Recipes

Mother’s Day

From ancient Goddess cults to the Christian Mothering Sunday, mothers in all their forms have been celebrated for millennia. The modern Mother’s Day celebration is part of that tradition. After the death of her activist mother Ann Jarvis, Anna Jarvis wanted to create a special day to honour mothers. Unlike former celebrations, Anna wanted her Mother’s Day to be reserved solely for your very own mother, not mothers or mothering in general. Anna succeeded in her quest, but she quickly regretted her victory.

Anna had envisioned a Mother’s Day where children of all ages would visit their mothers and spend quality time with them. Any gifts would be homemade to show the value of the relationship, not the value of the gift. She was devastated to see the holiday turn into a commercial enterprise for florists, confectioners and card manufacturers. She spent the rest of her life trying to destroy what she had created. Despite the commercialisation of Mother’s Day, it continues to be a very important day of the year.

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Ironically, one of the reasons Mother’s Day remains so popular is that it has returned to the more Pagan understanding of mothers and mothering. Rather than focus solely on your own mother, Mother’s Day is promoted as a time to remember all forms of mothering including symbolic mothers and mothers in the animal world. Many zoos have special Mother’s Day events and encourage people to think about giving a donation or animal sponsorship as a Mother’s Day gift. It’s not what Anna wanted, but maybe by focussing on a broader meaning for Mother’s Day, we can also heal some of the stress that comes with this complicated holiday. Those who have bad relationships with their mothers or children, those who aren’t mothers and those who are mourning children or mothers who have passed away may gain some comfort from less rigid interpretations of the day.

As someone who has always been passionate about animals, I love the idea of including them in Mother’s Day celebrations. My first two posts on Mother’s Day were both panda film reviews – ACHOO! The sneeze heard across the world and Kung Fu Panda 3. Both posts look at the beauty, power and struggle of mothers and babies in the animal world. By including all forms of mothers and mothering in Mother’s Day celebrations, we can bring new focus to the holiday and give support to some of the rarest mothers in the world.

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In honour of all mothers I thought I would create an apple flowerpot cake with apple crisps. The cake can be presented in its pot as a gift. The apple crisps are a personal reminder of the bamboo and apple slices baby panda Miao Miao munched on during a cuddling session with one of her Aunties – me 🙂

Apple Flower Pot Cake

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Ingredients
170g butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup of sweet apple cider
2 tablespoons of elderflower cordial
Icing sugar for dusting

Instructions
Preheat oven to 170C / 340F.
Line an unglazed flower pot or glazed baking pot with baking paper – (approx 16 cm diameter and 10 cm deep)
In a large bowl using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.
In a separate bowl sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves.
In a jug, combine the apple cider with the elderflower cordial.
Add the flour mixture alternately with the cider mixture to the creamed butter. Beat until well blended.
Pour batter into prepared flower pot.
Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow cake to cool for a few minutes before removing from pot.
Gently peel away the baking paper.
Place cake on serving plate and dust with icing sugar.
Serve with apple crisps.

Apple Crisps
Ingredients
1 red apple
1 green apple
elderflower cordial for brushing
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions
Preheat oven to 130C / 250F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Thinly slice the apples crosswise and remove the seeds.
Using a pastry brush, lightly brush both sides of the apple slices with elderflower cordial.
Combine the sugar and cinnamon together and use to lightly dust both sides of the apple slices.
Place in a single layer on baking trays and bake for approximately 2 hours or until dry and crisp. Turn over every half hour.
Remove from oven, transfer to racks and allow to cool.

A Silent Supper

It’s funny what things will make you miss someone close to you who has died. For me it’s usually something happy, something I want to share with that special person, but now I can’t. In The Austen Tea Room I wrote about someone close who had just passed away. What I didn’t say was that it was my mother. Her death was still too raw. The words couldn’t be said. Burying her on the morning of New Year’s Eve meant I was starting the new year without her. It’s shaping up as one hell of a great year. And it’s the first year I can’t share with my mum.

