Wheel of the Year

A Dark Beginning

The 8th of November will be Bram Stoker’s 170th birthday!

Count of Goblets

The Dracula Tarot

Famous for writing the gothic novel Dracula, Bram Stoker had an interesting start in life. Bram spent the first seven years of his childhood suffering from a mystery illness which left him mostly bedridden. During his long illness, Stoker spent much of of his time alone or being entertained by his mother Charlotte who loved to tell him stories, some of them quite scary. Stoker himself said that the time he spent bedridden as a child deeply influenced his future writing.

When I think of the young Bram and his illness, I think of Lucy Westenra and her battle with Dracula. I also think of Count Dracula himself, alone with his thoughts in his isolated castle far away in Transylvania. I wonder if Dracula would ever have been written if Stoker had not had such a challenging start to his life.

I sometimes imagine what the young Bram Stoker would have been fed during his ailment. I have many foods I go to for comfort and convalescence but one of favourites is porridge. I love rice porridges like congee, cornmeal porridges like mamaliga and classic oatmeal porridges.

Oats were an important crop in Ireland so Bram probably had a few porridges in his day. There are many ways I like to eat oatmeal, but when I’m thinking of Bram Stoker and vampires I like to serve my porridge with a good drizzle of black as night molasses and a dollop of cream 🙂

Steel-Cut Oats

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Ingredients
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup steel-cut oats*
molasses for drizzling
cream for dolloping

Instructions
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a saucepan.
Add the oats.
Stirring occasionally, cover and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes or until they achieve your desired level of chewiness.
Turn off the heat and allow to rest for 2 minutes.
Place oatmeal in a bowl.
Drizzle with molasses.
Add a good dollop of cream
Cover and refrigerate any leftover porridge. You can reheat it or have it cold.

*Steel-cut oats are known by a few names such as Irish oats, pinhead oats or coarse oatmeal.

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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.

Soup For The Soulless

Bela Lugosi was born on October 20th, 1882 in Lugos, Hungary. Bela was most famous for his portrayals of the vampire Count Dracula. As an Hungarian actor famous for playing a Romanian prince, it seems appropriate that his birthplace is now called Lugoj and is in Romania.

In honour of Bela’s Hungarian heritage I wanted to make a traditional Hungarian dish for his 135th birthday. I also wanted it to be blood red. Classic paprika dishes like goulash are an option but I wanted something sweet and liquid. That’s when I discovered meggyleves, a sweet(ish) soup made from fresh sour cherries. The name is a combination of the Hungarian words “meggy” meaning sour cherries and “leves” meaning soup.

To make meggyleves, unpitted sour cherries are simmered in spices before adding sour cream. The soup is then chilled and served cold. I was looking forward to making this soup but our greengrocer didn’t have any fresh cherries as they are out of season. When I got home I started thinking of ways of “resurrecting” the recipe. I had a jar of sour cherries, and although the recipes don’t recommend canned cherries, I thought I would give it a try.

Rather than simmering the already soft cherries I decided I would simmer just the juice in the spices before adding the sour cream. The one thing I was really disappointed with was that the flavour of the cherry stones would be missing. Then I remembered that one of my favourite spices is mahleb which is made from ground cherry stones. I added a dash of mahleb and hoped for the best. The soup is pink rather than blood red but I enjoyed the flavour and could taste the mahleb. I would definitely make it again and am looking forward to making it with fresh cherries when they are back in season.

Resurrected Sour Cherry Soup

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Ingredients
600g (21oz) jar pitted morello cherries
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon flour
1/4 teaspoon ground mahleb (optional but recommended!)
cream for serving

Instructions
Strain the cherry juice into a saucepan and place the cherries into a bowl.
Heat the cherry juice, water, cinnamon and cloves in a small saucepan.
Bring to a gentle boil.
Cover and simmer for 5 minutes on low heat.
Remove from heat.
Mix together the sour cream, flour and mahleb in a bowl.
Stir a little warm soup into the sour cream mix.
Pour back into the soup and stir until combined.
Cover and allow to cool before straining over the cherries.
Refrigerate until cold.
Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of cream.

Days Of Bears And Fears

Wednesday October the 11th is Bring Your Teddy Bear To Work Or School Day. Observed on the second Wednesday in October, this curious day is a day to celebrate the importance of teddy bears in our lives. Will you be bringing a teddy bear to work or school on Wednesday?

