Inspired by the Arts

Act 1 – Shakespeare Around The Globe

This Sunday is both Easter Sunday and April Fools’ day and I know which one I am most excited about!

April Fools’ Day for me is a day to celebrate the spirit of the tarot Fool. The Fool is the first card in the major arcana and it is the Fool who journeys through the tarot and learns the lessons of the cards. The Fool is so important it is the only major arcana card to be represented in modern playing card decks. In these decks the Fool plays the role of the Joker.

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fool card from the dracula tarot

The Fool symbolises new beginnings, adventures and journeys – that’s why I have adopted April Fools’ Day as my personal New Year’s Day. On April Fools’ Day I take time to look back on the year that has passed and make plans for the year ahead. What is most exciting for me is that my plans for this coming year are intertwined with the journeys I made this past year.

Last year I travelled to America and fulfilled a childhood dream of visiting Salem, Massachusetts. I also got to meet in person a friend I have known online for many years. Plus I visited the island where an Atlantic puffin I sponsor spends their summer. A few weeks ago I travelled to America again to attend a giant panda fan convention in San Diego, something I have wanted to do for many years. I ended this trip with a visit to San Fransisco where my partner Paul and I celebrated 30 years of not being married by walking on the Golden Gate Bridge 🙂 Both trips have been enriching and will provide me with inspiration – and recipes – for this year’s blog posts. They may also have given me material for a book or two!

What does this have to do with Shakespeare? Well Shakespeare was no stranger to the power and importance of Fools. Many of his most memorable characters were witty and clever Fools. Plus, it was two Shakespeare inspired establishments that provided me with comfort and nourishment in San Diego. That’s right – Shakespeare’s influence extends around the globe!

One of the things I love to do before I travel is research places to eat. Two of the places I picked in San Diego were the Shakespeare Pub & Grille and Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea. I couldn’t wait to visit them.

The Shakespeare Pub & Grille was established in 1990 by British expats. It is modelled on a traditional British pub in English Tudor style. The food is classic British comfort food and the bar stocks beers from around the world. We ordered a couple of beers and their signature dish – Fish & Chips. We were treated to crisp and crunchy pieces of beer battered cod with peas and chips (fries) served with tartare sauce and malt vinegar. It was delicious. After such a tasty meal we had to try their desserts. Paul chose Sticky Toffee Pudding – a steamed light sponge cake covered in a sweet and sticky toffee sauce. He couldn’t decide between custard and ice cream so he had both. I chose something I have never tried before but have always wanted to – Spotted Dick! This amusingly named dessert is a steamed suet pudding containing dried fruit and is traditionally served with custard. YUM 🙂 Each bite melted in my mouth and I was rewarded with the scent and taste of a soft, warm and spicy fruit cake. The custard was smooth and creamy and complemented the pudding perfectly. We were ready to go back to the hotel and have a nap but we had one more culinary stop to make.

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Next door to the Shakespeare Pub is Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea which is run by a British family. We had hoped to have a cream tea in their patio tearoom but we were too full from lunch. Instead we decided to check out the store and see what they had on offer. Not surprisingly the shelves were stocked with British produce. Missing my nightly tea and shortbreads, I was happy to find a box of Earl Grey teabags and a packet of Scottish shortbreads. I also found an interestingly shaped spoon which the staff told me was a Black and Tan spoon used for pouring layered cocktails. As a fan of layered cocktails, I had to have it. In the fridge I saw a jar of clotted cream which I was so tempted to buy but valiantly resisted. When I went to pay I noticed they were selling scones to take home. I looked at Paul and he knew exactly what I was thinking – Cream Tea for Dinner! We grabbed scones, a jar of strawberry jam – and the jar of clotted cream 🙂 That evening we sat on the balcony of our hotel room and enjoyed our cream tea. We even had enough scones, jam and cream left for a cream tea breakfast the next morning.

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While there may not have been too much “Shakespeare” in this story I shall make up for that in Act 2, which tells a tale of my Shakespearean adventures in Melbourne. It will be closely followed by Act 3 – a recipe inspired by these tales.

If you are need of more adventure this Easter weekend there is a Full Moon to celebrate. And for those of us in Melbourne, Australia, due to time zone differences, this will be a Blue Full Moon!

