Inspired by the Arts

Sister Mary Fluffy’s Spiked Cocoa

Sister Mary Fluffy is a character from The Panda Chronicles created by Anne Belov. She is a Panda Nun who some may say has developed a few bad habits. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with a nun who likes to live a spirited life.

When Sister Mary Fluffy arrives at the Panda House in DC, she is welcomed with a mug of hot cocoa which the Panda House serves with “marshymellows” (marshmallows). Can we really blame her for wanting to “freshen” her cocoa with something more uplifting? After all, she has travelled a long way to get there.

When I decided to create a spiked cocoa for Sister Mary Fluffy, I thought about how she would go about making one. Would Sister Mary Fluffy need a recipe? I don’t think so! I think the unconventional Panda Nun would simply make something with what is it at hand – or in her case – at paw. Here is Sister Mary Fluffy in her felted form, obviously full of good spirits!

Sister Mary Fluffy’s Spiked Cocoa with Extra Spiked Marshmallows

To make the spiked marshmallows, pour some sugar in a small bowl and set aside (I used Demerara sugar).
Skewer large marshmallows onto cocktail sticks (I used vanilla and raspberry).
Half fill a shot glass with your chosen spirit or spirits (I used whiskey for the vanilla and red vermouth for the raspberry marshmallows).
Dunk in a marshmallow, making sure it is covered in alcohol.
Allow to sit for a few minutes (don’t leave it too long as it may dissolve).
Remove marshmallow, gently shaking off any excess alcohol into the glass.
Roll in sugar.
Place upright in a glass.
Repeat with remaining marshmallows.
Set aside while you make the hot cocoa.

To make the hot cocoa, heat your favourite milk in a saucepan or microwave (I use full cream milk).
Whisk in your favourite cocoa powder (I use dark cocoa powder).
Add sweetener if desired, remembering that the marshmallows will add sweetness (I leave mine unsweetened).
Add a good splash of your favourite spirit or spirits (I used whisky for both types of marshmallows).
Top with as many marshmallows as you like.

Solstice Gingerbread

The Summer Solstice is almost here and this year it falls on Wednesday the 22nd of December. On this day, the Sun reaches its zenith, its highest point in the sky. The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. After the Summer Solstice, the days start to get shorter as we wind our way toward Lammas.

The Summer Solstice in the southern hemisphere is mirrored by the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere. It also occurs near Xmas which in many ways is a Midwinter festival. To celebrate this hemispherical duality, I thought I would make a gingerbread cake which is perfect for the Winter Solstice. I’m also going to show you how to use this cake for a Summer Solstice treat!

The recipe I’m using is from A Gothic Cookbook by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino. A Gothic Cookbook is being crowdsourced through Unbound so hopefully it gets fully funded because I want a copy! The book is beautifully illustrated by Lee Henry and features recipes inspired by classic and contemporary Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Rosemary’s Baby, Frankenstein and one of my favourites – Dracula. You might assume I’d be making a recipe inspired by Dracula, but the gingerbread cake recipe is actually inspired by Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

That Very Special Gingerbread
I followed the recipe below without making any of my customary tweaks. I was briefly tempted to try a different icing, but I’m glad I didn’t. The lemon icing was tart and refreshing and complimented the deep treacle flavour of the cake beautifully.
(You can use molasses or blackstrap molasses if you don’t have black treacle)

My partner and I tried our best to eat all the cake but it was looking like we would fail. I was planning to freeze the leftovers, but then realised I could use the leftover cake to make a quick and easy Summer Solstice treat – Gingerbread Ice Cream!

Gingerbread Ice Cream

Ingredients
Roughly chopped pieces of gingerbread cake, including the bits with icing
Good quality vanilla ice cream, softened slightly

Instructions
Mix the cake and ice cream together in a bowl.
Place in a container and freeze.
That’s it!
There are no measurements for the ingredients so you can make as much or as little as you want. You can also add as much cake to the ice cream as you like.

Happy Solstice!

Dining With Dracula

November 8th is Bram Stoker’s birthday. Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1847, Bram’s most famous work is his 1897 novel Dracula. It’s one of my favourite books, and not just because it has vampires.

One of the many things I love about Dracula is that is an epistolary novel, meaning it is written as a series of documents. In Dracula, the narrative unfolds through letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, ship logs, telegrams and even translated phonograph recordings. There is no main narrator in Dracula, as many of the characters use the medium of writing to tell their own stories. This allows us to form an intimate connection to them, and offers us insight into the characters they interact with. It also means there are multiple viewpoints and interlacing narratives. Part of the pleasure of reading Dracula is trying to piece together all the different narratives and their timeframes.