The wheel has spun its way back to Halloween in the Southern Hemisphere. With all the fun of trick-or-treaters and dressing up, sometimes we forget the true meaning of Halloween which is honouring the dead. This April 30th I will visit my mother’s grave and take some of her favourite foods to share with her. I’ll then be going to The Austen Tea Room for an afternoon High Tea. For the evening I thought I would do something very different – a Silent Supper – which is a meal that is eaten in silence to honour the dead.

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There are many ways to hold a Silent Supper. You can have a solitary meal or invite friends and family. It can be as simple as eating something in silent contemplation or you can go all out and do a formal ritual with a formal dinner included. Some even suggest cooking the food in silence too.

While there are no real rules or directions, there are a few things to think about when hosting a Silent Supper. A place should be set at the head of the table for the departed loved ones you are honouring. You can drape the seat in a white or black cloth. Before you bring out the food, light a candle and place it on the table near the setting for the departed. The meal should include some of their favourite foods. Starting the supper around midnight is a nice touch. While you eat your silent meal, think about those that have passed.

When I think about my mother I always think of Demeter and Persephone. The bond between mother and daughter is beautifully expressed by these two Goddesses. My mother and I saw ourselves in their myth. She was Demeter as mother – good, bad and smothering. I was the daughter Persephone who left Demeter’s realm as a young girl to find a place for myself in the Underworld with Hades. Over the years I returned often to visit my mum. We shared both good times and bad times.

As the years went by I knew that my mother’s time here was drawing to a close. Finally, with very little warning, my mum passed into the realm of Persephone and Hades. I hope she likes the Underworld as much as I do.

In remembrance of my mother I will be making coliva for Halloween. Coliva is a boiled wheat dish that is traditionally prepared for services that honour the dead. There are many things you can add to the coliva but I prefer a simple fruit and nut mix. I particularly like adding pomegranate seeds so that the symbols for Demeter (wheat) and Persephone (pomegranate) can be united again in this sacred dish.

Coliva

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Ingredients
1/2 cup wheat berries
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup vanilla sugar
1/2 a pomegranate, seeded
icing sugar for dusting
cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Rinse the wheat berries and place in a large saucepan.
Add the salt and enough water to cover the berries by about 5 centimetres.
Bring to the boil over medium heat.
Stir occasionally to ensure the berries do not stick to the bottom.
During the cooking process, check to make sure the water has not dropped to a level where the berries cannot float.
Cook for 1 – 2 hours or until the berries are tender but not mushy.
Drain and spread out onto baking paper to dry for a few hours.
When the berries are dry, place in a bowl and mix through the walnuts, sesame seeds, ground cinnamon, vanilla sugar and pomegranate seeds, keeping a few pomegranate seeds in reserve.
Transfer to a serving platter and form into a mound.
Sift icing sugar over the top and decorate with reserved pomegranate seeds.
Serve with a dollop of cream if desired.

Bram Stew

I hope Bram Stoker isn’t going to turn over in his grave when he sees what I have chosen to make for his 105th Deathiversary (Thursday the 20th April) – deconstructed Irish Stew! It’s not the first time I’ve dabbled with deconstructing a classic recipe for Bram. I celebrated one of his birthdays by making a dessert version of an Irish Coffee.

So how do you deconstruct an Irish Stew? First, you have to have an idea of what deconstruction means in cookery terms. Basically, it is the art of looking at all the ingredients in a recipe, reimagining them in some way, and then putting them together again. The key is to make a dish that reminds you of the original, especially in flavour, and remains true to the essence of the dish. How you do this is where the artistry and the confusion comes in.

With that in mind there are a few ways of deconstructing a stew. I have chosen to stick with a basic stew but have taken the lamb out of the dish. Isn’t that just a vegetable stew? Yes, except I am still serving the lamb but in a different form. My aim is to deconstruct only part of the dish. The essence of a stew for me is a piping hot combination of hearty ingredients cooked to perfection in a tasty sauce. The reason I am taking out the lamb is because I don’t particularly like lamb. The only way I eat lamb is as crumbed cutlets. So, when I thought about making an Irish Stew for Bram, I couldn’t help but think of a dish of piping hot vegetables with succulent and crispy crumbed lamb cutlets served on the side. I hope you and Bram enjoy my reworking of this classic dish.

Deconstructed Irish Stew

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Note:
Start preparing the lamb cutlets once you have the stew simmering.