Afternoon Tea and Jane Austen

Two hundred years have passed since Jane Austen died on the 18th of July, 1817. I wasn’t sure how I would commemorate the occasion. The one thing I didn’t think I would be doing was attending an afternoon tea hosted by Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s fifth great niece and the last descendant to be raised in the ancestral family home, Chawton House.

Caroline’s talk was informative and engaging. She spoke of so many things but the one thing that struck me most were her Australia connections. I was stunned to realise that Jane Austen’s fifth great niece actually lives in Melbourne and that her mother was born in Australia. Caroline is a renowned business woman and philanthropist. Her main philanthropic focus is promoting literacy around the world.

After the talk Caroline stayed around to chat with guests and sign copies of her book “Jane & Me.” She even brought a piece of the family dinner service. The bespoke Wedgwood service features a pattern commissioned by Jane Austen’s brother Edward. Jane and Caroline both ate from that service and we got to see it!

And speaking of dinner service, Caroline’s fascinating talk was accompanied by an afternoon tea.
For savouries we were served:
Free range egg, truffle and watercress sandwiches
Yorkshire pudding with roast beef and horseradish cream
Ham hock terrine with piccalilli.
For sweets we were served:
Scones with strawberry jam and cream
Lemon meringue tartlet
Sour cranberry Bakewell tart with citrus sherbet sauce
Strawberry Eton mess
A glass of sparkling wine to begin followed by tea and coffee brought an end to a fabulous afternoon.

The recipe I would like to share in honour of Jane Austen is from one of my favourite cookbooks – “Kafka’s Soup” by Mark Crick. Crick not only creates recipes inspired by famous writers, he writes them in the style of the author. When I read his recipe for “Lamb with Dill Sauce à la Raymond Chandler” I was hooked. His description of the leg of lamb feeling “cold and damp, like a coroner’s handshake” had me running to the bookstore counter with money and book in hand!

I think Jane Austen would love Crick’s literary wit. I also think she’d love the eggs Crick created for her. So without further ado here are Mark Crick’s “Tarragon Eggs à la Jane Austen” with edited selections from his text and tweaks by me.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that eggs, kept for too long, go off” begins the recipe.

As to what herbs to use, Mrs B thought “Parsley might do … Good-looking, with an easy and unaffected manner.” But Lady Cumberland did not agree. “Too much curl to its leaf, and too often seen in great bunches at fishmongers. It would be a most unhappy connection.” Mrs B spies some tarragon which she does not like. “It refuses to grow here, it refuses to grow there, but fancies itself so very great, disappearing every winter I know not where. I quite detest the plant.” Again Lady Cumberland disagrees. “French tarragon is an aristocrat among herbs, and although I think it too good for your eggs, I cannot deny that it would be a fine match for them.” To avoid offending either lady I have chosen a combination of the two herbs. In deference to Lady Cumberland’s dislike of curly parsley I chose flat leaf.

The instructions for beating the 4 eggs include straining them, which I didn’t do, but I did carefully beat them so as not to create a froth which apparently is “so unsightly.”
I added 1 teaspoon of dried tarragon and 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh parsley to the beaten eggs. I then spread 20g of butter around the pan and added a further 20g of butter in small chunks to the mix. I added salt and pepper to taste. Pouring the eggs into the pan I gently cooked them, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan. I removed them from the heat before they were fully cooked, allowing the residual heat to cook them to my liking. A serving of toast and tea completes the dish.

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Mark’s recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of tarragon either fresh or dried. Parsley, either curly or flat leaf, is not used. Obviously Mark has chosen Lady Cumberland over Mrs B – a brave choice indeed!

I can only hope Mrs B and Lady Cumberland approve of my tweaks 🙂

Halloween High Tea

A few weeks ago I celebrated Halloween with a high tea at The Austen Tea Room. The decor and crockery were delightful. There were four of us taking tea and we had a room all to ourselves. We were in the Elizabeth Bennet room, which we thought most appropriate 🙂

We were quite excited as we waited for our tiered plates of savoury and sweet treats. We weren’t disappointed! Our first plate arrived filled with mouthwatering finger sandwiches, mini pies and quiches. Then a towering plate of sweets came. We started with the meringues with cream followed by little cakes and macarons. We ended with scones, jam and cream. Pots of tea flowed smoothly throughout the service. It was a wonderful experience and one we would do again.

