Wheel of the Year

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 being 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 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.

 

Learning About Lammas

I had always assumed that Lammas, Halloween, Imbolc and Beltane were fixed date celebrations while the Solstices and Equinoxes were moveable dates. It’s a bit like Xmas being a fixed date and Easter being a moveable one. I thought it was the same for our eight witchy holidays – four are fixed and four are moveable. Well, that’s not quite the case.

Realising Lammas was upon me I googled to see what was happening for Aussie Lammas. That is when I got a surprise. Some were celebrating on the traditional date of February 2nd while others were celebrating on February 4th. Why the discrepancy? Lammas is meant to be the mid point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox, but if the dates of the Solstices and Equinoxes change, then so too would the midpoint. It makes sense, but does it feel right? I’m not sure. It’s something I will think on. One thing I do know – I won’t be celebrating Halloween on May 5th. When it comes to Halloween I’m a traditionalist – I celebrate on April 30th and October 31st 🙂

Lammas, also known as Lughnasadh, is the first Autumn festival of the year. Lughnasadh is derived from the name of the Celtic God Lugh while Lammas is derived from an Old English term for “loaf mass.” While I am into Gods, I am way more into bread, so to celebrate Loaf Mass Day, or Lammas, I went to one of my favourite places for jaffles – Bad Frankie.

Jaffles are one of my favourites forms of toasted sandwich. Two pieces of bread filled with savoury or sweet ingredients, buttered on the outside and then cooked in a special sandwich maker known by a few names such as pie iron, toastie iron or jaffle iron. The key to a jaffle is that the bread is toasted while the filling is heated and sealed between the slices of bread. It’s the sealing that makes it different to a toasted sandwich.

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Round Jaffle Iron

Rather than give a recipe for a jaffle, I’m going to share some photos of the different jaffles I have enjoyed from Bad Frankie and my other favourite jaffle place, Windmills and Waffles – a great place to break your trip from Melbourne to Adelaide when visiting the pandas 🙂

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Bangers & Mash from Bad Frankie – pork sausage and onion jam sandwiched between one slice of bread and one layer of cheesy mashed potato! And served with gravy!!

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The Chook from Bad Frankie – poached chicken, celery and pine nuts. Served with mayonnaise. My favourite 🙂

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Classic Ham & Cheese from Windmills and Waffles – served with tomato sauce and pickles on the side.

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Lamington from Bad Frankie – sponge cake soaked in chocolate, rolled in coconut and filled with jam. Served with cream.

Feeling inspired?
Let me know what your favourite jaffle fillings and creations are 🙂

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.

Season Of The Witch

New Year’s Eve 1999 was not spent partying like it was 1999. It was spent extracting metaphorical knives from my back and wondering if there were any more to come. I was happy to see the end of a year, century and millennia. I had a lot to put behind me. I also had so many good memories and great achievements to take with me into the new millennia. I was excited for the journey ahead. I thought I knew where my paths would lead me. I was wrong. I really had no idea. It’s ended up being a wild and bumpy ride. But I wouldn’t change it for the world!

2016 was one of those years that makes you think about the past, present and future. So many strange things happened. So many deaths. It made me think about my past and the decisions I made in 2000, the things and people I lost when I removed those metaphorical knives all those years ago. I’m happy to say I don’t miss much from those times but the one thing I do miss is witchcraft.

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I decided to take a sabbatical from witchcraft in 2000, mainly because some of the knives had been wielded by my coven and those knives hurt a lot. A sabbatical usually refers to a leave of absence from a job, usually an academic position. The term comes from sabbath which represents a day of rest. More broadly, a sabbath highlights the importance of making time for periods of rest and rejuvenation throughout your life. This was just what I needed in 2000, a time to rest, nurture and restore myself. As the years rolled by, I yearned for a return to ritual and witchy magic. I often remembered the fun times I had with various covens. The nights spent outdoors with a fire burning. The singing, chanting and dancing followed by cookies and wine.

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As an homage to my past, I decided to make my old coven recipe for crescent cookies. I was going to use them for my new year post on Mari Lwyd. My mouth watered as I remembered the golden, buttery taste of the delicately flavoured almond cookies. I was so eager to taste them that I ate a hot one straight from the oven. It wasn’t very nice. It was bland and dry. I waited until they cooled. They were worse. What had gone wrong? I’m not sure. I’ve certainly become a much better cook than I was back then. Could that be it? Again, I’m not sure, but the failure of my cookies reminded me of both the good and bad coven times. It wasn’t all cookies and wine. So for now I’ll put the cookies and thoughts of covens on the back burner. There is a new path ahead for me. There are many reasons why I think 2017 will be my season of the witch. I’ll share those reasons soon, but for now I’d love to share a recipe for a Strega Sunrise – my witchy tweak to a Tequila Sunrise, one of my favourite cocktails 🙂

Strega is a saffron based Italian herbal liqueur. I first saw a bottle of this golden elixir many years ago at my Italian brother in law’s home. When he told me that strega was Italian for witch, I had to take a good look at the label. It features witches dancing with half goat, half man creatures. There’s also an old witch holding a broomstick. She has snakes in her hair! I couldn’t believe it. Medusa, Pan, Witches and Saffron – what’s not to love about Strega!

