Wheel of the Year

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 Haunting Beltane

It has taken a long time for Australians to embrace Halloween and there are still many Aussies who loathe what they believe is an American holiday. Those of us who understand the history of Halloween, or Samhain, know that the tendrils of this ghostly and haunting night are rooted in the deep, dark past of many cultures. A night when the veils between the world of the living and the dead are thin, and the dead may walk amongst us again, is an ancient belief as old as time. It’s my favourite night of the year but, unfortunately for me, Halloween is six months away!

In the upside down world of the southern hemisphere, many Australian Pagans have chosen to celebrate seasonal festivals during the appropriate season. As Halloween is an autumnal festival, we celebrate it in April. But don’t worry, I won’t be missing out. I’ll be honouring Beltane, the spring festival that is the companion to Halloween. While Halloween focusses on death, Beltane celebrates life, fertility and regeneration. Life down under has started to wake. Plants are blooming, magpies are swooping and snakes are becoming (a lot) more active. Yet, amidst this noisy and colourful cacophony of life, I still see dead things, as the spectre of Halloween has finally arrived in Australia. I can think of no better way to celebrate life than with Halloween iconography and ghoulish children trick-or-treating.

Only one thing can make this night even better and that’s a drink featuring a Pagan favourite – mead. I added cloudy apple to the drink in tribute to The Wicker Man, my favourite Beltane/May Day film. The dash of ginger is a nod to the end of the film which does get very heated. 😉 With lines like “killing me won’t bring back your apples!” The Wicker Man is a great film suited to both Halloween and Beltane.

Wicker Man Mead

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Ingredients
1 teaspoon ginger cordial
1/4 cup cloudy apple juice
1 cup spiced mead
soda water
slices of cucumber
slices of lime

Instructions
Add the ginger cordial, apple juice and mead to a glass.
Pour in as much soda water as you like.
Top with cucumber and lime slices.

This makes enough for one drink but you can scale up the amounts to make a punch for a large crowd or if you are particularly thirsty. 🙂

A Day Of Gin And Tonics

October 19th is International Gin and Tonic Day. It is a day to celebrate and drink Gin & Tonics. That’s it! As a lover of gin and also of tonic I need no excuse to imbibe this refreshing drink. 

The Gin and Tonic was introduced during the reign of the British East India Company in India during the 1700’s as a treatment for malaria. Tonic water gets its distinctive bitter taste from quinine which was used as a natural medicine to treat malaria. To counter the bitter taste of quinine, sugar, lime and gin were added to the medicinal tonic water, giving birth to the Gin and Tonics we love today.

A Gin and Tonic is simply a mix of two ingredients – gin and tonic poured over ice. The ratio between the two ingredients depends on personal taste but you can start with one part gin to three parts tonic water and work from there. Garnishing with a slice of lime is traditional but I prefer lemon on the rare occasions that I add a garnish.

I love the flavours of Gin and Tonic so much that I just had to have a go at making Gin and Tonic Cupcakes with Gin and Tonic Icing. I wasn’t sure if they would work, and the thought of wasting a large amount of gin, inspired me to scale down my recipe to one generous Texas muffin sized cupcake. I’m happy (and somewhat relieved) to say it was a success! The cupcake has a hint of gin flavour which is enhanced by the icing. They are a perfect match – just like a G&T. 🙂

Gin and Tonic Cupcake

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Special instructions:
You will need 1 Texas muffin size silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan and paper liner.

Ingredients
for the cupcake
1 egg white
2 tablespoons sugar
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons tonic water
1 teaspoon gin

for the icing
1/2 cup powdered (icing) sugar
2 teaspoons gin
1 teaspoon tonic water

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg white and sugar until combined.
Whisk in the melted butter.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until combined.
Add the gin and tonic water and stir until just combined.
Spoon the batter into a silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan lined with a paper case.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Mix together the icing sugar, gin and tonic water in a bowl.
The icing should be thick enough to drizzle so add more gin or tonic water or more powdered sugar if needed to get this consistency. 
Drizzle as much icing as you like over the top and smooth over with the back of a spoon.