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As I have never been to a high tea before, I started thinking about the difference between an afternoon tea, a cream tea and a high tea. After researching the subject I made a fascinating discovery – what many of us think of as a high tea isn’t really a high tea. Rather than dainty little morsels served on delicate crockery in the afternoon, a high tea is really a hearty meal served late in the evening at the end of the working day.

During the Industrial Revolution, workers would arrive home late and hungry. This led to the tradition of sitting around a table and eating an evening meal. Hot and cold food would be served including meat, fish, pies, tarts, breads and cakes. Food was accompanied with cupfuls of strong tea. These hearty dishes were served on sturdy crockery and cups, not the delicate plates, sauces and teacups we associate with a modern high tea. This evening meal came to be known as high tea, meat tea and later simply as tea.

There are two theories as to why this evening meal was called high tea:
High tea was eaten sitting at a kitchen table or high table while afternoon tea, also called low tea, was eaten sitting on low sofas and chairs, with food served on lower lounge tables.
High tea was taken later in the day when the day was well advanced or “higher” in the day whereas afternoon tea was served earlier or “lower” in the day.

If the high tea I enjoyed at The Austen Tea Room wasn’t really a high tea, then what was it? Using the term high tea for afternoon tea appears to have occurred due to a misunderstanding as to what the term “high” meant. At some point the term “high” was thought to mean formal. So high teas are now a fancy form of afternoon tea. Whatever their origin, one thing is definite – they are delicious 🙂

Pies are popular in both afternoon and high teas. While dainty little party pies may grace an afternoon tea party, these hearty stout, beef and smoked oyster pot pies would be welcome on any high tea table.

Surf and Turf Pot Pies

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Ingredients
1kg stewing beef, cubed
2 tablespoons plain flour
olive oil for browning
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 cup stout
1 cup beef stock
2 bay leaves
120g button mushrooms, quartered
2 x 85g tin of smoked oysters
1-2 sheets ready rolled frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten
sesame seeds

Instructions
Toss the cubed meat through the flour until coated.
Heat oil in a large saucepan.
Add meat in batches and cook over a high heat until browned. Add more oil as needed. Remove browned meat and set aside.
Add a splash of oil to the pan, add the onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft.
Add the salt and basil and stir through.
Return the meat to pan.
Add the stout and stock and stir through.
Add the bay leaves and bring to the boil.
Once boiling, cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 1 + 1/2 hours.
Add the mushrooms and simmer, uncovered, for a further 30 minutes.
Remove bay leaves.
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Distribute the smoked oysters evenly between four 12cm x 6cm oven-proof bowls or ramekins.
Pour stew evenly into the ramekins.
Cut puff pastry lids slightly bigger than the bowls.
Cover bowls with puff pastry, pressing the edges down around the rim of the ramekins to seal the pies.
Brush tops with beaten egg.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.

Note – check the liquid during the cooking process and add more stout, stock or water if needed.

World Goth Day

May 22nd is World Goth Day. World what day? World Goth Day! That’s right, there is a World Goth Day and it has been around since 2009.

During a BBC Radio 6 exploration of musical subcultures, two goth DJs thought it would be great to get an event going that celebrated the goth scene. They chose May 22nd as the day. Initially a British celebration, World Goth Day spread and is now celebrated all over the world. You can check out the offical page to learn more and to see if there is an event near you.

World Goth Day celebrates the cultural heritage of the goth scene. It is a day for goths to be proud of who and what they are. I have been a proud goth since I was young, openly exploring the darker side of life through books, films, television and music.

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When I entered the world of punk rock music I found my clan – punk goths. Not surprisingly two of the bands that influenced me the most were The Damned and The Cure. Both bands were punk goth hybrids and difficult to pigeonhole into one category. They were, to borrow a term from the awesome Billy Bragg, genre fluid – much like me 🙂 Also like me, both bands have lasted the distance and continue to embrace the soul of punk goth culture. In honour of World Goth Day’s musical roots, I have made a recipe based on one of my favourite songs.