Strega Sunrise

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Ingredients
ice cubes
30ml Strega
3/4 cup orange juice
15ml grenadine

Method
Place a few ice cubes in a tall glass.
Pour the Strega over the ice.
Pour in the orange juice.
Gently pour in the grenadine so it slips down and then rises again, creating a sunrise effect.

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Horsey New Year!

What if I told you you could ring in the New Year with a Zombie Horse! For those of us of a gothic persuasion, the spirit of the New Year cannot be embodied in a better form than that of the Welsh Mari Lwyd. Mari Lwyd, or Y Fari Lwyd in Welsh, translates as Grey Mare or Grey Mary. Mari Lwyd is a horse that comes back from the dead in the guise of a horse’s skull decorated in ribbons and mounted on a pole. A white sheet is attached to the pole hiding both the pole and the person carrying the Spooky Hobby Horse.

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Mari Lwyd and her gang of followers engage in Hobby Horse Hijinks by travelling from house to house trying to gain entry. They do this by singing and engaging in a battle of riddles. The occupants refuse entry in song and riddles. The banter continues until the occupants relent and allow Mari Lywd inside, where she is rewarded with food and drink. It is lucky to allow the Grey Mare entry as she brings good luck to the occupants for the New Year.

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If Mari Lywd comes knocking on your door New Year’s Eve, you can try offering the Zombie Horse some horsey based food and drink. Devils on Horseback sound like an appropriate treat. My two versions of the popular canapé feature dates and prunes stuffed with blue cheese wrapped in prosciutto and dates and prunes stuffed with dark chocolate wrapped in bacon.

Devils On Horseback

Ingredients
12 dates, pitted
12 prunes, pitted

for the blue cheese devils
100g blue cheese
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
12 thin slices of prosciutto

for the chocolate devils
12 squares of 70% dark chocolate,
6 strips of bacon, halved crosswise

Instructions
Preheat oven to 230C / 450F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Place the blue cheese in a small bowl. Add the pepper and mash until combined.
Fill 6 dates and 6 prunes with an equal amount of cheese.
Wrap each one tightly with a slice of prosciutto.
Secure with a toothpick.
Fill remaining dates and prunes with a piece of chocolate.
Wrap each one tightly with a slice of bacon.
Secure with a toothpick.
Place on prepared trays and bake for about 10 minutes or until the prosciutto and bacon are crispy. Turn over once, halfway through cooking time.
Serve warm.

What better way to wash done these tasty snacks than with a horsey cocktail 🙂 I thought of making a Moscow Mule, but chose a less known drink called a Horse’s Neck. I think it is the perfect drink for a horse whose head is balanced on a stick!

Horse’s Neck Cocktail

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Ingredients
Ice
25ml whisky
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Spiral of lemon peel
Ginger ale

Instructions
Fill a highball glass with ice.
Pour the whisky over the ice.
Add the bitters and lemon peel.
Top up with ginger ale.

Omit the lemon peel and you have a variation on the Horse’s Neck cocktail called a Horse Feather cocktail.

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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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Kitty Claws Is Coming To Town!

Did you survive Krampus night? Well don’t rest easy, because there is another scary xmas monster coming your way! I am happy to introduce you to Jólakötturinn – Iceland’s Yule Cat. Steeped in the mythology of countries that have long, cold, dark and deadly winters, rises the giant black cat of xmas. Jólakötturinn is monstrously huge, has glowing eyes, whiskers as sharp as nails and razor sharp claws. As if cats weren’t scary enough, Jólakötturinn takes feline fear to a new level.

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Jólakötturinn prowls the night of xmas eve, looking in windows for a Yule offering. But what offering could subdue such a terrifying beast? If you’re thinking food you’d be wrong. Your soul? Luckily nothing so dramatic. This fashionista feline desires an offering of new clothes. Bizarrely, the clothes are not necessarily for the cat – I mean cats aren’t known for their love of being dressed up! No, the new clothes are for you and your children. If there are no new clothes to be seen, the feisty Jólakötturinn may take all your gifts, eat all your food, eat you or take away your children and eat them. What better incentive do you need for new xmas threads!

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In some ways the scary kitty myth brilliantly mirrors our capitalist and consumerist approach to xmas with its emphasis on buying new clothes. Some say the myth of Jólakötturinn was used by farmers to frighten workers into finishing processing all the sheared wool before xmas so that new clothes could be made. Others say that the threat of a visit by Jólakötturinn was used to encourage people to work hard all year so they could have the money to buy new clothes for xmas.

