Wheel of the Year

Baking For The Equinox

Thursday the 23rd is the September Equinox. On the Equinox, the hours of day and night are roughly equal. Following the Equinox, the days will become longer than the nights or the nights longer than the days, depending on where you live. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you’ll be celebrating the Autumn/Fall Equinox so your daylight hours will slowly decrease as nights become longer. For those of us in the southern hemisphere, we are celebrating the Spring Equinox so our hours of daylight will slowly increase and the days become longer as we head towards the Summer Solstice.

After grating too much carrot for a recipe, I decided to use the extra carrot to make something for the Spring Equinox. I’ve always wanted to make carrot cornbread or a cornmeal carrot cake so I decided to play around with some of my cornbread recipes and my previous Easter Bunny Cupcake recipe. With some trepidation I baked my carrot and cornmeal concoction in a loaf pan and hoped for the best. Thankfully the cake turned out to be sweet and moreish – perfect for the Spring Equinox!

Carrot and Cornmeal Cake

Ingredients
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, room temperature
30g (2 tablespoons) butter, melted
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 cup grated carrot

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a medium sized loaf pan with baking paper.
Mix together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, melted butter and maple syrup.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Stir in the grated carrot.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Remove from pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

A Day For Red Pandas And Bamboo

International Red Panda Day was created by the Red Panda Network to promote the red panda and to find ways to fight for its survival. It is celebrated on the third Saturday in September. This year it falls on the 18th of September which is also World Bamboo Day. What a happy coincidence as bamboo is something red pandas love!

World Bamboo Day was created in the hopes it would increase global awareness about the importance of bamboo. The World Bamboo Organization encourages the use of bamboo in a sustainable fashion. They hope to introduce bamboo to new industries across the world and also protect traditional uses within local communities. The World Bamboo Organization is passionate about growing more bamboo around the world and have created the hashtag #PlantBamboo for this year’s celebrations.

Red pandas are all for planting more bamboo because they can’t survive without it. About 95% of their diet consists of bamboo. While the giant panda eats nearly every part of the bamboo, like the woody stem, the red panda is very selective and only eats the more nutritious leaf tips. They also eat tender bamboo shoots when they are available.

Thinking of red pandas enjoying nutritious bamboo tips reminded me of the bamboo leaf tea I bought a while ago. Bamboo tea is becoming popular as it is supposed to boost the immune system. It is good for the skin and can improve bone density. Bamboo tea also promotes healthy nail and hair growth, which may explain why red pandas have such beautiful, thick fur!

Bamboo tea has a subtle flavour, so you may need to experiment to find the right brew for you. I decided to pump up the flavour by using bamboo tea to make a spiced apple tea. This tasty tea can be served hot or enjoyed chilled as an iced tea. You can also make ice cubes with it and pop them into a gin or vodka cocktail. I mean why should pandas be the only ones having fun with bamboo! 🙂

Bamboo and Apple Tea

Ingredients
2 cups bamboo tea brewed to your liking
1 apple
1 cinnamon stick
4 cloves
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Instructions
Strain the tea into a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
Cut the apple into thick slices crosswise so you can see the star shaped core.
Add the apple slices, cinnamon, cloves and sugar to the boiling water.
Simmer for 15 minutes.
Strain and serve with a slice of apple if desired.

Two Times A Blue Moon

This weekend I’ll be celebrating a very special Blue Moon. Not only is it a Seasonal Blue Moon, it is also an Astrological Blue Moon, making it a very rare double Blue Moon!

There are three types of Blue Moon: a Calendar Blue Moon, a Seasonal Blue Moon, and an Astrological Blue Moon.

A Calendar Blue Moon occurs when there are two Full Moons in the same calendar month. The second Full Moon is the Blue Moon. While this is now the commonly accepted interpretation, it is actually the newest way to calculate a Blue Moon and is the least celebrated in the esoteric realms.

A Seasonal Blue Moon occurs when there are four Full Moons in a season. A seasonal cycle is measured from Equinox to Solstice, or from Solstice to Equinox. Each season lasts roughly three months and normally has three Full Moons. These Full Moons often have names associated with seasonal attributes which vary from place to place and hemisphere to hemisphere. Occasionally a seasonal cycle will have four Full Moons. When this happens it is the third Full Moon which is the Blue Moon, not the fourth as you might expect. By naming the third Full Moon a Blue Moon (rather than the fourth), the names and attributes of the usual seasonal Moons aren’t disrupted by the appearance of an extra Full Moon.

An Astrological Blue Moon occurs when there are two Full Moons in the same Astrological sign in the same Astrological month. Astrological months are approximately four weeks in length. When an Astrological month has two Full Moons in the same star sign, it is the second moon which is the Blue Moon.