In my post Neat Neat Neat I created a recipe for Smashed Potatoes in tribute to The Damned song Smash It Up. I also answered questions by Bob T. Panda including these two:
If you could be an animal, which one would you be?
“A Giant Panda like Clint Recession.”

Who is Clint Recession? Well he is a creation by David O’Doherty, Claudia O’Doherty and Mike Ahern in the book 100 Facts About Pandas. According to this book of fun fake facts, Clint is a founding member of The Cure and the inspiration for their goth look – he’s also a giant panda.

Which leads me to the next question:
What kind of cuppycake are you, and why?
“A Black Forest Cuppycake because I like black and I like The Cure song A Forest.”

Naturally I couldn’t resist creating a Black Forest Cupcake combining both goth and panda culture. My cupcakes are decorated with black liquorice which reminds me of black bamboo. And if there is one species of bamboo a goth panda would love it’s black!

Don’t forget, the original Black Forest Cake is named for Germany’s Black Forest – the setting for many of Grimm’s fairytales – and home to some spooky folklore. Wow, that’s a lot of goth to pack into one cupcake 🙂

Have a Happy World Goth Day!

Black Forest Cupcakes 

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Ingredients
for the black forest cupcakes
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
125g (1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg yolk, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
425g (15oz) canned pitted black cherries, drained and chopped, reserving the juice
1/2 cup juice, reserved from canned cherries

for the whipped cream
2 cups double cream
4 teaspoons powdered buttermilk or powdered milk
2 tablespoons powdered (icing) sugar
black liquorice for decoration
grated chocolate for sprinkling
fresh cherries for garnish – optional

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a small bowl, sift together the cocoa, flour and baking powder. Set aside.
In a medium sized bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy and pale.
Add egg yolk, one of the eggs and half the sour cream and beat well.
Add remaining egg and sour cream and beat until combined.
Add the milk and mix until combined.
Using a wooden spoon, fold through the cocoa mix 1/3 third at a time until combined.
Add the cherries and juice and gently mix through.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
While cupcakes are cooling make the whipped cream by whipping together the cream, powdered sugar and milk powder with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Add the vanilla extract and whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form. Spoon whipped cream into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.
Decorate with black liquorice.
Sprinkle with chocolate and garnish with fresh cherries if desired.

Neat Neat Neat

When I saw that Bob T. Panda from The Panda Chronicles had nominated me for the Real Neat Blog award (thanks Bob T!) the first thing I thought was “Yay!” The second thing I thought was “that reminds me of the Damned song – Neat Neat Neat”. So, in the spirit of my favourite punk band, I’m going to claim this award in a punk way – by messing up the rules!

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Some of the rules:
Thank the person who nominated you – done.
Answer their questions – okay.

If you could be an animal, which one would you be?
A Giant Panda like Clint Recession.

What kind of cuppycake are you, and why?
A Black Forest Cuppycake because I like black and I like The Cure song A Forest.

If you could change any event in the history on people on earth, what would you chose?
The saying “orange is the new black” became popular thanks to a certain show. But as far as I’m concerned, black is the old, new and future black. So I would try and stop anything orange from becoming popular or powerful – except at Halloween, because – you know – pumpkins.

What is your favorite city (other than the one you live in) that you have visited?
Brasov in Romania. They have vampires and really nice cakes.

What children’s book did you read as a child that you still love?
Dracula. That’s a children’s book isn’t it?

If you knew you only had one year to live, what would you do?
Try and find a vampire to convert me. Otherwise eat and drink as much as I want and then tell people what I really think of them just before I die.

What do you wish you had done in your life that you have not?
Become a vampire.

More rules:
Make up your own questions to ask your nominees – done – sort of. I’m not going to make up my own questions, I’m going to “borrow” Bob T’s instead.

Nominate other blogs for the award – here I go! There are so many that I want to nominate so I am going to nominate all the blogs that follow me and all the blogs I follow. So jump in, grab an award and answer “my” questions above. Or feel free to participate in any way you like.

But I am going to break my own rule by nominating one blog. This person hates getting awards and responds in a way that most punks would envy. So hit me with your best shot NCM!