Red Panda Equinox

This year International Red Panda Day (IRPD) will be celebrated on Saturday, September 21st. IRPD was created by the Red Panda Network (RPN) and is celebrated every year on the third Saturday in September. RPN was created to promote the red panda and to find ways to fight for their survival, which is endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is part of this awareness campaign and is celebrated by zoos and individuals around the world with special events and red panda themed fun. Some zoos celebrate on different days, so check with your local zoo to see if they are doing anything and on what day. This year is the tenth celebration of IRPD.

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Depending on where you live, you also have an opportunity to celebrate either the Spring or Autumn Equinox. 

I’ll be celebrating the Spring or Vernal Equinox, which is a night of balance in which day and night are relatively equal. After the Spring Equinox the day wins ascendancy as longer nights are overtaken by longer days. The coming Spring brings a riot of colour, bird song and warmer weather. The return of bright hot days reminds me of the stunning colours of the red panda. The red panda boasts a striking mix of black, hot red, burning brown and bright white fur which are a great symbol for an Australian Spring and emerging Summer. Happily they are also the colours of Autumn. So whichever part of the world you are in, you can celebrate both red pandas and the Equinox!

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Some fun facts about red pandas:

  • Red pandas were discovered 50 years before giant pandas.
  • The name “panda” was given to the red panda first and then later to the black and white panda. The word “panda” may be derived from a Nepalese word meaning “bamboo eater.”
  • Red pandas are sometimes referred to as the “lesser panda” in relation to the giant panda but there is a movement afoot – or apaw – that is calling for them to be called “the first panda” in acknowledgement that they were discovered and named first.
  • Red Pandas were once thought to be related to giant pandas but they are actually in a family of their own called Ailuridae. 
  • A nickname for the red panda is “firefox” which inspired the Firefox web browser to use them as their name and symbol.
  • They are solitary except during breeding season.
  • Red pandas are crepuscular meaning they are active in the early morning and late afternoon and are arboreal meaning they spend most of their time in trees.
  • Although they are classified as a carnivore, red pandas mainly eat bamboo, though they will occasionally eat fruit, berries, eggs, insects and small animals. Like the giant panda, red pandas have an extra thumb used for grabbing bamboo.
  • Red pandas have retractable claws like a cat and the soles of their paws are covered in fur.
  • They have “tear track” markings on their face which may protect their eyes from the sun.
  • When it gets really cold, red pandas can use their bushy tail as a blanket.
  • Red pandas are one of only a few animals that can climb down a tree head first.

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Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus
The colours of this sunny hummus remind me of red pandas!

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Ingredients
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 + 1/2 cups rinsed and drained canned chickpeas
1/4 cup olive oil, more may be needed
1/4 cup drained sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
sea salt to taste
extra olive oil for serving
paprika for serving

Instructions
Process the garlic, tahini and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Add the chickpeas and oil and process until smooth.
Add the sun-dried tomatoes and process until just combined. (You may need to add more oil to reach your desired consistency.)
Season with salt to taste.
To serve, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with paprika.

To symbolise the balance reflected in the Equinox, I sprinkle paprika only over half of the hummus.

Dressing For Spring

Imbolc, the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, is celebrated on August 1st in Australia. Imbolc celebrates the return of Persephone as she begins her ascent from the Underworld, slowly transforming from our Queen of the Dead into our Goddess of Spring.

To celebrate Persephone’s journey, I bought a bottle of pomegranate vinegar. I was really excited, as I have tried lots of different vinegars but never a pomegranate one. I couldn’t wait to start experimenting with this new ingredient. My mind was reeling with ideas for an Imbolc recipe and I became fixated on using the vinegar in a cocktail. After much thought, I experimented with a gin and elderberry cocktail, which was interesting, but not something I would try again. As Imbolc neared, I almost panicked as I couldn’t think of what to make.

Today is the eve of Imbolc and the night of a Dark Moon. The sun is streaming through my windows and the birds are singing outside. I stare at the bottle of pomegranate vinegar, hoping for inspiration. Finally I am gifted with a memory of being served a platter with bread and three dunking bowls containing extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt. I remember dipping pieces of bread into the oil, vinegar and finally the salt. I also remember how much I loved it. At last I have a recipe idea for Imbolc! 

Rather than serve three individual bowls for bread dunking, I decided to make a dressing. I began by mixing equal parts of oil and vinegar, but I couldn’t taste the pomegranate, so I went with a 1 part oil to 2 parts vinegar ratio. I liked it, as it was fruity and almost unbearably tart. Happy with my decision, I sprinkled salt on top and grabbed a slice of sourdough bread. I sat outside dunking my bread into a flavoursome dressing while birds flitted through my bamboo heralding the coming of spring and the return of Persephone.

