Wheel of the Year

Bites & Pieces

I celebrated the Winter Solstice weekend by launching my first travelogue cookbook!

It’s called Bites and Pieces of America: Exploring food and friendship in Whidbey Island, Salem, Boothbay Harbour and Boston. It’s filled with pieces from my trip last year from Australia to the USA where I got to visit a dear friend on Whidbey Island, celebrate July the 4th in Salem the Witch City, visit puffins in Maine and meet a baby sloth in Boston. There are also many bites of recipes from the foods that inspired me along the way.

While I’m hoping you’ll rush out and buy the book 🙂 I will share parts of the journey here. I’ll also include recipes that nearly made it into the book but just missed out like my Stout Pancakes (below). These are perfect for Winter in Australia. If you’d like pancake recipes that are more in tune with Summer – like Blueberry Pancakes or Carrot Cake Pancakes – you can find them in my book!

B&P cover 

Bites and Pieces is currently available from Lulu. An ebook is on the way and it will be in other online stores soon 🙂

Stout Pancakes

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Ingredients
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons maple sugar*
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup stout**
butter for frying

Instructions
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar into a large bowl. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and stout.
Add to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Heat a small amount of butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat.
Pour some batter into the pan. Remember that the bigger the pancakes, the harder they are to flip, so don’t make them too big.
Cook until bubbles start to form.
Flip and cook for a further 1 – 3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with your choice of toppings.
I like them with a good drizzle of pure maple syrup, golden syrup or honey.

*You can substitute brown sugar for the maple sugar.
**Try different flavoured stouts like chocolate or coffee ones. I used a maple flavoured stout.

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By The Light Of A Scorpion Moon

Halloween falls between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. As an Autumn festival, many Australian Pagans and Witches celebrate Halloween on the 30th of April. I’m a bit of a traditionalist so I celebrate Halloween on the 30th of April AND the 31st of October. One Halloween a year is never enough!

April 30th is also Walpurgis Night – a night when spirits walk the Earth and witches are thought to fly through the night skies on their way to various celebrations. Bram Stoker hauntingly invokes the spirit of Walpurgis Night in Dracula’s Guest, his short but compelling prequel to the novel Dracula. This quote by Stoker always sends a delightful chill down my spine:  

“Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.”

Bram Stoker was born in the sign of Scorpio so it’s not surprising he wrote so beautifully of hidden secrets and creatures of the night.

To add more magic, mystery and a touch of Stoker to April 30 activities in Australia, a Full Moon in Scorpio will be shining upon our festivities.

After an evening of celebrating Halloween, Walpurgis Night and a Scorpion Full Moon, I can think of no better way to end my evening than with a bowl of soul warming soup. Pumpkins and apples are traditional Halloween fare and I never say no to a good drop of alcohol, either in a glass or in my soup!

Pumpkin & Apple Cider Soup

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Ingredients
1kg butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into cubes 
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup apple cider
cream for serving

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
Place the pumpkin into a baking pan.
Add the oil, rosemary and salt.
Toss until combined.
Bake for 30 minutes or until cooked.
While the pumpkin is baking, prepare the soup.
Heat the butter in a large saucepan.
Add the celery and cook until soft but not browned.
Stir in the apples.
Pour in the stock and apple cider.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat to a simmer.
Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until the apple is cooked.
Add the roasted pumpkin to the soup.
Blend the soup with a stick blender until smooth.
Pour into bowls and serve with a splash of cream.

Food For Death

Bram Stoker died 106 years ago on April 20th, 1912. Many of us will never forget this great writer nor the amazing works and characters he created.

My recipe for this year’s deathiversary is inspired by a traditional dish called funeral potatoes, an American comfort food casserole that is often brought to gatherings held after funerals. There are many variations but the key ingredients are potatoes, cheese, onion, sour cream, a canned cream based soup and a crunchy topping. It is easy to prepare, travels well and is easily reheated.

My funeral potatoes are a very different dish and are inspired by Dracula’s immortal line “I Never Drink … Wine.” Although these words never appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel, they were uttered by the equally unforgettable Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning’s 1931 movie Dracula. Baked in red wine and olive oil and flavoured with rosemary, the herb of remembrance, these versatile potatoes can be eaten hot from the oven or cold from the refrigerator. I find the flavour of the wine is more pronounced when they are eaten at room temperature.

Served with sour cream you’ll want to make them for all occasions – not just funerals!    