Drawing culinary inspiration from one of my favourite Damned songs, Smash It Up, I’d like to share a recipe for Smashed Avocado. I mean, what could be more punk than healthy, green avocado balanced on a wholegrain slice of bread and maybe served with a side of quinoa? Hell no! If I’m smashing any food up it’s going to be potatoes. And then I’m going to splash them with oil and throw grated cheese on them – now that’s punk! And don’t expect precise measurements for this recipe. You’ll get ingredients, basic instructions and a photo, but that’s it 🙂

Smashed Potatoes
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Potatoes
Oil
Salt
Grated Cheese

Peel, cut up and boil some potatoes. (You can leave the skin on if you want but I like them peeled).
Drain and cool.
Preheat oven to 220C / 430F.
Lightly oil a baking tray.
Add the potatoes then smash them with a fork until they just start to break. I smash some more than others for variety.
Splash extra oil over them.
Sprinkle with salt.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and flip them over.
Throw on some grated cheese.
Return to the oven and bake for another 15 – 20 minutes or until they are golden.

The Love Witch

It was just by luck that I discovered The Love Witch was playing at the Lido, a funky cinema in Melbourne – and for only three nights! I wanted to be surprised, so I didn’t read the film blurb or watch the trailer until after I got home. Well, the film was unexpected! It was funny, a visual pleasure, very challenging and slightly disturbing.

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Directed by feminist film maker Anna Biller, The Love Witch is a cinematic treat. Reminiscent of a Hitchcock film, the cinematography is a joy to behold. On a visual level, the movie really works. Elaine is stunning. With her black hair, wigs, enormous false eyelashes, eye catching makeup, unbelievable wardrobe, killer body and sheer natural beauty she lives up to her reputation as the love witch. Elaine struts her stuff in a bevy of stunning scenes featuring incredible locations, beautiful architecture and rooms showcasing amazing interior design. I love Elaine’s apartment, decorated with artwork inspired by Aleister Crowley’s Thoth tarot deck. I want to live there! And the Victorian Tea Room where she visits is so adorable. It reminds me of The Austen Tea Room I recently wrote about. But for all of its visual beauty, I’m not sure if the film delivers on a theoretical or magical level.

There are many ways to approach this film theoretically. The director certainly has fun playing around with feminist film theory and the art of film making. I spent many years studying feminist film theory at university, but luckily I focussed on Jungian and archetypal theory, not Freudian. I was therefore spared the horror of having to truly understand concepts like the male gaze. Unfortunately, director Biller plays with this theory and apparently tries to subvert it. I was hoping to give you a brief synopsis of the theory but once I started writing my eyes watered and I had to have chocolate to recover from the shock! So I’ll leave the theoretical analyses to those who care and move onto what I really care about – magic and witchcraft 🙂

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The Love Witch is one of only a couple of films that focusses on non-magical human witches. Elaine joins a witches coven in San Fransisco after her husband leaves her. Here she learns about sex magic and love spells. Using herbs, spells and the power of her awesome body, Elaine seduces man after man hoping to find true love. You see Elaine loves love, she’s addicted to love and wants nothing more than to be loved. She is obsessive and narcissistic. She uses all her witchy craft to try to find a patriarchal relationship where she cooks for her man and rewards him with mind-blowing sex. Sadly her use of love magic leads to nothing but disappointment, tragedy and death. Elaine is a witch who will definitely love you to death.

I found this disappointing. I wanted her embracing of witchcraft to be something positive, not a reinforcing of stereotypical attitudes about women, men and relationships. Even worse, it seems as though the high priest of the coven is nothing but a sleaze who has sex with the female initiates while his high priestess partner looks on. When Elaine is near the slimy high priest she acts as though she is a victim of sexual abuse rather than a liberated, powerful, sexual woman and witch. One of the more cringe worthy scenes is when Elaine, the high priestess and high priest are at a burlesque show and the repulsive high priest rambles on about the power of women, the power of their sexuality, their bodies etc while a very skilled woman dances and performs on stage. I’m not sure if this was some sort of feminist subversion but for me it didn’t work. I wanted to scrub myself clean every time I saw the hideous high priest! I am so glad I trained in covens with high priestesses only 🙂

The one witchcraft scene I thought was feminist and empowering is when Elaine makes a witch bottle by urinating into a jar and then dunks a used tampon in it! Okay, that was unexpected.

