Sweet

A Rosy Midsummer

The Summer Solstice occurs near xmas in Australia, so while I’m getting ready to celebrate the longest day of the year and the shortest night, most of the stores are selling produce geared towards a winter feast day. I don’t mind, as I always look forward to the range of new shortbreads that are only available during xmas.

One of the other winter treats I used to enjoy at Summer Solstice was a Persian fruitcake filled with plump fruits and crunchy nuts and delicately flavoured with rose water. It was one of the most delicious fruitcakes I had ever tried. Every xmas I eagerly waited for the fruitcake’s arrival at the store until one year it wasn’t there and it never returned. That was almost two decades ago.

A few months ago I went for a country drive to Malmsbury Bakery, famous for its homemade Dundee cake. I was keen to try to this Scottish fruitcake as it was rumoured to be a favourite of Mary Queen of Scots. Queen Elizabeth II is also reported to enjoy Dundee cake at teatime. A cake fit for royalty was something I just had to have!

The cake was quite large, but I was assured that once opened, it would keep for months in an airtight container. I wasn’t sure how long it would last but I was happy to take a chance. As I cut a generous slice I noticed how large and plump the glazed cherries were, which immediately brought back memories of my cherished Persian fruitcake. I took a bite and was rewarded with the flavour and texture of one of the best fruitcakes I had ever tasted. This was as good as the Persian fruitcake.

The cake lasted weeks and I enjoyed every slice. With only a few slices left I decided to make a bold experiment. Could I add a rose water element to a slice without ruining it? I had to try. At first I was going to sprinkle rose water over a slice but I decided to make a rose water icing instead. I simply mixed icing (powdered) sugar with rose water until it was thick enough to drizzle and then drizzled it over my slice of fruitcake. While it wasn’t my coveted Persian fruitcake, it was floral and delicious and brought back many happy memories of solstices past.

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In keeping with the xmas spirit I also dunked a few pieces of shortbread into the rose water icing and then let them set. Happily they were a delicious success as well.

Happy Solstice!

A Taste Of Autumn In Spring

The 8th of November is Bram Stoker’s birthday. Stoker was born in autumn in 1847 during the sign of Scorpio. His most famous creation is the gothic novel Dracula. 

Every year I like to celebrate his birthday by doing something special. This year I treated myself to an autumnal breakfast in the heart of spring.

The Coffeeologist is a cafe which recently opened near me. It’s been getting rave reviews so I couldn’t wait to go. The menu looked good and there were a few items I wanted to try. The Red Velvet Hotcakes were tempting as was the selection of sourdough fruit breads, but the winner was the Spiced Brioche. 

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My plate arrived and it looked beautiful. A pool of burnt apple puree supported a thick slice of spiced brioche French toast topped with a rasher of maple bacon, hazelnut cream and scattered with almond granola. I took one bite and thought “This tastes of Autumn!” Memories of Halloweens past and present and ideas for future Halloweens swirled in my mind while my taste buds were blown away by the cacophony of autumnal delights. I can think of no better way to celebrate the birth of the author of Dracula than with a Halloween treat. 🙂

This is my basic recipe for French Toast. Dress it up with a drizzle of maple syrup or go all out and add as many seasonal accompaniments as you like!

French Toast
Ingredients
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
butter or oil for frying
2 slices of bread*
maple syrup
seasonal accompaniments

Instructions
Lightly beat the egg in a bowl.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Melt a small knob of butter or heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
Dip bread slices in the batter.
Place the bread into the frying pan and cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until golden brown.
Turn the slices over and cook the other side until golden brown, adding more butter or oil as needed.
Place on a serving plate and drizzle with maple syrup.
Add whatever seasonal accompaniments you desire.

*I usually use sliced white bread but you can use whatever bread you like.

A Bite Of Power

Spring is slowly warming us up Down Under but I’m still feeling the effects from a winter cold that I just can’t seem to shake. Changing to daylight saving time on the weekend didn’t help. What I need are some energy boosting treats. 

My Banana Power Bites are just the thing to give much needed energy when you’re under the weather. They are easy to make and even easier to eat!