So what season and sign is the August Blue Moon in? Well that depends on where you live. In Melbourne (Australia), the seasonal Blue Moon will be the third Full Moon in the Winter season and the Astrological Blue Moon is in the sign of Aquarius.

Personally I’ll be celebrating the Aquarius Blue Moon as Astrological Blue Moons are my favourite!

A Blanket Of Winter

This weekend is Imbolc, the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Imbolc heralds the promise of spring, but cold weather is still abundant. The days have occasional bursts of sunlight but the nights are cold and dark.

For me it’s a time of in-betweens. One part of me wants to go out and enjoy the brief rays of sunshine while the other part hasn’t had enough winter down-time. I still want to spend a little bit more time snuggled under my cosy blankets and indulging in warm drinks and comfort foods.

One comfort food I love is potsticker dumplings. These delicious parcels of yumminess are filled with a meat or vegetable filling. They are fried and steamed so the bottoms become crispy as the tops steam, producing a flavour and textual taste sensation.

I recently discovered an interesting twist to the classic recipe where a flour and water mix is added during the cooking process to produce an extra crispy crust. The dumplings are served inverted on the plate so they are covered with the crust which is called a skirt or lace.

For this recipe you can make your own dumplings or use frozen ones. Try not to crowd the pan too much as they will take longer to cook. Having said that, I crammed 15 into my frying pan because I didn’t want to cook them in batches! They did take a while to cook but they were delicious. If you do cook them in batches, just repeat the lace recipe for each batch.

Dumplings with Lace

Ingredients
for the dumplings
About 15 homemade or frozen dumplings
2 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil

for the lace
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons flour
pinch of sea salt (optional)

Instructions
Heat oil in a large, lidded, non-stick frying pan.
Place the dumplings close together and fry for 3 – 5 minutes or until golden on the bottom.
While dumplings are frying, make the lace by whisking together the water, flour and salt.
Once dumplings are golden, slowly pour the lace mix into the frying pan. Be careful as it may splatter.
Cover and steam for 5 minutes.
Remove lid and cook for a few more minutes until the water has evaporated and the lace is crisp and golden. Move the pan around to make sure the lace browns evenly.
Cover pan with a plate and carefully flip so the lace is now on top of the dumplings.
Serve dumplings with your favourite dipping sauce on the side.

A Game For Snakes

July 16th is World Snake Day! To celebrate this serpentine day, I want to explore one of my favourite childhood games – Snakes and Ladders.

Snakes and Ladders is a board game which features squares numbered 1 to100. Played by two or more players, each player rolls a dice in turn and travels along the numbered squares. Some of the squares have the bottom of ladders which help you move up (to the top of the ladder), while other squares feature the heads of snakes which send you back down (to the tail of the snake). The snakes and ladders vary in length, so you can rise and fall vast or small amounts depending on where you land. The first player to reach the final square is the winner!

Snakes and Ladders is the English version of an ancient Indian game. There are a number of names and variations of the Indian game such as Gyan Chauper, Leela, Mokshapat and Moksha Patam. The games were originally used to impart moral and karmic lessons to children. The ladders represent a virtue which allows you to rise while the snakes represent a vice which causes you to fall. In the Indian version there are more snakes than ladders, probably because it’s easier to fall victim to vice than to be virtuous. 🙂

When the game came to England, a few changes were made. The number of snakes was reduced so there were equal numbers of snakes and ladders. The karmic lessons of the original were also replaced with moral lessons relevant to the Victorian era of the time. Eventually the moral lessons were left out or replaced by cartoon pictures that had no real link to virtues or vices.

The American version is called Chutes and Ladders. In a move that would make Saint Patrick proud, Chutes and Ladders has driven all the snakes off the board and replaced them with chutes. Interestingly, most of these versions still retain the moral lessons of the original games.

When I think of playing Snakes and Ladders as a child, I can’t remember any moral lessons being imparted. All I remember is my desperate desire to win and to avoid the snake boldly waiting at the top, ready to turn my impending victory into defeat! I actually loved the drawings of the snakes, with their cute tongues poking out, but I was annoyed that it was a punishment to land on them.

Snakes are one of the oldest, richest and most widespread mythological symbols. While they are seen as symbols of negativity in some cultures, they are more often associated with positive traits such as creativity, fertility, healing, rebirth, sexuality and wisdom. I’m glad Snakes and Ladders didn’t teach me to see snakes solely as a symbol of negativity.

Happy World Snake Day!

Midwinter Custard

As the wheel spins towards the winter solstice, I find myself craving the drinks of xmases past. Growing up, spiced eggnog was one of my favourite xmas drinks, especially if it had a good slug of rum or whiskey. Xmas is celebrated in summer down under, so a cool drink was the perfect tonic for the often warm weather typical for December.

As an Aussie Pagan, I celebrate the winter solstice in June, which in Melbourne is usually very cold. While I craved the creamy and boozy pleasures of an eggnog, I wasn’t too keen on sipping a chilled drink.