The first chapter of the novel is written like a travelogue, as Jonathan Harker writes about his journey from England to Castle Dracula. One of the things Jonathan describes in detail in his journal is the food he has eaten along the way. His descriptions of the exotic dishes, such as paprika hendl, mamaliga and impletata, fascinated me, while his description of robber steak made my mouth water – until I got to the last bit!

“I dined on what they called “robber steak”—bits of bacon, onion, and beef, seasoned with red pepper, and strung on sticks and roasted over the fire, in the simple style of the London cat’s meat!”

Thankfully cat’s meat refers to meat classed as unfit for human consumption which was sold as meat for pets, and not actual cat meat. It was sold by street vendors known as cat’s meat men and women.

To celebrate Bram’s birthday I thought I would share my version of Robber Steak, or as I like to think of it, Robbed Steak, as I’ve robbed it of everything but the beef! Basically it’s my recipe for Beef Skewers. As I’m allergic to the chilli family, which includes paprika and red peppers, I’ve used cumin, cinnamon and white pepper as my spices. Feel free to replace them with paprika. I think Hungarian paprika would be most appropriate. 🙂

Beef Skewers aka Robbed Steak

Special Equipment:
metal skewers or bamboo skewers (if using wooden skewers, pre-soak them for at least 30 minutes to prevent them from burning)

Ingredients
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
500g beef, cut into 2cm cubes
extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients
Make the marinade by placing all the ingredients, except the meat, in a bowl and stir until combined.
Add the meat, making sure it is fully coated in marinade.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight if possible.
Preheat the grill to high.
Thread cubes of beef onto the skewers.
Lightly brush with olive oil.
Grill, turning occasionally, for 10-15 minutes or until cooked to your liking.

The Dracula Tarot

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.

Stone Soup Song

I recently enjoyed a concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre by Vardos, a three-piece band that performs traditional folk music inspired by their travels through Eastern Europe. The concert I attended was “The Balkan Cookbook” which explored the culinary identity of Eastern Europe through song. During the hour long performance we were taken on a mouthwatering journey through a traditional Eastern European menu. While my body responded to the vibrant music, my mind began concocting recipes for the food and dishes being celebrated. 

The starters began with a song about bacon, followed by a basil song and then one about bread. My stomach rumbled as I pictured a toasted bacon and basil sandwich! The soup course was next followed by mains, side salads, sweets and Turkish coffee. While I do love coffee and a Balkan sweet, it was the soup course that really fired my imagination – especially the tale of the stone soup.

Before launching into song, we were treated to tales about Balkan soups. It may be surprising to learn that Balkan soup courses can sometimes feature fruit soups, which are slightly sweet, usually served hot, but can also be served cold. I’m a big fan of fruit soups and have previously posted recipes for Cherry Soup and Blueberry Soup. The other soup discussed was stone soup – yes stone soup! 

Stone soup is a European folktale about hungry travellers who visit a village. Carrying only a large cooking pot, they ask the villagers if they will share some food with them. The villagers say no. The travellers go to the stream, fill their pot with water, drop a large stone in it and then place it over a fire. One curious villager asks the travellers what they are making. The travellers say it is a tasty “stone soup” which they are happy to share but it could be improved with the addition of a few more ingredients. The curious villager, wanting to try the soup, says they have carrots which they are happy to share with the travellers. One by one the rest of the villagers bring ingredients to add to the soup until the pot really does contain a flavourful soup. The inedible stone is removed and the travellers and the villagers all share the soup. Although the travellers have tricked the villagers, they have taught them the value of sharing and the importance of coming together as a community.

Stone soup begins with a trick so I thought it was the perfect tale to inspire an April Fool’s Day recipe. I chose a mussel soup as it contains mussel shells which reminded me of the stone. Just remember that the shells, like the stone, are inedible so discard them once you have scooped out the tasty mussels. 🙂

Mussel Soup

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 medium red chilli, deseeded* and finely sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1kg tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 cup fish stock
sea salt to taste
pepper to taste
1kg mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup basil, roughly chopped

Instructions
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add onion and cook until translucent.
Add garlic and chilli and cook for 1 minute.
Add tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
Add wine and cook for 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes.
Add lemon juice, zest and stock.
Stir until combined.
Increase heat to high and bring the stock to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered for 10 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add mussels to stock.
Cover and steam, shaking the pan occasionally, for 3-5 minutes or until the mussels are opened.
Discard any unopened mussels.
Stir through the parsley and basil before serving.