Banana Power Bites

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Ingredients
2 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup mashed lady finger bananas
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
1 tablespoon cold dandelion-root tea*
shredded coconut for rolling in

Instructions
Mix together the oats and mashed banana in a bowl.
Add the maple syrup and dandelion tea and mix until combined.
Roll tablespoons of mixture in coconut until well coated.
Refrigerate for 1 hour.

*you can use any liquid – like cold tea, coffee or water.

When Life Gives You Pineapples

I thought I had all the ingredients to make my version of a wolf bite cocktail, but I had forgotten to get pineapple juice. Rather than make another trip to the store, I opened a can of pineapple pieces and used the juice from the tin instead. Disaster averted, I made the cocktail and it was a tasty success.

Not wanting to waste the pineapple pieces, I tried to think of what to do with them. I had been craving fruit crumble all week so I thought I would try making a pineapple crumble. I was feeling lazy, so rather than rubbing butter into the crumble mix, I decided to melt it instead. The result – a sweet, golden crumble that is now one of my favourite treats!

Pineapple Crumble

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Ingredients
440g canned pineapple pieces, drained
1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
60g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Spread the pineapple pieces into a small baking pan.
Mix together the flour, sugar, coconut and salt in a small bowl.
Add the vanilla extract to the melted butter.
Pour butter over the flour and mix until just combined.
Spoon the crumble mix over the pineapple.
Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until the crumble is browned and the fruit is bubbling.
Serve with your favourite topping.

Autumnal Nights

The Autumn Equinox is here and I’m excited. Even though there still may be hot days ahead, the Autumn Equinox signals a shift in power between day and night. The Equinox is a time of balance, a time when the hours of day and night are relatively equal. After the Autumn Equinox, the long days and short nights will slowly be overtaken by shorter days and longer nights. As a creature of the night, I’m looking forward to a return to the dark half of the year.

One of the things I love doing in cool weather is curling up with a good book. The one I’m reading now is The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, edited by Kate White. It is a collection of over 100 recipes from mystery writers. Each recipe is accompanied by fascinating facts about the author and their murderous works.

My recipe below is adapted from Margaret Maron’s recipe for Granny Knott’s Baked Toast which is a French toast recipe which gestates overnight before being baked and devoured the next day. I’ve added autumnal gingerbread spices to the recipe and serve it with an optional scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Gingerbread French Toast
“An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread,” wrote William Shakespeare in Love’s Labour’s Lost. This delicious and warming bread is definitely worth a penny or two.

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Ingredients
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
75g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons treacle*
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
brioche loaf**
2 eggs
1 + 1/2 cups milk

for serving
vanilla ice cream (try experimenting with different ice cream flavours)
maple syrup

Instructions
Sprinkle the sugar over the base of a 20cm x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) baking pan.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
Add the treacle, ginger, cinnamon and cloves and stir until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Cut brioche into enough 1.5cm (1/2 inch) slices to fit snugly into the baking pan.
Place the slices in the pan.
Beat the eggs in a bowl.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Pour over the bread.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
While the oven is warming, remove pan from fridge.
Carefully pour any unabsorbed liquid into a bowl, making sure you don’t disturb the bread.
Spoon over the top of the bread.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the top is browned.
Serve with a dollop of ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

*you can substitute molasses for the treacle.
**you can use any heavy bread like sourdough or wholemeal.

Hot & Cold Equinoxes

This Sunday is the Spring or Vernal Equinox in Melbourne. It is the midpoint between Imbolc and Beltane. After the Spring Equinox there is a shift in power between day and night. The short days and long nights will slowly be overtaken by longer days and shorter nights. On the other side of the world the opposite is happening. The Autumnal or Fall Equinox is the midpoint between Lammas and Halloween. Following the Autumn Equinox, the long days and short nights will slowly be overtaken by shorter days and longer nights.

The Equinoxes offer us a moment of balance, when day and night are relatively equal. At the end of the Equinox, one part of the world will fall into spring and the other into autumn. In six months time we will meet again for a moment of balance before continuing in our oppositional seasonal dance.

A perfect blend between hot and cold, fried ice cream is a delicious symbol of the Equinoxes. One part frozen and icy, the other piping hot. Drizzled with syrup these golden orbs are a perfect treat for spring or autumn.

