beautiful, thick fur!

Bamboo tea has a subtle flavour, so you may need to experiment to find the right brew for you. I decided to pump up the flavour by using bamboo tea to make a spiced apple tea. This tasty tea can be served hot or enjoyed chilled as an iced tea. You can also make ice cubes with it and pop them into a gin or vodka cocktail. I mean why should pandas be the only ones having fun with bamboo! 🙂

Bamboo and Apple Tea

Ingredients
2 cups bamboo tea brewed to your liking
1 apple
1 cinnamon stick
4 cloves
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Instructions
Strain the tea into a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
Cut the apple into thick slices crosswise so you can see the star shaped core.
Add the apple slices, cinnamon, cloves and sugar to the boiling water.
Simmer for 15 minutes.
Strain and serve with a slice of apple if desired.

Midwinter Custard

As the wheel spins towards the winter solstice, I find myself craving the drinks of xmases past. Growing up, spiced eggnog was one of my favourite xmas drinks, especially if it had a good slug of rum or whiskey. Xmas is celebrated in summer down under, so a cool drink was the perfect tonic for the often warm weather typical for December.

As an Aussie Pagan, I celebrate the winter solstice in June, which in Melbourne is usually very cold. While I craved the creamy and boozy pleasures of an eggnog, I wasn’t too keen on sipping a chilled drink.

As I researched warm eggnog recipes, I discovered a drink called Southern Boiled Custard. Despite the name, the custard is not boiled but gently simmered and is usually served chilled like eggnog. While I loved the idea of drinking custard, I was still keen to find a warm drink for the winter solstice. After a bit more research I found a few recipes that suggested serving drinking custard warm!

I’ve added a good splash of bourbon to my recipe, making it a perfect festive drink for midwinter. 🙂

Warm Drinking Custard

Ingredients
2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of sea salt
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
60ml bourbon

Instructions
Whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl.
Bring the milk to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Slowly pour the hot milk mix into the egg mixture, whisking continually.
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan.
Whisk until the custard begins to thicken.
Remove from heat.
Whisk in the vanilla extract and bourbon.
Pour the custard into heatproof glasses or mugs.
(Makes two generous serves.)

A Phantom Voice At The Opera

I haven’t read many Shakespeare plays, but of the ones I have read, Macbeth is my favourite. I love the way Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s lives change after Macbeth meets the three witches and hears their prophecies. The play is filled with so many fabulous speeches and unforgettable moments. Naturally the scenes that bewitch me the most are those with the three witches.

“When shall we three meet again?” ask the witches.
“Whenever Macbeth comes to town!” is my answer.

So when Verdi’s opera Macbeth came to Melbourne recently, I couldn’t wait to get there and meet the three witches again. 🙂

The opera was staged at the historic Her Majesty’s Theatre. Before the show started an announcement was made that Helena Dix, the lead soprano playing Lady Macbeth, had severe sinusitis and couldn’t sing. However, in the grand tradition of the show must go on, she was going to act the role and another soprano would sing her part offstage. While the crowd groaned in disappointment, I was excited. A disembodied voice at the opera? How very Macbeth!

The curtain rose for the first act and I was pleasantly surprised to see not three witches but thirty! The fascinating coven of witches were hypnotic as they sang, spun and wove their way through the scene. Hearing them sing their lines in Italian was appropriately eerie. My eyes occasionally darted to the monitors with English translations, but, not wanting to miss too much of the action happening on stage, I relied on my knowledge of the play to get me through the language barrier.

As much as I love the witches, I was getting excited about Lady Macbeth’s entrance. I couldn’t wait to see a soprano lip-syncing. I was even more excited when I realised I could see the woman singing the role from my seat. My eyes jumped from the miming opera singer on stage to the singing soprano just offstage. In the end, voice or no voice, the power and brilliance of the artist playing Lady Macbeth enthralled me. I soon forgot about lip-syncing as the divine opera performer took me through the tragic journey that is Lady Macbeth’s life. By the time the play ended I was bewitched, not only by the witches, but by the unforgettable performance of an opera singer without a voice.