It’s not clear when Jólakötturinn joined the cast of Icelandic monsters but the creepy cat’s popularity surged when Icelandic bard Jóhannes úr Kötlum wrote a poem about Jólakötturinn. Interestingly, the poem suggests that we should make sure that the needy, particularly poor children, are given a special piece of clothing at xmas. The basic theme in the poem is that if those who have give to those who don’t, Jólakötturinn will be thwarted. It is actually a beautiful xmas message clothed in a scary cat tale!

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I enjoyed reading about Jólakötturinn but the Yule Cat really came alive to me when I heard Icelandic singer Björk’s version of Jóhannes úr Kötlum’s poem. My favourite link is one that features animation with a written English translation of the poem and Bjork’s haunting voice singing the poem in Icelandic. So before I share my catty recipe for xmas, sit back and enjoy this powerful myth in images and song: Jólakötturinn – The Yule Cat.

We know the Yule Cat wants new clothes rather than food, but I can’t resist trying to tempt the scary kitty with a black bottom cupcake – a chocolate cupcake with a cheesecake filling. Will Jólakötturinn be the cat that got the cream? If creamy cheese isn’t enough, there’s also catnip! Catnip is part of the mint family so you can use any mint you like for this recipe. Chia is also part of the mint family but I’m not sure if cats would be tempted by chia seeds 🙂

Creamy Catnip Cupcakes

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Ingredients
for the cheesecake filling
8 ounces (225g) cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature

for the chocolate cupcakes
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint essence, or to taste

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
Make the cream cheese filling by beating the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and egg and beat until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
Make the chocolate cupcakes by sifting the flour, baking powder, cocoa, salt and sugar into a jug. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the water, oil, cider vinegar, vanilla extract and peppermint essence.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients until smooth.
Evenly pour the batter between the 12 paper cases.
Spoon the cream cheese mixture evenly into the center of each cupcake.
Bake for 10 – 25 minutes or until the cupcakes feel springy and the cream cheese filling has set. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Scary Xmas!

There are many reasons why the holiday season can be scary – family gatherings being one 🙂 But did you know that there is a dark side to the tradition of gift-giving? If good children are rewarded with gifts, what happens to naughty children? Enter one of the many scary creatures of xmas – Krampus!

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Krampus is half goat, half devil. He is hairy, has cloven hooves, goat horns, a long pointed tongue and fangs. His horned form appears to be a blend of ancient horned goat deities like Pan and traditional images of the devil. The name Krampus is derived from a German word for claw. I first saw Krampus in the television series Grim. He made a real impression on me 🙂

Krampus is the dark half of Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas. Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas reward good children by giving them gifts, while Krampus punishes bad children by giving them coal and sometimes beating them with the bundle of birch sticks he carries. In his scariest moments, Krampus carries a sack which he stuffs with naughty children. The fate of the children varies – but the outcome is always grim.

Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of the Feast of Saint Nicholas. It is on this night that Krampus appears, ready to punish naughty children. Sometimes he is accompanied by Saint Nicholas, reflecting they are two halves of one gift-giving whole. So ask yourself this on Krampus Night – “Have I been naughty or nice?” The consequences of the answer have never been so scary!

To honour Krampus Night I thought I would do a cheeky pasta dish – Gnudi with Puttanesca Sauce. Gnudi are nude or naked ravioli. Basically they are a ravioli filling without the pasta. I have chosen goats cheese for the gnudi to reflect the goat origins of Krampus. I chose to serve them with a puttanesca sauce as the name is derived from an Italian word for whore or prostitute. I couldn’t resist topping my naked gnudi with a tart sauce. Serve with breadsticks, just in case some naughty children come for a visit and need a light beating 🙂

Gnudi with Puttanesca Sauce

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Ingredients

for the gnudi
150g soft goat cheese, room temperature
2 eggs
good pinch of sea salt
100g hard goat cheese, finely grated
1/4 cup plain flour, more or less may be needed
extra flour for dusting

for the puttanesca sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic gloves, finely minced
6 vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
6 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
1 + 1/2 tablespoons small capers, drained
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Instructions
In a large mixing bowl mix together the soft goats cheese, eggs and salt.
Using a wire whisk, beat until smooth.
Using a wooden spoon stir through the hard goat cheese.
Add a tablespoon of flour at a time and mix through until you have a soft and light dough.
Shape into walnut sized balls.
Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
Add onion and saute until soft and lightly caramelised.
Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients.
Stir until combined, then simmer gently while you cook the gnudi.
Preheat oven to 190C / 375F.
Bring a large saucepan of generously salted water to boil.
Remove gnudi from fridge and roll in extra flour until lightly dusted.
Drop in batches into boiling water.
As they cook they will rise to the surface. Once risen, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them in a large oven proof dish or individual ramekins.
Pour the puttanesca sauce gently over the gnudi and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.