I actually think it is a great movie to see if only for the cinematography. If you’re a witch you’ll also find it interesting. Plus, there’s the Aleister Crowley inspired room. Check out the trailer for a brief taste of this very unusual movie! The Love Witch

The other thing I loved about the film is cake – yes cake. There are a few delicious scenes featuring mouthwatering cakes. In homage to these lovely cakes I thought I would share a recipe for a Persian Love Cake. It is normally made as two cakes sandwiched together with a rich frosting. In honour of Elaine and her obsession with love I decided to make heart shaped mini cakes. This means there is plenty of frosting left over. You can slather it on top of the cakes or dollop it on other desserts. Or you can just eat it with a spoon.

Persian Love Cakes

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aromatic rose water, lemon and cardamon cakes sandwiched together with saffron frosting

Ingredients
for the cakes
1 cup plain flour
1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup honey
4 tablespoons rose water
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
6 cardamon pods, seeds removed and crushed
1/2 cup caster sugar

for the frosting
1/2 teaspoon of saffron threads
1 tablespoon hot water
1/4 cup thick yoghurt
200ml pure cream, chilled
1/3 cup icing sugar
extra icing sugar for dusting

Method
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Grease two sandwich pans then line with baking paper.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, honey, rose water, water, olive oil, lemon peel and cardamon until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth and combined.
In a medium sized bowl whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and beat until the mixture resembles thick marshmallow.
Place a small amount of egg white mixture into the batter and gently mix until combined. Add half of the egg white mixture and gently fold through. Add remaining egg white mixture and gently fold through.
Divide batter evenly between the two cake tins.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Cool in the pans for 15 minutes before turning out onto racks and peeling off the baking paper.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.
Make the spread by steeping the saffron threads in the hot water for 20 minutes.
Place the yoghurt into a small bowl. Strain the saffron liquid into the yoghurt and mix to combine.
Place the cream and sugar into a medium sized bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Add the yoghurt mix and whip until stiff peaks form.
To assemble, cut the cakes with different sized heart shaped cookie cutters, making sure you cut them in pairs. Sandwich two hearts together with frosting.
Dust lightly with icing sugar.

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.

 

A Game Of Love And Death

There are eight seasonal festivals that many witches and Pagans celebrate. Three of them are really well known – Yule, Easter and Halloween. Yule and Easter fall around the Summer Solstice and the Spring Equinox. They have been overlaid by a veneer of Christianity and so are celebrated in many different ways across the globe. Halloween falls between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. It too has been overlaid by many cultural veneers but has stubbornly remained Pagan. From its ghoulish iconography to its impish games, there is no mistaking that Halloween is a time for remembering, honouring and fearing the dead.

Last week I discussed the issue of flipping northern hemisphere festivals to fit with southern hemisphere seasons. For a moment I fell into step with my witchy compatriots. Beltane, a fertility festival with a special emphasis on love and unions, was calling. For the first time since I became a solitary witch I was considering celebrating Beltane on October 31st. But a few things happened that flipped me back to Halloween.

As I was perusing the shelves at my local craft beer shop I saw a can of beer that really called to me – a saison named Persephone! When I saw the name, and the Grecian inspired artwork, I just had to have it. The beer is flavoured with balsamic, grapefruit, pink pepper and, not surprisingly, pomegranate. But what really interested me was that saison is French for season. I didn’t know that. The label told the story of Persephone’s journey and how her love of pomegranates bound her to the Underworld and to a seasonal dance of Love and Death with her husband Hades. I can think of no better drink than a saison for Persephone.

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I chose to drink my Persephone saison while finishing a book recommended to me by my friend and cupcake conspirator Anne Belov. Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love and Death is an extraordinary tale featuring the anthropomorphic characters of Love and Death. Each chooses a human player that will represent them in a game. The human players don’t know they have been chosen. Love and Death then manipulate the lives of their players to see if they will choose each other or go their separate ways. Choose Love and the game ends, choose Death and you end! One of the intriguing questions in the book is if we didn’t have Death, would we Love as deeply? Does knowing that Death is our final destination inspire us to Love more fully? Another fascinating aspect is the relationship between Love and Death. Are they enemies or are they two halves of the same coin? You’ll have to read the book to find out 🙂

This October 31st I will be celebrating Halloween. I can’t resist the siren call of the Halloweeny paraphernalia surrounding me! But I won’t be forgetting Beltane. Although I have symbolically chosen to celebrate a festival of Death over a celebration of Love, I will also be thinking of my fellow witches down under who will be leaping over bonfires to promote fertility and dancing around a maypole in November. As for me, this Halloween I will begin a new round of my own seasonal game of Love and Death.