Ironically, not long after seeing Macbeth I was struck with a severe cold, sinusitis and laryngitis. It made me wonder if the superstitions surrounding Macbeth may have been visited upon me! Unfortunately, it’s something that happens to me occasionally so I wasn’t too worried. When I was young and suffering from a cold or sore throat, my parents would make me a cup of tea with honey, lemon and a good splash of whisky. This drink is similar to a Hot Toddy which is usually made with hot water instead of tea. As a tribute to the witches in Macbeth, I’m making my toddy with Strega Liqueur (witches liqueur) named in honour of the Benevento Witches!

Strega Toddy

Ingredients
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup hot water
30ml (1 oz) Strega
15ml (1/2 oz) whiskey
1 slice of lemon

Instructions
Place the honey in a heatproof glass or mug.
Add the water and stir until the honey is dissolved.
Pour in the Strega and whiskey.
Top with a slice of lemon.
Sip slowly and enjoy its magical properties. 🙂

You can check out my post about another stage production of Macbeth in Shakespeare Under The Stars.

Liquid Kisses

May 26 is World Dracula Day. This is the day that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was published in 1897. There are so many brilliant characters in Dracula who, although they do not appear very often, are nonetheless unforgettable. The three vampire women who live in Castle Dracula are such creatures.

The three female vampires are never individually named in Dracula but are collectively called the “weird sisters” or “sisters”. It is Jonathan who calls them the “weird sisters”, a name that links them to the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They are known as the “Brides of Dracula” in popular culture but that name was never used in the novel. Intriguingly, it is the name “sister” that the female vampires themselves embrace.

After Mina is been bitten by Dracula and slowly starts to turn into a vampire, she travels to Transylvania, where she meets the three female vampires. They recognise her vampiric nature and welcome her into the sisterhood with the words “Come, sister. Come to us. Come! Come!” Another form of sisterhood is the relationship between Mina and Lucy in which Mina describes Lucy as a sister. The nuns that take care of Jonathan when he escapes from Castle Dracula are another important form of collective “sisters” that highlight the importance of sisterhoods in Dracula.

While the vampire sisters are never named, they are certainly described in graphic detail by Jonathan who meets the beguiling vampire trio at Castle Dracula.

“In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner.”

“Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires.”

“All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips.”

“I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips.”

The Dracula Tarot

While Johnathan is both seduced and repulsed by the vampire sisters, they only see one thing in him – blood!

“He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.”

The Dracula Tarot

To celebrate the sisters’ desire for bloody vampire kisses I thought I would make them a Vampire’s Kiss Cocktail.

A Vampire’s Kiss is a delicious drink made with Chambord, vodka and cranberry juice. Chambord is a French liqueur flavoured with red and black raspberries. The colour of the red and black raspberries made me think of the two dark haired sisters and the vodka made me think of the pale sister. The red cranberry juice adds to the bloody colour of the cocktail and is a perfect reflection of the bloody lips and bloody desires of the vampire sisters. While cranberry juice is traditional, I used pomegranate juice as pomegranates are linked to Demeter, Persephone and Hades. There are many references to this myth in Dracula, especially in the name the Demeter, the ship that brings the Count to England.

To make sure we don’t disappoint the vampire sisters by running out of liquid kisses, the amounts below are easy to scale or up or down so you can make a small cocktail for one or a pitcher for a crowd!

Vampire’s Kiss

Vampire’s Kiss

Ingredients
1 part Chambord
2 parts vodka
2 parts pomegranate juice

Instructions
Pour the Chambord and vodka into a chilled glass or jug.
Top with pomegranate juice.

The Cookie Woman

One of my favourite treats growing up was a visit to the Cookie Man in the Myer department store food hall in Melbourne. The Myer food hall was an adventure all of its own, but it was the Cookie Man that always lured me with its siren smell of freshly baked cookies.

Once lured, I would stare at the colourful and tantalising display of cookies, excitedly trying to work out which ones I would get and how many! I loved slowly picking cookies and watching them drop into the foil bag. My assortment always included Californians (flavoured with cinnamon and topped with a slivered almond) and Coffee Walnut (lightly flavoured with coffee and topped with a walnut half). I loved eating these cookies with a glass of milk or a cup of tea, but that didn’t stop me from opening the bag a few times before I got home. Luckily the bag was resealable!