As I work from home I don’t have to worry about being stared at if I bring a teddy bear to work. In fact my home is already filled with panda bears so it’s business as usual here! Sometimes I like to have a break from the computer so instead of taking a panda bear on my break I thought I would take one of my rare teddy bears for an outing. Here is Ursa, named for the Latin word for bear, enjoying Bring Your Teddy Bear On Your Break From Work Day.

Ursa loves riding camels. Coffee after camels. The music of the night.

And what did my panda bears get up to while I was away? Well they were getting ready for
Friday the 13th, one of their favourite days of the year. This will be the last Friday the 13th for 2017.

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Happy Friday the 13th!

A fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskaidekaphobia.
The name is a combination of Frigga, the Norse Goddess for Friday, with triskaidekaphobia, the Greek word for the fear of the number 13. Triskaidekaphobia combines the words tris meaning 3, kai meaning and, deka meaning 10 with phobia meaning fear.
An alternate term, paraskevidekatriaphobia, was used by an American psychotherapist in the 1990s. It is a Greek word combining paraskevi meaning Friday with dekatria meaning 13 also ending with phobia for fear.
As I don’t like Goddesses being replaced, I’ll continue using the term friggatriskaidekaphobia!

To find out more about Friday the 13th, check out my previous posts: Friday On My Mind / Bad Moon On The Rise and Deathly Delights For Friday the 13th 🙂

Black Apples & Vernal Equinoxes

I was wondering why I was finding it hard to get excited about the Spring Equinox this weekend. Then it hit me. I’m in mourning for winter. The Spring or Vernal Equinox is a time of balance, when day and night are relatively equal. It signifies a change in power between day and night. After the Spring Equinox the day wins ascendancy as long nights are overtaken by longer days. My short cold days and comforting long nights are almost over. I will miss them but know they will return when the wheel spins its way to autumn once more.

To mourn the loss of winter I thought I would create a variation of a Black Velvet. The Black Velvet was supposedly created by a London bartender in 1861 to mourn the death of Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Consort, Prince Albert. The colour of the drink was meant to symbolise the colour of the black armbands worn by mourners. A Black Velvet is a mix of equal parts champagne or sparkling wine and stout. To make, fill a glass halfway with chilled sparkling wine or champagne then slowly top with chilled stout.

A Poor Man’s Black Velvet, also called Mud and Blood, is a variation of a Black Velvet which substitutes the sparkling wine or champagne for apple or pear cider. One way of serving either drink is to try slowly pouring the stout over the back of a spoon into the sparkling wine or cider. If done right, the stout will sit on the top and create a layered effect. I tried this but failed 🙂 If you can achieve the separation of colours, these Black Velvets would be perfect for the Equinoxes as they visually symbolise the balance between day and night.

While I am celebrating the Spring Equinox, I am also mourning the end of winter and its long cold nights which were warmed by comforting hot drinks. To commemorate this loss I thought I would make a warm and spicy mulled version of a Poor Man’s Black Velvet.
I’m calling it a Dark Queen’s Black Apple.

Dark Queen’s Black Apple

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Ingredients
1 orange
1/4 cup brown sugar
8 cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
2 cups apple cider
2 cups stout

Instructions
Using a knife or vegetable peeler, peel the skin from the orange leaving behind as much of the white pith as you can.
Place the orange peel and all the other ingredients into a saucepan.
Simmer gently over low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the drink is hot but not boiling.
Strain into heatproof mugs or glasses.
Refrigerate any leftover drink.
You can reheat it or drink it chilled.

Celebrating Red Pandas

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Saturday the 16th of September is International Red Panda Day!

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Celebrated on the third Saturday in September, IRPD was created to bring awareness to the plight of the red panda and the need to protect this very special little panda. Red Pandas are endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is celebrated by individuals and zoos around the world who raise funds for red panda conservation. Some zoos celebrate on a different day, so if you are interested in participating, check out the IRPD page at Red Panda Network.

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The Coffin List

No, this isn’t some macabre list of dead people, or people on my hit list. Nor is it a review of coffins. The coffin list is my name for a bucket list. I don’t like buckets – they remind me of work – but I do like coffins 🙂 To celebrate Imbolc, the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, I thought I would do some early spring cleaning and explore my coffin list.

I always hated having a list of things to do before I die, so I never made a coffin list. But when I had a few health scares in my mid thirties, I took time to look at my life and see if there was anything I really wanted to do. Only one thing came to mind – visit Romania. A diet of vampire mythology from a young age meant I was entranced by Transylvania – the land beyond the forest. I realised I would actually be sad if I never visited. So, for my fortieth birthday, I made the trip to Romania. You can read about this memorable trip in “An Archetypal Homeland” and “In the Footsteps of Jonathan Harker“.