Fried Ice Cream

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Ingredients
6 scoops – approximately 500ml, best quality vanilla ice cream
2 eggs
1/2 cup plain flour, sifted
1/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
150g shortbread biscuits, finely crushed
2/3 cup rice crumbs
vegetable oil for deep frying (I use peanut oil)
golden or maple syrup for drizzling

Instructions
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Use a large ice-cream scoop to form 6, round scoops of ice cream.
Place on baking tray and freeze for 30 minutes or until firm.
Whisk together the eggs, flour, milk and sugar until smooth in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine biscuits and breadcrumbs.
Working quickly, dip ice-cream balls in batter then roll in crumb mix.
Return to tray and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Dip the balls in a second layer of batter and roll again in the crumb mix, making sure the balls are completely coated in crumbs.
Return to tray and freeze for at least 1 hour or overnight.
When ready to cook, heat oil in a medium sized pan to 185C / 365F.
Fry 1 – 2 balls at a time for 2 – 3 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
Serve immediately with a good drizzle of syrup.

Moon Days

When I went to buy my pocket diary for 2018, I noticed many of them had the first day of the week as Sunday. This was disturbing to me, as I think of Monday as the start of the week and Sunday as the end. When I look at my page a week diary, I like to see what I have planned for my weekdays and weekend in one glance. I don’t want to have to turn a page to see what is happening on Sunday.

As I checked diary after diary I was losing hope that I would find a diary with my preferred formatting. Finally, at the bottom of the pile, I found one! I was so happy – especially as the cover was black. In fact it’s exactly the same brand as my 2017 diary. I’ll have to start looking much earlier for my 2019 diary as it seems I’m not the only one who wants to start their week on Monday.

Starting the week on Monday is more than just a way of staying in tune with the common separation of working and leisure days. Monday is named after the Moon and, as it is lunar cycles that resonate most with me, it seems fitting that I begin my week on the Moon’s Day. I was happy that 2018 began on a Monday as it reconfirmed my lunar commitment. January 1st was also the eve of the Cancerian Full Moon. The monthly lunar cycle is very time specific so you need to make sure you know where the Moon is in your time zone. When I give Moon cycle dates they are for Melbourne, Australia. Having January 1st fall on a Monday and on the eve of a Full Moon is a wonderfully powerful way for me start a new year.

As part of my new year celebrations I am going to try a ritual which I just found out about. I caught up with one of my friends a couple of days ago and she told me she spent New Year’s Eve in a forest with a group of “alternative” friends. 🙂 Sitting by a campfire they introduced her to a ritual called “Rose, Thorn, Bud.” The rose represents what came to fruition in the year just passed, the thorn represents the snags that held us back and the bud symbolises a seed that has been planted and will hopefully bloom in the new year. After telling me her Rose, Thorn and Bud revelations Jenny eagerly asked me what I thought mine were. I thought about it and gave her an answer, but what I was really thinking was that it was a beautiful ritual and I wished I knew about it before New Year’s Eve and not after!

Luckily, living a Pagan life means there are many times of the year when we can celebrate a symbolic New Year’s Eve. The upcoming Capricornian New Moon is one such time. It’s a perfect night to devise your own version of a Rose, Thorn and Bud ritual.

Pagans love ending their rituals with food and drink. I thought I would make it easy by combining the two in a cherry and wine offering. Cherries are part of the Rose family so they are a perfect food to enjoy after a Rose, Thorn and Bud ritual.

Cherries in Red Wine

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Ingredients
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup red wine (I used Shiraz)
1 cup pitted fresh cherries (about 225g / 8oz)

Instructions
Bring the water and brown sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan.
Add the red wine and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the cherries and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove from heat.
Cover and allow to cool before refrigerating until cold.
Serve in cups so you can drink the wine after you’ve eaten the cherries.

A Halloween Baker’s Dozen

For my Halloween pumpkin donuts I adapted a recipe for cinnamon cake donuts to include pumpkin puree. By adding pumpkin puree and increasing the amount of flour, I knew that my original recipe for 12 donuts would now make more. What to do with the extra batter? I hate just throwing things out so I thought of piping extra donuts onto baking paper and seeing what happened. Then it hit me – I could do a baker’s dozen. Not a conventional baker’s dozen but a quirky version that would produce 12 pumpkin donuts and one large pumpkin cupcake!