As I researched warm eggnog recipes, I discovered a drink called Southern Boiled Custard. Despite the name, the custard is not boiled but gently simmered and is usually served chilled like eggnog. While I loved the idea of drinking custard, I was still keen to find a warm drink for the winter solstice. After a bit more research I found a few recipes that suggested serving drinking custard warm!

I’ve added a good splash of bourbon to my recipe, making it a perfect festive drink for midwinter. 🙂

Warm Drinking Custard

Ingredients
2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of sea salt
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
60ml bourbon

Instructions
Whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl.
Bring the milk to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Slowly pour the hot milk mix into the egg mixture, whisking continually.
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan.
Whisk until the custard begins to thicken.
Remove from heat.
Whisk in the vanilla extract and bourbon.
Pour the custard into heatproof glasses or mugs.
(Makes two generous serves.)

Halloween on Easter

One of the quirks of celebrating Halloween on April 30th in the southern hemisphere is that it sometimes coincides with Eastern Orthodox Easter. Due to the differences between the way Orthodox and Western churches calculate Easter, they are often on different days. Halloween and Western Easter cannot fall on the same day, but that’s not so for Orthodox Easter. You can read about the complicated reasons for the differences in Easter dates in my previous post Moon Over Easter.

This year Orthodox Good Friday falls on Southern Hemisphere Halloween, which got me thinking about the similarities between those two special days. Naturally I thought about Halloween’s focus on ghosts and spirits and Easter’s focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. How much more Halloween can you get than a story of a man dying and then returning from the dead? It doesn’t even matter if he returns as a man, zombie or ghost – it all fits with the spirit of Halloween!

Another Halloween/Easter theme is blood. Gory and scary looking food is a feature of Halloween celebrations, while the Easter tradition of colouring eggs red is meant to represent the blood of Christ that is shed on Good Friday. The hard eggshell represents the tomb Jesus is sealed in, and when you crack the eggshell, it symbolises Jesus’ release from the tomb and his resurrection from the dead. This connection of the egg with blood, death and rebirth, makes eggs perfect symbols for Halloween too.

A tasty egg dish that is traditionally served for both Easter and Halloween is Devilled Eggs. I’ve already shared a recipe for Devilled Eggs in my Dracula’s Journey post. I’ve added a Halloween tweak to the recipe, which now features pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice. I also decorated the eggs with pumpkin seed flour, pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin seeds to really pump up the pumpkin flavours. You can also drizzle with pomegranate molasses or another red sauce to give them a ghoulish look. 🙂 The great thing about Halloween food is that you can go all out with the decorating!

Pumpkin Devilled Eggs

Ingredients
6 boiled eggs
2/3 cups pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon sour cream
sea salt to taste
pumpkin spice to taste*

for decorating
pumpkin seed oil
pumpkin seed flour
pumpkin seeds

Instructions
Cut eggs in half lengthways and scoop out the yolk into a bowl.
Mash the egg yolk then add the sour cream and pumpkin puree. Mix until combined.
Add salt and pumpkin spice to taste.
Spoon or pipe mixture back into the eggs.
Decorate your eggs your way!

*you can use store-bought pumpkin spice mix or make your own. This is my version:
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
Mix the spices together in a small bowl.

Happy Halloween!

Death By Crumble

This year I thought I would commemorate Bram Stoker’s April 20th Deathiversary by exploring Quincey P. Morris, an important but often overlooked character in Dracula.

Quincey P. Morris is a young, rich American from Texas. He’s a larrikin who carries a bowie knife. He has travelled and had many adventures and is a bit rough and ready. He loves using American slang when he is with friends but is also a gentleman with impeccable manners. Quincey is close friends with both Arthur Holmwood and Dr Seward. All three are in love with Lucy Westenra and all three propose to her. Although Lucy chooses Arthur, Dr Seward and Quincey remain loyal and devoted friends to both Arthur and Lucy. When Lucy is bitten by Dracula, Arthur, Dr Seward and Quincey join forces with Abraham Van Helsing to try and save her life. Sadly they fail and Lucy becomes one of the undead and is eventually staked by Arthur.

The Dracula Tarot

When Mina Harker becomes the next target of Dracula, Arthur, Dr Seward, Quincey and Abraham Van Helsing join forces with Mina and her husband Jonathan Harker, to do battle with Dracula for the life and soul of Mina. After mighty struggles and an arduous journey to Transylvania, Mina watches as Jonathan and Quincey fight a band of gypsies protecting the fleeing Dracula. As they fight their way towards Dracula’s crate, Quincey is stabbed by one of the gypsies. Undeterred, Quincey makes it to Jonathan’s side and together they pry open Dracula’s crate. A horrified Mina watches as Jonathan slits Dracula’s throat and Quincey stabs Dracula in the heart with his bowie knife. Dracula’s body crumbles and disappears before their eyes. A dying Quincey watches as the symbol of Mina’s corruption, a wafer burn scar on her forehead, vanishes. He dies a happy man knowing that Mina’s soul is restored.