Coeur a la Creme

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Love and Death unite in this decadent heart of cream bathed in pomegranate juice and scattered with fragrant pomegranate seeds.

Ingredients
125g mascarpone
125g ricotta cheese
300ml double cream
1/3 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pomegranate, juice and seeds

Method
Beat mascarpone and ricotta with an electric mixer until smooth.
Add cream, sugar and vanilla and mix lightly.
Line coeur a la creme moulds* with muslin that has been moistened with water and wrung out. Make sure there is enough overhang to cover the top of the mixture. Pour mixture into moulds and cover the top with muslin. Place on a cooling rack over a baking tray and leave in fridge to drain overnight.
Unmould onto serving dishes and decorate with fresh pomegranate juice and seeds.
To prepare pomegranate, cut the fruit in half and squeeze into a bowl. Separate the juice and seeds. Pour as much juice and scatter as many seeds over the coeur a la creme as you like.

*Coeur a la creme moulds are heart shaped ceramic moulds with holes for drainage. They are difficult to get so there are a number of ways to achieve the desired heart shape without them: 
1) You can buy a heart shaped silicone cake pan or mini cake pans and make holes in the bottom with a skewer.
2) You can leave the mixture in a muslin bag to drain overnight then place in a heart shaped mould or moulds before serving.
The important thing is that the cream mixture is allowed to drain overnight before shaping.

I Never Drink … Wine

When Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi first uttered those immortal words in Tod Browning’s 1931 movie Dracula, he didn’t realise he would be giving birth to one of the most famous lines in vampire folklore. These words never appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel. They were unique to the film which is loosely based on the 1924 stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. It was this play that introduced us to an urbane, tuxedo wearing Count Dracula, much different to Stoker’s quite repulsive vampire. The romantic, cape wearing Count would become one of the most popular versions of the mercurial vampire in literature and cinema. His popularity does not appearing to be waning.

To celebrate Bela’s upcoming 134th birthday on Thursday October 20, I thought I would drink some wine in his honour 🙂 Sangria, a chilled Spanish red wine drink, is supposedly named after the Spanish word for blood – sangre – which reflects its dark red colour. I have chosen to meld a chilled Spanish sangria with a warm mulled wine. After all, if Dracula did drink wine he most certainly would want it served warm – like blood!

Hot Blooded Sangria

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Ingredients
1/2 cup blood orange juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
750ml bottle of red wine
1/3 cup brandy
1 blood orange, cut into pieces

Method
Place the juice and sugar in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Stir until combined.
Add the cloves and cinnamon sticks. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 – 10 minutes or until the mixture becomes syrupy.
Add the wine and brandy. Cover and simmer, without boiling, for 5 minutes.
Add the blood orange pieces to a heatproof jug.
Pour wine over the blood orange pieces.
Drink while warm.
Refrigerate any leftover wine and enjoy cold over ice.

Spanish Rioja is traditional but you can use any red wine you like. I used a Vampire Merlot from Transylvania 🙂
You can use any variety of oranges when blood oranges are out of season.

The Not So Absent Mother

For Mother’s Day 2014 I wrote about a panda movie.
A year later I explored that movie further.

So it’s not surprising that this Mother’s Day I will be discussing another panda movie – Kung Fu Panda 3.

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Among the many themes in Kung Fu Panda 3 is the theme of fatherhood. In Kung Fu Panda 2 we learn of Po’s history. His parents sacrificed themselves to save him from an attack designed to kill all pandas. In flashback we see Po’s father defend his wife and child so they can get away. We then see his mother place Po in a crate of radishes and then run away, luring the deadly Shen army away from Po and towards her. It is a traumatic scene and I don’t mind saying I cried – a lot. The crate of radishes is delivered to a restaurant owned by Mr Ping, a goose. He finds the hidden baby Po and adopts him, raising him as his son. In Kung Fu Panda 2, Po starts having flashbacks about his panda parents. At the end of Kung Fu Panda 2 we see that Li Shan, Po’s panda father, is alive and living in a secret panda village. Li looks up, somehow sensing that his son Po is also alive.