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The term a “baker’s dozen” is commonly used in reference to a group of 13. As the name suggests, the origin of this term comes from the world of baking. Bread has alway been an important product and since ancient times there have been some bakers who have tried to cheat their customers. Consequently there were heavy punishments for those who were caught. In a bid to avoid accidentally selling underweight goods, bakers would often add an extra loaf or loaves free of charge. A baker’s dozen specifically relates to the buying of 12 items that are the same and receiving an extra 13th one for free.

What does the number 13 have to do with Halloween? Well Halloween is celebrated on October 31 which is 13 reversed! Most appropriately, both days are related to the Death tarot card which is number 13. If you celebrate Halloween in the southern hemisphere the date is the 30th of April so it’s not linked to either Friday the 13th or the Death card. However, the number 3 is linked to the concept of Birth, Life, Death so there’s still a deathly link to both Halloweens. And I’m happy about that as I celebrate both of them!

I would like to thank fellow blogger Christine for getting my creative juices flowing with her post Fun on Friday the 13th. Her post reminded me of the link between Friday the 13th and Halloween and inspired me to make my pumpkin baker’s dozen 🙂

Pumpkin Donuts

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Special Equipment
12 hole non-stick mini donut pan
1 silicone jumbo sized muffin liner (you could use a similar sized ramekin or mug lined with baking paper)

Ingredients
For the donuts
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup (70g) unsalted butter, melted
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup caster sugar

For the cinnamon topping
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
1/3 cup (70g) unsalted butter, melted

Instructions
Preheat oven to 170C / 340F.
In a small bowl mix together the milk, egg, vanilla, pumpkin puree and melted butter, set aside.
In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Stir to combine.
Make a well in the centre.
Pour in the wet ingredients and, using a wooden spoon, mix until smooth.
Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle.
Pipe mixture into donut pan filling each donut to just below the halfway mark. (Keep the remaining batter for the cupcake.)
Bake donuts for 10 – 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.
Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes.
While donuts are cooling, mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Dunk donuts in melted butter then roll in cinnamon sugar mixture.
You can eat them warm or cold.

Pumpkin Cupcake

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Instructions
Once donuts are baked, increase oven temperature to 180C / 350F.
Pour remaining batter into muffin liner.
Bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Pumpkin Frosting
Ingredients
60g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
60g (1/4 cup) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon icing sugar

Instructions
Beat together the butter and cream cheese.
Beat in the pumpkin until combined.
Stir in the sugar.
Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if desired.
Pipe onto cupcake.

If there is any left over frosting you can dollop some on the donuts or just eat it with a spoon.

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.

A Very Warm Solstice

It’s time for those of us in the southern hemisphere to get ready for Midsummer! Wednesday 21st is the Summer Solstice, our longest day/shortest night of the year. While the northern hemisphere is preparing for their cold winter, we are getting warmer and warmer as we move into our summer. Since the Winter Solstice, the days have become longer and the nights shorter. When we reach the Summer Solstice, this reverses. Our longest day heralds the beginning of shorter days and our shortest night gives birth to longer nights.

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There was a time when I dreaded the arrival of summer but those days are gone. Over the years I have made peace with my solar deities, although I still hate the really hot days and long, oppressive nights that our summer can throw at us. I have learned to love the days when the weather is beautiful, warm and sunny and you just have to go outside and enjoy it. I’ve also come to appreciate the pleasantly warm nights where all you want to do is relax with a sparkling drink and wait for the night to slowly cool.

So with thoughts of outings and get-togethers with friends, I would like to celebrate the Summer Solstice with a sweet and golden Sunflower Seed Brittle. This sugary delight can be used to decorate cakes and desserts or eaten as is.

Sunflower Seed Brittle

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Ingredients
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Instructions
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Place the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat.
Stirring constantly, cook for 5 – 10 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves and caramelises.
Remove from heat.
Quickly stir in the sunflower seeds.
Pour onto prepared pan.
Allow to cool completely before breaking into shards.

If you like sunflower seeds, check out my recipe for Sunflower Seed Baklava.

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