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The fun thing about this dressing is that you can choose what ratios suit you. You can also use it as a salad dressing or as a marinade.

Happy Imbolc!

Midwinter Morsels

The solstices are upon us and here in Australia we’re about to celebrate the longest night of the year. After the winter solstice the nights will get shorter and the days longer but the weather will get colder! Midwinter always reminds me of fruitcake and pinecones so I just had to add a sprinkling of pine nuts to my fruitcake recipe.

Fruitcake Cupcakes

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Ingredients
3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup sultanas
1/4 cup mixed peel, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
24 maraschino cherries, cut in half

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 150C / 300F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a large bowl cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs one at a time.
Add flour, salt, mixed spice and ginger and mix until combined.
Stir in the dried fruit, mixed peel and pine nuts until just combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Push four half maraschino cherries into the top of each cupcake. 
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Halloween Down Under

A burst of fallen bamboo leaves decorate my backyard in a swirl of autumn colours. Their dry brittleness holds a promise of the winter to come. This is my favourite time of the year. There are still sunny days and warm patches of sun during the day but the long, hot Australian summer is finally over. The coolness of autumn has arrived and with it Halloween, my favourite Sabbat.

April 30th is Halloween Down Under. It is a night when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest. Halloween is the night when the dead wait between the worlds, ready to visit their loved ones. 

There are many ways to welcome and honour the dead on Halloween. I wait until the sun begins to set and shadows of darkness shroud the coming night. I set an empty plate for the dead at my table. Late in the evening I light a black candle and do a tarot reading. I end the evening with food and drink. I leave a small offering on the table for any lingering spirits to enjoy before blowing out the candle and going to bed. Sometimes I have strange dreams. In the morning I pack everything up and try and do something fun and life affirming. 

So what will I be serving this Halloween? We don’t get trick or treaters in April as most people celebrate Halloween on October 31st. So in honour of these absent door knockers, I thought I would make Trick or Treat Pumpkin Pies. Half of them have a savoury filling and the other half are sweet. You won’t know what you are getting until you bite them!

Trick or Treat Pumpkin Pies

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Ingredients
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten

for the rosemary pies
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried rosemary

for the pumpkin spice pies
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Divide the pumpkin into two bowls.
Mix the salt and rosemary into one portion of pumpkin and the sugar and spices into the other. 
Using a 6cm (2.25 inch) cookie cutter* cut pastry into 16 rounds.
Place half the pastry rounds on the prepared trays.
Place 2 teaspoons of pumpkin filling on each round.
Cut eyes and mouths out of remaining rounds.
Cover filling with these rounds.
Gently press the edges together to seal the pies.
Press edges together with a fork to create a decorative edge.
Brush tops with beaten egg. 
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until pastry becomes golden and is cooked on the bottom.
Place on a wire rack to cool.

*I used a pumpkin shaped cookie cutter

Wake The Dead Cake

Saturday the 20th of April is Bram Stoker’s 107th deathiversary. To celebrate, I thought I would play around with a recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks – Death Warmed Over by Lisa Rogak. This cookbook is a collection of recipes and customs from different countries and religions around the world with a common theme of death. The recipe I have chosen is an Irish Wake Cake, in honour of Bram who was born in Ireland on the 8th of November, 1847.

Irish Wake Cake

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Ingredients
for the cake
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup mixed peel*
1 + 3/4 cups flour
1 + 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
170g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
80g (3oz) cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup buttermilk

for the glaze
1/2 cup icing (powdered) sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons brewed black tea**

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line a 22cm (9inch) loaf pan with baking paper.
Place the currants and mixed peel in a small bowl.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl.
Add 1/4 cup of the flour mix to the dried fruit and toss until the fruit is coated in flour.
Place the butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat until fluffy.
Add the eggs one a time and beat until combined.
Add the cream cheese and beat until combined.
Add 1/3rd of the flour mixture and 1/3rd of the buttermilk to the batter and mix until combined. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk.
Add the dried fruit and mix until combined.
Pour batter into prepared baking pan.
Bake for 1 hour and 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before placing on a wire rack placed over a tray.
Make the glaze by combining the icing sugar and tea together in a bowl.
Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake and allow to cool completely before serving.