Emboldened by having put a nail in the coffin of my first and only coffin list dream, I thought I would add Whitby to the list. Whitby is an English seaside town in Yorkshire and a major inspiration for Bram Stoker when he was writing his novel “Dracula.” I planned to go there for my fiftieth birthday as part two of my Dracula adventure. That birthday has come and gone and sadly I didn’t get to Whitby, but it’s still on my list!

Happily I did mange to hammer three very important nails into my coffin list recently. This July my partner and I took a journey to the USA to visit a dear friend on Whidbey Island, celebrate July the 4th in Salem the Witch City and visit puffins in Maine. As a bonus, we also got to meet a baby sloth in Boston.

Over the next fews weeks I’ll be sharing this exciting trip with you including recipes inspired from my travels.

For now I would like to share an earlier recipe of mine for Coffin Bread. I think it is most appropriate for a Coffin List post 🙂

Coffin Bread

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Ingredients
for the soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons plain flour
3 cups chicken stock
450g cauliflower florets
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
pomegranate molasses for drizzling

for the coffin bread
1 small rectangular loaf of bread (approximately L 15cm, W 10cm, H 10cm)
olive oil

for the garlic croutons
leftover bread pieces from the coffin bread
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch of sea salt

Method
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Make the soup by melting the butter in a large saucepan.
Add the onion and cook until softened.
Mix in the flour and the chicken stock, stir until combined.
Add the cauliflower and salt.
Simmer for 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft and cooked.
Puree the soup then return to the saucepan.
Simmer gently until the bread and croutons are cooked.
Make the coffin bread while the soup is simmering.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut a lid off the top of the bread.
Cut out most of the bread inside, creating a basket to hold the filling.
Lightly brush outside and inside the bread and lid with olive oil.
Place bread basket on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden on the inside.
While bread basket is cooking make the croutons by tearing up the leftover pieces of bread and placing in a bowl with the garlic, olive oil and salt. Toss through and place on an oven tray with the bread lid. Bake in the oven with the bread basket until golden.
The lid and croutons may cook quicker than the basket so check and remove when ready.
When bread basket is cooked, place on a serving plate.
If the soup isn’t ready yet, switch off the oven but leave the bread in the oven to keep warm.
Pour the soup into the bread basket.
Drizzle with pomegranate molasses.
Serve the bread lid and croutons on the side.

Solstice Baked Potatoes

As the wheel spins towards another Midwinter in Melbourne, I am enjoying the cool weather and the need to wrap myself up in warm blankets and comfy dressing gowns. The sun is still warm during the day, but as it begins to set, the cold seeps in and the need to stop work, make a hot drink and retire to the couch sinks in.

On Wednesday June 21st, many of us will be celebrating the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. I’m not sure what I will be doing, but I am tempted to go to the Queen Victoria Night Market. This weekly winter market just happens to fall on the Winter Solstice. Although I’ve been many times before, I never get tired of it. I love the unusual stalls that pop up and make shopping a real treat. The food stalls are a real highlight! But what I love most is just being outdoors, surrounded by life, colour, sound and the smell of good food.

The food I enjoy most in winter is roast vegetables such as pumpkin, carrots and potatoes. The sweetness of the pumpkins and carrots goes beautifully with the crispness of well baked potatoes. Thinking of myself all wrapped up in blankets and gowns made me think of jacket potatoes – and taking them a step further – so I experimented with a recipe for potatoes baked in a salt crust. For me they are a perfect union between crispy roast potatoes and moist steamed potatoes.

Salt Crust Potatoes

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Ingredients
1kg cocktail potatoes
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 cup fine salt

Method
Preheat oven to 220C / 430F.
Wash and dry the potatoes.
Prick each potato several times with a fork.
Coat each potato with egg white.
Coat each potato completely with salt.
Bake for 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a skewer or fork.
Crack off the salt crust and serve with your favourite potato toppers.

“Two” Many Cupcakes?

Tuesday June 13th is Cupcake Lovers Day 🙂

Coming up with a cupcake recipe for this awesome day should be so easy for me – after all, I am writing a cupcake cookbook! But as the day neared, I found myself surprisingly uninspired. So I decided to get my creative juices flowing by looking at the history of the cupcake and discovering why they are indeed called cupcakes.

Historically there are two types of cupcakes. The first is called a cupcake because the ingredients are measured by volume rather than weight. For this type of cake, most of the ingredients are measured in a cup. A popular cupcake of this type is called a 1234 cake because it is made with 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour and 4 eggs. These cakes are usually baked in conventional cake pans.