For the Irish Stew
Ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons plain flour
1 cup of Irish beer
1 cup of  chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add the onion, carrots and potatoes and cook for a few minutes.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables. Stir so they are all coated in flour.
Stir in the beer and stock. Add water if needed until the vegetables are just covered.
Bring to boil then reduce heat to a simmer.
Cook for 1 hour or until the vegetables are tender.
Check the liquid level during the cooking process. The vegetables should be covered at all times. Add more beer, stock or water as needed.
Once cooked, taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.
Keep warm while you cook the lamb cutlets.

For the Lamb Cutlets
Ingredients
1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
6 lamb cutlets, French trimmed
olive oil for shallow frying

Instructions
Mix flour and salt on a plate. Whisk the egg in a small bowl. Place the breadcrumbs on another plate.
Flatten the cutlets between plastic wrap with a meat mallet.
Working with one cutlet at a time, coat cutlet in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in the beaten egg. Dip in the breadcrumbs, pressing firmly to coat. Repeat with remaining cutlets.
Cover and refrigerate until the stew is ready and is being kept warm.
Pour enough oil to cover the base of a large frying pan. Heat over medium heat.
Working in batches, cook the cutlets for 3-5 minutes each side or until they are golden brown and cooked to your liking.
Drain on paper towels before serving.

If you would like to keep the stew vegetarian, substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock.

The Witches Of Easter

Thinking about my broomstick, I decided to google “broomstick cookies” for a laugh. I wasn’t surprised to find Halloween type recipes where cookies or pretzels are shaped to look like brooms but I was surprised to find recipes for Swedish Broomstick Cookies. When I saw pictures of them they looked like curled, lacey tuile cookies. So why are they called broomstick cookies? Because the warm cookies are draped over the handle of a broomstick to achieve the slightly curled shape. I love the idea of shaping cookies on broomsticks 🙂 What I love even more is that the discovery of these cookies also led to another witchy discovery – the Swedish Witches of Easter!

Blåkulla is a place in Sweden where witches go to celebrate a Witches’ Sabbath. The destination can only be reached by a magical flight. Luckily witches have broomsticks! On the Eve of Maundy Thursday – the night of the Last Supper – Swedish witches grab their broomsticks and fly out of their chimneys to Blåkulla. They take a black cat and a copper coffee pot with them. I expected a cat but not a coffee pot. It warms my heart to know these witches take their coffee drinking seriously – just like me 🙂 They party for three nights with the Devil before returning home just in time for Easter Sunday.

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This idea of an Easter Witches’ Sabbath has led to an interesting tradition where young girls dress up as påskkärringar – Easter Witches. Similar to Halloween, the Easter Witches visit their neighbours with gifts of paintings, drawings and cards and are given sweets in return. Unlike Halloween, traditional påskkärringar like to dress in long, colourful skirts with shawls on their shoulders, scarves covering their heads and sporting rosy cheeks and freckles. Naturally they ride broomsticks and carry copper coffee pots – because you can’t forget about coffee!

I was going to make a batch of Swedish Broomstick Cookies in case some Easter Witches come visiting me before I fly off to Blåkulla. But, as I was sorting through a pile of recipes I had clipped from newspapers way back in 2011, I came across the perfect recipe for a witchy Easter cookie – Strazzate. These Italian chocolate and almond cookies are flavoured with Strega, a liqueur named after the Italian word for witch. I talked about Strega in my post Season Of The Witch and offered a recipe for a Strega Sunrise.

The label on a bottle of Strega features an old witch holding a broomstick. There are other witches dancing with half goat, half man creatures. These witches seem to be partaking in the same revelries as the Swedish Easter Witches so to me they are the perfect Easter Witch Cookie. They even contain coffee 🙂

Strazzate

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Ingredients
1 + 3/4 cups plain flour, sifted
1 tablespoon cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 + 3/4 cups ground almonds
2 tablespoons roughly chopped almonds
1 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped dark chocolate
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup Strega
1/3 cup warm black coffee

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line 4 baking trays with baking paper.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, ground almonds, chopped almonds, sugar, chocolate, olive oil and Strega, until combined.
Add the coffee and beat until you have a pliable dough.
Roll into balls – use approximately 1/2 a tablespoon of dough per ball.
Place on prepared baking trays and flatten slightly.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.
Allow to cool on wire racks before serving.