*the original recipe just uses currants. I substituted half the currants for mixed peel as I like the flavour and texture.
**the original icing is a lemon icing. I substituted the lemon juice with black tea as I was curious to see how it would taste and used Earl Grey to compliment the citrus notes of the mixed peel.

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.

Bouboulina Of The Sea

International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8th. This year I would like to celebrate the life of an extraordinary heroine called Bouboulina. I was introduced to Bouboulina in an episode of Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey. I immediately felt a kinship with this seafaring warrior and wanted to learn more about her.

Laskarina “Bouboulina” Pinotsis was born in a prison in Constantinople on May 11th, 1771. Her father, a sea captain from the island of Hydra, was imprisoned by the Ottomans for his role in a failed revolution. Her mother gave birth to her in prison while visiting Bouboulina’s father. After her father’s death, Bouboulina and her mother returned to Hydra. They moved to the island of Spetses when her mother remarried.

Bouboulina had seven children and was married and widowed twice. Both her husbands (Dimitrios Yiannouzas and Dimitrios Bouboulis) were merchants, ship owners and sea captains and both were killed in sea battles with pirates. Bouboulina was forty years old when she became a widow for the second time, took over the family business, and sailed her way into history.

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Bouboulina grew up with a love of the sea and ships. Both her husbands took her on sea voyages, which was unusual for a woman at the time. She was left a fortune by her husbands and Bouboulina used her skills as a business woman, negotiator and sailor to expand her fleet and increase her fortune through ship building and successful trading.

The Ottomans tried to confiscate her property as her second husband had fought with Russia against the Ottomans. Bouboulina sailed to Constantinople to meet with the Russian ambassador. As a thank you for her service to Russia, she was sent to Crimea for safety. While in Constantinople, Bouboulina had met with the mother of the Sultan who eventually convinced her son to leave Bouboulina’s property alone. With her fortune secure, Bouboulina returned to Spetses.

Bouboulina then used her fortune to fund the Greek resistance against the Ottoman Empire. She smuggled arms and ammunition into the country on her ships and commissioned the building of the Agamemnon, one of the largest Greek fighting ships in the War of Independence. She recruited her own soldiers and sailors to serve under her command. Bouboulina not only helped fund the revolution, she also fought in the battles.

Days before the official start of the War of Independence, Bouboulina raised the first revolutionary flag on the main mast of the Agamemnon. The flag depicted an eagle, an anchor and a phoenix rising from the flames. Bouboulina led the first naval force to join the uprising. A few days later they were joined by naval forces from other islands. Under Bouboulina’s command, the united naval force began a series of successful naval blockades.

Bouboulina fought side by side with the men she led and was a fearsome opponent on both sea and land. Arriving in Tripoli just before its fall, she rode into the Greek camp on a horse. Bouboulina and her troops were greeted with loud cheers. She participated in war meetings with the generals who gave her the name of Kapetanissa, Lady-captain and Megali Kyra, Great Lady. As Tripoli fell to Greek forces, Bouboulina liberated most of the female members of the Sultan’s household.

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Although still not free from the threat of the Ottoman Empire, Greece descended into civil war. Friends and allies in the War of Independence were now enemies of the government. Bouboulina was considered a danger to the state, arrested and exiled back to her home in Spetses. She was left penniless, having used her fortune to fund the War of Independence and bitter at the post-revolution state of Greek politics.

Bouboulina was killed in her home on May 22nd, 1825 during a family dispute. Her son had eloped and armed members of the girl’s family came to Bouboulina’s home to confront her. During the ensuing argument she was shot in the head by an unidentified person and died instantly. 

But Bouboulina’s legacy lives on:
Her descendants have served the country she loved and fought for as members of the naval forces and as ministers and members of parliament.
Her home has remained in her family and is now a museum.
She has been depicted on a Greek banknote and coin.
Streets have been named after her.
A statue of her stands in the harbor in Spetses welcoming visitors to “Bouboulina’s Island.”
And most fitting of all, Emperor Alexander I of Russia posthumously granted her the honorary rank of Admiral of the Russian Navy. Until recently she was the only woman to hold this title.

I hope one day to visit her museum and raise a glass to this inspiring Kapetanissa.