*for a spicier soup, you can leave the seeds in.

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 Tale Of A Felted Koala

Since discovering the Pagan wheel of the year over thirty years ago, I’ve celebrated the harvest festival of Halloween (Samhain) on April 30th. I still remember that first, long ago Halloween held in a Victorian forest on a bitterly cold night. After the ritual we warmed ourselves by an open fire. We watched the smoke rise in waves and patterns, trying to scry for messages in the fiery air. As the logs burned, the bright red embers turned to charcoal, making strange shapes as they transformed. We drank, laughed and talked through the night. We told jokes and shared stories until the sun rose and May Day dawned.

This Halloween I would like to share a story of a tiny felted koala, an idea forged during the horrifying Australian bushfires, and created by my dear artist friend Anne Belov as a symbol of comfort, hope and rebirth – perfect symbols for a Halloween tale.

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Many of you know Anne Belov as the creator of The Panda Chronicles. Anne is also a multi-talented professional artist (an incredible painter) who has recently branched out into the field of felted creations. Most of her creations are, not surprisingly, pandas, but in the mix there is a very special critter, Kevin the Koala, or as he is now affectionately known – Kevin the Scorched Koala. Before Kevin was born in felt he was introduced to the world in ink in a very special cartoon in The Panda Chronicles.

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Kevin was a huge hit and when Anne toyed with the idea of making a felted version of him we all said “Yes!” When she suggested adding scorch marks to her creation the more diabolical among us said “Hell Yes!” It wasn’t long before Kevin, complete with scorch marks, moved from the world of ink into the world of felt. I’m happy to say that I am the proud caretaker of the very first Kevin the Scorched Koala.

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To honour Kevin’s arrival to his ancestral homeland I created a special recipe that blends some Aussie ingredients (eucalyptus honey and macadamia nuts) with an imaginary cookie bar – the Binky Bar! If you’re a fan of The Panda Chronicles you’ll know that the pandas love eating and drinking and Binky Bars are one of their favourite treats. But what are they? No-one knows as it’s been left to our imaginations to visualise these tasty treats. When a Kevin fan suggested a Kevin Binky Bar would be fun I naturally volunteered to create one. Kevin’s Binky Bars feature a shortbread base topped with a sweet and chocolatey filling.

In honour of Kevin’s adorable scorch marks, I’ve served my Binky Bars with scorched macadamias. Scorched nuts are an Australian and New Zealand name for roasted nuts that are covered in layers of chocolate. Don’t worry if you can’t get them, or any other ingredients, just experiment and have fun. After all, nobody really knows what a Binky Bar looks like – or tastes like. 🙂

Kevin The Scorched Koala’s Honey & Macadamia Binky Bars

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Special Note:
These bars need to set overnight.

Ingredients
for the shortbread base
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
125g unsalted butter, cut into pieces

for the chocolate topping
50g unsalted butter
1/3 cup double cream
1 tablespoon eucalyptus honey*
50g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100g Anzac biscuits (cookies), broken into various small and medium sized pieces**
1/3 cup macadamia nuts, chopped into various small and medium sized pieces

Instructions
For the shortbread base:
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a baking pan (approximately 23cm x 17cm / 9” x 7”) with baking paper.
Place the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor.
Process until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Spread mixture into the prepared pan, pressing it down with fingers or the back of a spoon to compress it slightly.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until lightly browned.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before adding the topping.

For the chocolate topping:
Heat the butter and cream in a medium sized saucepan over low heat.
Stir in the honey.
Add the chocolate pieces and stir until the chocolate melts.
Allow to cool for a few minutes. (You have to allow it to cool long enough so that the biscuits don’t turn to mush when added, but not too long or the chocolate will set.)
Add the broken biscuits and chopped macadamias to the chocolate mixture and stir until combined.
Spread over the shortbread base.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Cut into bars.
Serve with scorched macadamias.

*koalas love eucalyptus but you can use any honey you like or any other syrup such as agave, maple or golden.
**if you can’t find Anzac biscuits you can make your own or use my recipe here!

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. 🙂

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.

A Play On The Wizard Of Oz

I celebrated my recent birthday this year by seeing the stage production of The Wizard Of Oz at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne. It was a fun and colourful show and brought back memories of another witchy production I saw two years ago – Wicked. This play draws in elements from Wicked but mainly sticks closely to the 1939 film version of The Wizard Of Oz.