Recipe by Kate McGhie published in the Herald Sun newspaper April 19, 2011.
The original recipe suggested dusting the cookies with cocoa powder before serving. I didn’t do this but you can give it a try.
You can substitute Galliano for Strega but then you won’t have the witchy connection.

Food For Fools

I remember celebrating April Fool’s Day when I was a youngster at school. Every year we would try and trick each other before noon. As the years went by, the day meant less and less. But then I discovered tarot and the day was reawakened for me with a whole new meaning!

For me, April Fool’s Day is a day to celebrate the spirit of the tarot Fool. As the first card in the tarot deck, the Fool symbolises journeys, adventures and new beginnings. We don’t know if our endeavours will lead to success or failure but we surge cheerfully ahead, hopeful of a positive outcome. The Fool card is the perfect symbol for a new year. As someone who loves Autumn and Winter and looks to them as the times when I am most productive and eager to get out and about, celebrating April Fool’s Day as my personal new year makes sense to me. As someone who loves humour, starting my year on a day dedicated to mischief is just perfect.

One of the ways I love celebrating April Fool’s Day is by thinking about recipes that trick you. Tricking the senses by serving a cold soup when everyone is expecting a hot one or serving a shot of alcohol which turns out to be a solidified jelly shot are some ideas. The names of some dishes can also be tricky, like Welsh Rabbit, which doesn’t have any rabbit in it. Visual tricks are great too and there are lots of examples of savouries made to look like sweets and sweets made to look like savouries. One of my favourite Foolish Foods is a Chocolate Salami which is a sweet made to look like a savoury. When you slice it, the chocolate, cookies and walnuts trick the eye into thinking you are seeing a salami. It’s both a fun visual and a delicious treat 🙂

Chocolate Salami

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Ingredients
100g unsalted butter
3/4 cup double cream
2 tablespoons sugar
100g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200g shortbread cookies, broken into various small and medium sized pieces
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped into various small and medium sized pieces
icing sugar for dusting
greaseproof paper

Instructions
Heat the butter and cream in a medium sized saucepan over low heat.
Stir in the sugar.
Add the chocolate pieces and stir until the chocolate melts.
Add the cocoa and vanilla. Beat with a wire whisk until combined. If the mixture looks like it has split, don’t worry. Keep whisking and it will come together as it cools.
Allow to cool for a few minutes. You have to allow it to cool long enough so that the cookies don’t turn to mush when added, but not too long or the chocolate will set.
Add the broken cookies and chopped walnuts to the chocolate mixture. Stir until combined.
Place in the fridge and allow to cool. Again, you don’t want to leave it too long or the chocolate will set and you won’t be able to roll it. I check the mix every 5 minutes. You want the mix to be pliable enough to roll but not too wet.
Place the chocolate mix onto a piece of greaseproof paper and roll into a large sausage.
Refrigerate overnight.
Unwrap and sprinkle generously with icing sugar.
You can present it tied with butcher’s string or partially wrapped in baking paper.
Cut into slices.
Refrigerate any leftovers.

Check out last year’s April Fool’s Day post for my tricky Doggie Treats recipe.

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 Ides Of March

Beware the Ides of March! Julius Caesar was warned by a seer that harm would befall him before the end of the Ides of March – March the 15th. The seer was right. Caesar was assassinated on that day. But there is more to the Ides of March than Caesar’s death. In ancient Rome, the Ides of March was a celebration day for the first full moon of the year. To understand why March would host the year’s first full moon, we have to go back to the complicated issue of calendars.

The Julian calendar – introduced by Julius Caesar – is a solar calendar based on the Earth’s revolutions around the Sun. It replaced the more complicated ancient Roman calendar which was a lunar calendar based on the phases of the moon, the equinoxes and the solstices. In the Julian calendar, March is the third month of the year but in the ancient Roman calendar, March was the first month of the year. Due to the complicated calculations of the ancient Roman calendar, the full moon usually fell in the middle of the month, around March 15. March was a time of holidays and festivals celebrating the beginning of the new year and the arrival of the year’s first full moon.