Funeral Potatoes with Red Wine & Rosemary

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Ingredients
1kg potatoes
1 cup red wine – split in two
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
sprigs of fresh rosemary
sour cream for serving

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F.
Peel then chop the potatoes in half and then in quarters.
Place in a baking tray in a single layer.
Pour over 1/2 cup of red wine, reserving the other 1/4 cup for later.
Pour over the oil.
Add the dried rosemary and salt.
Toss together until combined.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and flip them over.
Pour over the remaining 1/2 cup of wine.
Return to the oven and bake for another 15 – 20 minutes or until they are cooked to your liking.
Drain on paper towels and allow to cool.
Place in an airtight container and add some sprigs of fresh rosemary.
Refrigerate until needed.
Allow them to come to room temperature before serving.
Serve with sour cream.

Act 1 – Shakespeare Around The Globe

This Sunday is both Easter Sunday and April Fools’ day and I know which one I am most excited about!

April Fools’ Day for me is a day to celebrate the spirit of the tarot Fool. The Fool is the first card in the major arcana and it is the Fool who journeys through the tarot and learns the lessons of the cards. The Fool is so important it is the only major arcana card to be represented in modern playing card decks. In these decks the Fool plays the role of the Joker.

Fool

fool card from the dracula tarot

The Fool symbolises new beginnings, adventures and journeys – that’s why I have adopted April Fools’ Day as my personal New Year’s Day. On April Fools’ Day I take time to look back on the year that has passed and make plans for the year ahead. What is most exciting for me is that my plans for this coming year are intertwined with the journeys I made this past year.

Last year I travelled to America and fulfilled a childhood dream of visiting Salem, Massachusetts. I also got to meet in person a friend I have known online for many years. Plus I visited the island where an Atlantic puffin I sponsor spends their summer. A few weeks ago I travelled to America again to attend a giant panda fan convention in San Diego, something I have wanted to do for many years. I ended this trip with a visit to San Fransisco where my partner Paul and I celebrated 30 years of not being married by walking on the Golden Gate Bridge 🙂 Both trips have been enriching and will provide me with inspiration – and recipes – for this year’s blog posts. They may also have given me material for a book or two!

What does this have to do with Shakespeare? Well Shakespeare was no stranger to the power and importance of Fools. Many of his most memorable characters were witty and clever Fools. Plus, it was two Shakespeare inspired establishments that provided me with comfort and nourishment in San Diego. That’s right – Shakespeare’s influence extends around the globe!

One of the things I love to do before I travel is research places to eat. Two of the places I picked in San Diego were the Shakespeare Pub & Grille and Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea. I couldn’t wait to visit them.

The Shakespeare Pub & Grille was established in 1990 by British expats. It is modelled on a traditional British pub in English Tudor style. The food is classic British comfort food and the bar stocks beers from around the world. We ordered a couple of beers and their signature dish – Fish & Chips. We were treated to crisp and crunchy pieces of beer battered cod with peas and chips (fries) served with tartare sauce and malt vinegar. It was delicious. After such a tasty meal we had to try their desserts. Paul chose Sticky Toffee Pudding – a steamed light sponge cake covered in a sweet and sticky toffee sauce. He couldn’t decide between custard and ice cream so he had both. I chose something I have never tried before but have always wanted to – Spotted Dick! This amusingly named dessert is a steamed suet pudding containing dried fruit and is traditionally served with custard. YUM 🙂 Each bite melted in my mouth and I was rewarded with the scent and taste of a soft, warm and spicy fruit cake. The custard was smooth and creamy and complemented the pudding perfectly. We were ready to go back to the hotel and have a nap but we had one more culinary stop to make.

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Next door to the Shakespeare Pub is Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea which is run by a British family. We had hoped to have a cream tea in their patio tearoom but we were too full from lunch. Instead we decided to check out the store and see what they had on offer. Not surprisingly the shelves were stocked with British produce. Missing my nightly tea and shortbreads, I was happy to find a box of Earl Grey teabags and a packet of Scottish shortbreads. I also found an interestingly shaped spoon which the staff told me was a Black and Tan spoon used for pouring layered cocktails. As a fan of layered cocktails, I had to have it. In the fridge I saw a jar of clotted cream which I was so tempted to buy but valiantly resisted. When I went to pay I noticed they were selling scones to take home. I looked at Paul and he knew exactly what I was thinking – Cream Tea for Dinner! We grabbed scones, a jar of strawberry jam – and the jar of clotted cream 🙂 That evening we sat on the balcony of our hotel room and enjoyed our cream tea. We even had enough scones, jam and cream left for a cream tea breakfast the next morning.

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While there may not have been too much “Shakespeare” in this story I shall make up for that in Act 2, which tells a tale of my Shakespearean adventures in Melbourne. It will be closely followed by Act 3 – a recipe inspired by these tales.

If you are need of more adventure this Easter weekend there is a Full Moon to celebrate. And for those of us in Melbourne, Australia, due to time zone differences, this will be a Blue Full Moon!