The second type of cupcake is the cupcake we know and love today. They are called cupcakes because before the invention of muffin tins, these small, single serve cakes were actually baked in tea cups or mugs. Today, cupcakes are no longer baked in cups but are baked in muffin tins lined with decorative paper cases. They are usually topped with frosting or icing and can be filled or unfilled. They can also be decorated in many creative ways.

Did my trip down cupcake history lane whet my appetite? It sure did! After much thought and battling sugar cravings, I was inspired by the concept of the mug cake – quick, single serve cakes that are baked in mugs. But what I really wanted was to make a small batch of cupcakes baked in paper cases, not mugs. A quick bit of research and I happily discovered that there are many recipes for 1 or 2 cupcakes. The recipes for 1 cupcake required tablespoon measurements of egg white which I really don’t have time for, so I explored the 2 cupcake recipes, most of which use a whole egg white.

I know what you’re thinking. Why would you only bake 2 cupcakes? Well, I’d like to say it’s because I’m worried about eating a dozen cupcakes on my own but I would be lying 🙂 I was really thinking that by making only 2 cupcakes at a time I can experiment with more flavours and more combinations. In fact, I could well end up eating more than a dozen! I also did think there may be people out there who would like to make small batch cupcakes. So here is the first of what I hope are many creations for my “two for me” cupcakes!

Two Brown Butter Vanilla Cupcakes

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Ingredients
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 egg white
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1 + 1/2 tablespoons milk

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Place 2 paper cases in either a 6-hole or 12-hole muffin pan.
Add the butter to a small frying pan.
Carefully swirl the pan for two minutes or until the butter is golden brown, being careful not to burn the butter.
Pour into a heat-proof bowl and allow to cool slightly.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg white and sugar until combined.
Stir in the vanilla and melted butter.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until combined.
Add the milk and stir until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly between the 2 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.

So how do you frost two cupcakes? Well the possibilities are endless. As you are not going to make a huge batch of frosting – unless you want to – you can be a bit more creative with your topping choices. For one of the cupcakes I went the simple route. I topped the cupcake with a dollop of double cream and grated some white chocolate over the top. You can do this with any of your favourite toppings and spreads. No recipe needed!

For the other cupcake, I challenged myself to create frosting for one, because who doesn’t want to know how to make frosting just for yourself 🙂 There were many options available but I finally went for a peanut butter one. The thought of a brown butter cupcake topped with peanut butter frosting actually made me drool.

Peanut Butter Frosting For One

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Ingredients
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons icing (powdered) sugar
1 tablespoon milk

Instructions
In a small bowl, whisk together the butter and peanut butter. You can use a small whisk or a fork.
Whisk in the icing sugar until combined
Mix in the milk and whisk until you reach your desired consistency.
Dollop onto cupcake.

Click Cupcakes for more of my recipes 🙂

A Day For Gin

World Gin Day is celebrated on the second Saturday in June. This is a day to enjoy all things gin. For some of us, World Gin Day is every day!

I’ve always loved gin. I love the aromatics and the infinite flavours you can play with. The only things gin needs in order to be called gin is distilled alcohol and juniper berries. After that you can add anything else and it’s still a gin. In fact the name gin is derived from juniperus, the Latin word for juniper.

One of the more interesting gins I have recently discovered is and Australian gin called Ink. It was the deep blue/purple colour that drew me to the bottle. I then discovered that this blue/purple colour changes to a light purple/pink when you add tonic water. I was entranced! I was also very happy that this gin was not just a gimmick, but a beautiful tasting one as well.

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Ink is infused with 14 different botanicals including butterfly pea flowers. It is these flowers that give the gin its bright colour as well as its colour changing properties. Butterfly pea flowers are considered an aphrodisiac as the flowers resemble female genitalia. Not surprisingly their scientific name is derived from the Latin for clitoris – Clitoria ternatea.

With that in mind I started thinking of a way of showcasing this delicious and unusual gin while adding a feminine touch 🙂 After much thought I really couldn’t go past a classic gin and tonic with the addition of strawberries. Strawberries are associated with Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, after whom aphrodisiacs are named.

Strawberry Gin and Tonic

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Ingredients
60ml gin
1 strawberry, sliced lengthways
90ml tonic water

Instructions
Pour the gin into a glass.
Add the sliced strawberry.
Allow to marinate for 10 minutes.
Add the tonic water.
Enjoy!
Makes one mixed drink.

For more gin drinks, check out my recipes for Glow In The Dark Gin & Tonic, Gin Alexander and Sage Mulled Wine.