Thinking about these cookies made me yearn for a cookie that combines the cinnamon flavour of a Californian with the flavours of a Coffee Walnut cookie. I decided to play around with some of my cookie recipes to create my very own Cookie Woman cookies. 🙂

Coffee, Cinnamon & Walnut Cookies
(Makes approximately 18)

Ingredients
1 cup plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground coffee (or to taste)
1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
125g unsalted butter, room temperature 
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, room temperature
approximately 18 walnut halves for topping

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Mix together the plain flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, coffee and walnuts. Set aside.
In a medium bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. 
Add the egg and beat well. 
Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
Drop tablespoons onto prepared trays. (Using a cookie scoop makes it much easier and gives a great shape).
Gently press a walnut half onto the top of the cookie.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the outer edges become slightly darker than the centre of the cookie.
Place on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before serving.

A Taste Of Midsummer Wine

Monday December 21st is the Summer Solstice in Australia. It’s the longest day of the year and the midpoint between Beltane and Lammas. The Summer Solstice is a time of magic and mystery, a time when the veils between the worlds are thin. It is a time to celebrate summer, life and love. 

After the solstice, the days start to get shorter but there are still plenty of long, hot days and nights ahead of us.

To cool down during the longest day of the year, you can make a lovely Summer Solstice drink by steeping strawberries and basil in wine. Play around with the proportions to fit your taste. You can also adapt the recipe to make a smaller or larger batch. 

This wine can also be served for the Winter Solstice, as red and green are the colours of Yule.

Happy Solstice! 

Strawberry and Basil Wine

Ingredients
2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced lengthwise
a sprig or two of basil
3 cups white wine
2 cups soda water

Instructions
Place the strawberries and basil in a large pitcher or jug.
Pour in the wine.
Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Pour in the soda water just before serving.

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.

Witchy Womens Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day. On March 6th, my favourite local craft beer bar, Hopheads is having a Women’s Day celebration. The event hopes to empower women by bringing together some of the best women brewers and women associated with brewing in the industry. These talented women will be available for a chat and of course there will be plenty of beer tasting! I can’t wait. 🙂

Thinking about women and beer always reminds me of a night I spent in Salem, Massachusetts a few years ago. I enjoyed many local beers in Salem, but it wasn’t until I got home that I learned of a possible connection between witches and brewing.

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It is generally acknowledged that women all around the world have been brewing and selling beer since ancient times. This started to change in Medieval Europe when female brewsters, also known as alewives, were slowly pushed out of the industry. Some theories suggest that men, wanting to take over the profitable industry for themselves, began to associate the tools and activities of brewsters with witches and witchcraft.

A brewster needed a vessel in which to brew beer, such as a large pot or cauldron. A broom or decorated stick was often placed above the door to let people know that beer was ready for sale. When a brewster sold their drink at a local market, they would wear a tall hat so they would stand out in the crowds. Cats were often kept as pets to keep mice away from the grains. Put this all together and you have the classic image of a pointy hatted witch with broomstick, black cat and cauldron! While theories connecting brewing with witches are contentious, they do provide food (and drink!) for thought.

To celebrate the connection between beer, women and witches, and the reemergence of female brewers, I put my witchy hat on and brewed a tasty potion based on a classic “Witch Hunt” cocktail. I played around with the proportions in the recipe to make it Strega dominant (strega is witch in Italian) and replaced the optional lemonade with beer. I had lots of thoughts on a name for this cocktail but finally decided on The Beer Witch Returns.

The Beer Witch Returns

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Ingredients
40ml Strega
20ml Scotch
10ml Dry Vermouth
1 cup Saison (or beer of your choice)

Instructions
Pour the strega into a tall glass.
Add the scotch followed by the vermouth.
Top with beer.
Enjoy!

You can read more about my trip to Salem, and other parts of America, in my travelogue cookbook Bites and Pieces of America, which also includes my witchy brewster inspired recipe for a Dark Ale Spider! 🙂