Kung Fu Panda 3 continues this story. Li Shan comes to Mr Ping’s restaurant, looking for his son. Li takes Po home to the secret panda village, much to the sadness of Mr Ping. But being the protective father he has always been, Mr Ping stows away in Po’s luggage and ends up at the secret panda village too. There Li and Mr Ping resolve their differences and accept the fact that they are both Po’s father. So what does this fatherhood journey have to do with Mother’s Day?

One of the more poignant scenes in Kung Fu Panda 3 is when Li takes Po into his home. There, on what appears to be an altar, is a drawing of baby Po in his mother’s arms. There are two red candles burning, a vase with a sprig of bamboo and sticks and stones holding the drawing in place. Po gingerly reaches for the drawing while his father talks about the panda he calls the love of his life. Po’s mother was “the total package.” She was smart, beautiful and had a tremendous appetite. She was also brave. She sacrificed her life for her baby. Considering Po is a master warrior and saviour, that is a very important sacrifice.

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Kung Fu Panda 3 shows us how alike Po and Li are, but what it also shows us is how alike Po and his mother are. Po and his mother share one key, one very important trait – the gift of self-sacrifice. Through the three movies Po is never afraid to sacrifice himself for the safety of others. Yes, most of the other characters are warriors and therefore happy to lay down their lives in battle as well, but Po does it in a way that is innocent, filled with trust and imbued with grace. It is reminiscent of his mother, who leaves a vulnerable baby in a crate of radishes and hopes and trusts that he will survive. When Po sacrifices himself it is not as a warrior bested in battle but as a spiritual being who is happy to die so others may live.

Although she is not named, the spirit of Po’s mother hovers around the movie. The film is imbued with her maternal spirit, her love and the tragedy of her loss. The power of her sacrifice is reflected again and again through Po, her self-sacrificing, warrior saviour son. For a character that has only had minimal screen time, Po’s mother is one of the most powerful characters in the Kung Fu Panda franchise. I know I’m not the only one who hopes we find Po’s mother alive and well in Kung Fu Panda 4.

In Kung Fu Panda 3 we learn that Po’s birth name is Little Lotus. In honour of his name I have made lotus seed steamed buns. They would make a great Mother’s Day treat 🙂

Lotus Seed Buns

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Special Equipment
2 large bamboo steamer baskets with lid

Ingredients
1 teaspoon dried yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup caster (granulated) sugar
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup lotus seed paste
lotus leaf tea for serving

Method
Place the yeast, 2 tablespoons of warm water, 1 tablespoon of caster sugar and 1 tablespoon of flour into a bowl. Whisk with a fork until lump free. Cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes or until frothy.
Sift the remaining flour and baking powder into a separate bowl. Add the remaining water, sugar, yeast mix and melted butter to the flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir until combined. Using your hands, mix the dough until it comes together. You may need to add more water to get a smooth dough.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 10 minutes or until smooth.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest in a warm place for 1 hour or until the dough doubles in size.
Cut 6 pieces of baking paper into 10cm (4 inch) squares.
Divide the lotus seed paste into 6 and roll into balls.
Remove the plastic wrap. Punch down the centre of the dough.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or until smooth. Divide dough into 6 balls.
Roll a ball of dough into an 8cm (3 inch) disc about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick. Place a lotus seed ball in the centre of the disc. Wrap the dough around the filling to enclose, making sure the bun is sealed.
Place the bun seal side down on a square of baking paper. Repeat with remaining dough and paste.
Fill a wok or shallow frying pan with enough water that it touches the bottom of your bamboo steamer but doesn’t touch the food. Bring the water to a simmer.
Put 3 buns in each steamer basket. Stack together and cover with the bamboo lid.
Place baskets in the wok. Steam for 15 – 20 minutes or until the buns are puffed and cooked through. Check often to make sure there is enough water in the wok and top up as needed. Repeat with remaining buns.
Serve warm with tea.