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One of the highlights of The Wizard Of Oz was seeing a real dog play Toto on stage. I wasn’t alone in my admiration of the doggy star. When Toto first ran onto the stage the audience let out a collective “Awwwww!” Toto also received the most applause at the final curtain. As a dog owner myself, I loved seeing the impish Toto strut her/his stuff on the stage. The role of fluffy little Toto is shared by two talented Australians terriers. The female is called Flick and the male is called Trouble. I think Flick and Trouble are perfect names for dogs that are starring in a witchy musical. They are especially apt names when we remember that Toto is not always a good dog.

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In the beginning of the play, Miss Gulch arrives at the Gale farm and announces that she has reported Toto to the authorities. She tells the distraught Dorothy that Toto will be seized by the authorities and possibly destroyed. Dorothy responds by calling Miss Gulch a wicked old witch. The audience naturally sides with Dorothy. How can anyone be so cruel to a little dog? How can that horrible woman want the little dog to be destroyed? She must indeed be a wicked old witch!

But what is the reason Miss Gulch reports Toto? She reports Toto because he has been allowed to roam free in her garden and has been chasing and harassing her cat. Not only that, Toto has also bitten her. While Dorothy apologises for Toto’s behaviour, there is a suggestion that Toto bit Miss Gulch as she is supposedly an unpleasant and frightening person. There also seems to be little sympathy for Miss Gulch’s cat. Could it be that cats, like Miss Gulch herself, are associated with witches and therefore not deserving of sympathy? Don’t get me wrong, I love Toto and would hate for him to be destroyed, but I am fascinated by the cat / witch link.

At the end of the play, Aunty Em tells Dorothy that Miss Gulch has withdrawn her complaint about Toto after hearing that Dorothy had been injured by the tornado. This is an unusual twist in the play as the fate of both Toto and Miss Gulch is left uncertain in the film. At the end of the film, all the characters from Oz that have a Kansas counterpart make an appearance, except Miss Gulch. Did Miss Gulch perish in the tornado meaning Toto is safe? If she has survived will she return and seize Toto? The answer to these questions is still being debated. So why is there a different ending to the play? It may simply be to add closure to questions left open in the film.

What makes this new ending particularly interesting is that Miss Gulch becomes a sympathetic figure, something she has never been before. I feel this is a reflection of the way Wicked has made us look at the figure of the Wicked Witch. Wicked imbued the Wicked Witch with a back story and, most importantly, a voice. The film Maleficent has also done this.  Hopefully the role of a Wicked Witch is slowly gaining the complexity it deserves.

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When I was thinking of what recipes would symbolise The Wizard Of Oz I was spoiled for choice. After much thought I decided on something green in honour of the Wicked Witch of the West. To add another witchy element, I chose a recipe that utilises a mortar and pestle.

The words “mortar” and “pestle” come from the Latin words “mortarium”and “pistillum” which refer to a vessel and tool used for pounding or grinding. Back when I was doing more formal rituals, I used to make my own incense in my trusty mortar and pestle. I would add herbs, spices and a chunk of frankincense to my mortar and then crush them to a powder with my pestle. I would then light a block of charcoal in my censer and spoon on my aromatic powder. Whether indoors or outdoors, the aroma of seasonal incense would permeate the air and the heady scent of frankincense would embrace me as I enjoyed another night of magic. As my rituals became less formal, I packed up most of my ritual tools. I did, however, keep my mortar and pestle, and after giving it a good clean, I put it to work in the kitchen. One of the recipes I use it for is pesto.

The word “pesto” means to pound or crush and no, it’s not a reference to the Wicked Witch of the East who was crushed by a house! It is in fact a reference to the word “pestle,” which reflects the fact that pesto was originally made with a mortar and pestle. You can make pesto in a blender or food processor, but nothing beats the flavour and texture you get from using a mortar and pestle.

The great thing about pesto is that like a witch creating incense, you can create your own magical concoctions by experimenting with different oils, herbs, nuts and cheeses. So channel your inner witch and get crushing!

Witchy Green Pesto

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Ingredients
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts*
2 tablespoons finely grated aged parmesan
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Instructions
Add the garlic and salt to the mortar.
Using a circular motion, crush the garlic and salt together with the pestle until they become a rough paste.
Add the basil in stages and crush into little bits before adding more basil.
Add the pine nuts and crush, leaving some a little less crushed than others to add texture.
Add the parmesan and gently crush.
Add the olive oil and stir until it reaches your desired consistency.
Pesto is best used immediately but you can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Just pour a little olive oil over the top to help prevent the basil from turning black.

*You can toast the pine nuts in a non stick frying pan over medium heat. Toss often until they turn light brown. Once toasted, pour pine nuts onto a plate to prevent further cooking. Set aside to cool before using in your pesto.