The Dracula Tarot

On the anniversary of Quincey’s death, Mina gives birth to a son. Quincey Harker has a bundle of names that link all the vampire hunters together but they call him Quincey in honour of his ultimate sacrifice. Quincey P. Morris is in many ways the true hero of Dracula. As a big fan of Quincey, I’m happy that his name and spirit live on.

To pay tribute to Stoker’s fascinating yet underrated character, I was considering making a Texas Funeral Cake. This way I could honour Quincey’s Texan heritage, and also enjoy a chocolate sheet cake topped with chocolate frosting and pecans. But as I thought of Quincey, I couldn’t help thinking of quinces. The name play being too tantalising for me, I started working out how I could add quince jam or paste to a Texas Funeral Cake. As I pondered whether to add quince to the cake batter, the cooked cake, or add it to the frosting, the thought hit me that as Dracula dies he crumbles. My mind then went straight to a Quince Crumble! 

The joy of using fresh quinces is that, as they cook, an amazing alchemical process takes place and the white flesh slowly transforms to a reddish pink colour. Watching the quince change colour naturally makes me think of blood, which is so appropriate for a recipe honouring the deaths of the author of, and a character in, a vampire novel! I’m sure Bram will enjoy my playful take on Quincey’s role in Dracula’s crumbly end. 🙂

Quincey’s Crumble

Ingredients
750g quinces, peeled, cored and quartered
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 + 1/4 cups plain flour
175g unsalted butter, diced and chilled
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Instructions
Place the quince in a medium sized saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add the caster sugar, vanilla extract and enough water to just cover the fruit.
Bring to the boil then simmer for 3 – 4 hours or until the quince have turned a pinkish red.
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Add the flour and chilled butter to a medium sized bowl. Using your fingertips, rub the mixture together until you form large crumbs.
Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and mix through until combined.
Spoon the quince into a baking dish, leaving behind any excess liquid.
Sprinkle the crumble topping over the fruit.
Bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes or until the crumble is golden brown.
Serve with cream, ice cream or custard.

After Easter Eggs

During the lead up to Easter, a recipe for a Cadbury Creme Egg “Scotch Egg” was doing the rounds and the reactions ranged from Yum? to Yuck! When a friend asked me what my take on this twisted treat would be, I put my thinking cap on and did a bit of research.

First step was to check the ingredients in the Creme Egg. Palm oil is an ingredient which was a concern because of its environmental impact, however, Australian Cadbury products are supposed to use palm oil sourced from sustainable producers which is great. The next ingredient that caught my attention was the red/orange food colouring 160c – aka paprika – yes paprika! I am allergic to paprika and all other chillies, so I couldn’t use that egg for my recipe. Undeterred, I decided to use Caramello easter eggs which I know don’t contain paprika. 🙂

My next step was to decide what coating I would use to wrap around my eggs. After some thought I went with a condensed milk and biscuit (cookie) crumb truffle mix. I couldn’t decide whether to add cacao powder into the mix so I made one batch with cacao powder and another one with milk powder. The milk powder mix is drier than the cacao mix which is really sticky, making it slightly challenging but heaps of fun to work with. I can’t decide which one I like best as they are both so tasty!

You can experiment with your own flavour combinations by mixing and matching different flavoured easter eggs such as Turkish delight or peppermint cream. You can also experiment with different toppings such as crushed cookies, sprinkles, grated chocolate, cocoa or cacao powder.

Easter Egg Truffles

Ingredients
125g shortbread cookies
25g cacao powder
25g milk powder
150ml sweetened condensed milk
12 mini caramel filled easter eggs
shredded coconut for topping

Instructions
Crush the shortbreads into fine crumbs in a food processor or by placing in a ziplock bag and smashing with a rolling pin.
Divide the shortbread crumbs evenly into two bowls.
Add cacao powder to one bowl and mix until combined.
Add milk powder to the other bowl and mix until combined.
Add half the condensed milk to the cacao powder mix and stir until combined.
Add the remaining condensed milk to the milk powder mix and stir until combined.
Place coconut in a bowl.
Remove wrapping from the easter eggs.
Place a tablespoon of milk powder mix in your hand, top with an easter egg, then shape the mix around the egg.
Roll in coconut. Repeat until 6 eggs are covered.
Place a tablespoon of cacao powder mix in your hand, top with an easter egg, then shape the mix around the egg.
Roll in coconut.
Repeat until remaining 6 eggs are covered.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
You can serve them straight from the fridge or bring to room temperature if you want a gooey centre.

Stone Soup Song

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

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

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

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

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

Mussel Soup

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

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

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