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One figure associated with the Ides of March is the ancient Roman Goddess Anna Perenna. She represents the eternal cycle of a year’s ending and beginning. This is symbolised by her name which can be interpreted to mean per annum (every year). Her name also reflects the English words annual (anna) and perennial (perenna). As March is also springtime, she is associated with the cycles of life, death and renewal. She is also known as a Lunar Goddess.

As with many ancient deities, Anna Perenna’s origins are shrouded in mystery. One of my favourite origin stories is that Anna was an old woman living in Bovillae. During a secessio plebis – a type of extreme strike where all shops are shut down – Anna baked cakes every morning and gave them to the hungry rebels. In gratitude, they worshipped her as a Goddess. Thanks to their worship, Anna became a deified human. I love that she became a Goddess by baking cakes. There’s hope for me yet!

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Whatever Anna Perenna’s origin, the Goddess is celebrated on the Ides of March with feasting, drinking and toasting to health, long life and a happy year ahead. One tradition held that you would live as many years as the cups of wine you drank. I can only imagine the hangovers! That may be another reason to Beware the Ides of March 🙂

There are two places where it seems Anna Perenna was worshipped. One is Buscemi in Sicily where inscriptions to Anna and Apollo were discovered. The other is in Rome where a fountain to Anna was unearthed. Inspired by cake baking Anna and in honour of her two places of worship, I have created an Ides of March Cupcake. The cupcake is based on a  Sicilian cannoli ricotta filling. It is topped with a honey frosting. Honey was a favoured food in ancient Rome. Here’s hoping these cakes lead me to deification!

Ides of March Cupcakes

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Ingredients
for the ricotta cupcakes
1/4 cup honey
2/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup fresh ricotta
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup mixed peel

for the honey buttercream
1 cup (225g) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered (icing) sugar
1/2 cup honey

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
Using an electric mixer, beat together the honey, olive oil, ricotta, lemon juice and lemon zest in a medium sized bowl until combined.
Add the egg and beat until combined.
Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.
Add the flour and baking powder and beat until combined.
Add the citrus peel and mix until just combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into the 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 buttercream by creaming together the butter and honey with an electric mixer on low speed. Gradually beat in enough powdered sugar until buttercream reaches a piping consistency. Spoon buttercream into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.
Enjoy with a glass of wine or honey mead.

You can also check out my Libum – an ancient Roman recipe for cheesecake.

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.

 

Year Of The Red Fire Rooster

Saturday January 28 is Chinese New Year. It is time to say farewell to the Year of the Monkey and hello to the Year of the Rooster! What better way to celebrate than with a poached then roasted chicken.

Twice Cooked Chicken

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Special Note:
You will have to start the recipe the day before you want to serve it, as the poached chicken needs to rest overnight.

Ingredients
for poaching the chicken
1.5kg whole chicken (approximately)
2 spring onions, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, bruised with the back of a knife then peeled
6cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
3 star anise
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup Chinese rice wine
1/2 cup dark soy sauce
12 cups (3 litres) water, more may be needed

for the marinade
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sea salt

for serving
thinly sliced fresh red chillies

Instructions
Place the spring onions, garlic, ginger, star anise, cloves, cinnamon stick, Chinese rice wine and dark soy into a large saucepan. Add the chicken, breast side down. Pour the water over the chicken making sure the chicken is fully submerged. Add more water if necessary.
Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat. Cover and allow the chicken to steep for 1 hour.
Carefully remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and place into a baking pan. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.
Discard the poaching liquid.
The next day, preheat the oven to 220C / 430F.
Mix together the marinade ingredients.
Brush the chicken with half the marinade.
Bake for 20 minutes. Brush chicken with remaining marinade and continue baking for a further 10 – 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
The best way to check if the chicken is cooked is by placing a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh or the breast without touching the bone. It should be approximately 82C / 180F.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer you can pierce the thigh with a skewer and when the juices run clear the chicken is cooked.
Cover the chicken with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into pieces.
Serve with sliced chillies.

For an extra spicy kick, make a batch of Chinese five spice salt by combining 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder with 1 tablespoon sea salt. Sprinkle it over your chicken or use it as a dipping salt.