A Roll By Any Other Name

The Autumn Equinox in Australia will take place on Wednesday, 21st March at around 3:15am. It is a time when the hours of day and night are equal. It heralds the beginning of cooler weather and Winter on the horizon. When I think of the Autumn Equinox I think of harvest time, of reaping what we have sown. I also think of bread 🙂

As one of my passions is researching food, I tend to find inspiration for recipes almost anywhere. Recently I had a most entertaining conversation with friends, while having drinks in my favourite bar. I was talking about my recent trip to America, which included a visit to Salem, Massachusetts. Talking about Salem flowed to a discussion about witches, which in turn led to a passionate discussion on religion, as so often happens after a few drinks. One of the patrons brought up the dead sea scrolls, or, as he called them, “the dead sea rolls!” After we all finished laughing, my foodie friend Pete and I turned to each and both said “but they sound delicious!” We spent a few minutes discussing how we would create these salty rolls. We both agreed they should be boiled in water and sprinkled with sea salt before baking. It wasn’t long before my mind turned to bagels.

Bagels are usually boiled in water sweetened with malt extract, but these heavenly rolls are boiled in salted water. This makes them a bit saltier than normal bagels so be careful how much salt you sprinkle on them before baking. If you don’t have access to salt from the dead sea, ordinary sea salt will do 🙂

My recipe for traditional bagels – and other tasty recipes – will be available in my soon to be 
published travelogue/cookbook!

Dead Sea Rolls (bagels)

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Ingredients
1 + 1/4 cups lukewarm water
1 teaspoon honey
3 cups strong white flour
7g (1 teaspoon) dry yeast
2 teaspoons sea salt
extra sea salt for poaching liquid
1 egg white
2 teaspoons cold water
sesame seeds for topping
sea salt flakes for topping

Instructions
Whisk together the water and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Attach the dough hook.
Add the flour, yeast and salt.
Knead on low speed for 8 – 10 minutes or until elastic.
Cover with plastic wrap.
Place in a warm spot and allow to prove for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Lightly punch down the dough.
Separate into 10 pieces then shape into balls.
Gently flatten each ball.
Make a hole in the centre of each ball using your thumb or the handle of a wooden spoon.
Twirl the bagel until you make a hole approximately 1/3 diameter of bagel.
Place on baking trays lined with baking paper.
Cover and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 220C / 425F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
Reduce to a simmer.
Place 2 – 3 bagels in the simmering water.
Poach for 2 minutes, turning over at the halfway point.
Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a tea towel to drain.
Repeat with remaining bagels.
Place 5 bagels back on each baking tray, keeping them apart.
Beat together the egg white and water in a cup.
Brush the mixture over the top of the bagels.
Sprinkle with chosen toppings.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until golden brown and the bottoms sound hollow when tapped.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Barky New Year

February 15th is Chinese New Year’s Eve. It is the night when we say goodbye to the Year of the Red Fire Rooster and welcome in the Year of the Brown Earth Dog. At the stroke of midnight, all doors and windows in the home are opened to let the new year out. It is also the eve of the New Moon in Melbourne so it will be a perfect time to bid a fond farewell to the old year and say hello to the new one.

The Year of the Brown Earth Dog begins on February the 16th and heralds 15 days of celebration which will end on the Full Moon. To pay homage to the new year, and to honour its very special animal, I thought I would make some chocolate bark.

Sometimes when I start thinking of recipes to make for an event, my mind travels a curious path. When I thought of the Year of the Dog I could just picture excited dogs howling and barking to welcome in their year. This of course made me think of chocolate bark 🙂 I chose dark chocolate for its rich and earthy colour although you could use milk chocolate if you prefer. I added peanuts to the mix as they grow in the ground so they are a perfect symbol for an Earth year. They also taste great with chocolate!

Just be aware that these are not dog friendly treats. To make them dog friendly substitute carob for chocolate and use raw peanuts instead of roasted ones. Or you can just give your dogs a spoonful of peanut butter to welcome in The Year of the Dog!

Dark Chocolate and Peanut Bark

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Ingredients
100g good quality dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts

Instructions
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Fill a saucepan about one-third full with water and bring to a gentle simmer.
Set a heatproof-bowl over the saucepan, making sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl.
Add the chocolate and gently stir until melted, being careful not to burn the chocolate.
Remove from the heat.
Working quickly, stir in the peanuts.
Pour onto prepared tray.
Smooth out to your desired thickness.
Refrigerate until firm before breaking into pieces.

A Very Full Moon

This week’s coming Full Moon is going to be a big one. It’s being called a Super Blue Blood Moon and, depending on which part of the world you are in, you may experience it all!

The main event is the total lunar eclipse. During a total lunar eclipse the Earth comes between the Sun and the Moon and covers the Moon with its shadow. During this time the Moon can appear red which has led to the term Blood Moon. This eclipse will be fully visible in
Melbourne, Australia from around 10pm January 31st to around 3am February 1st.

A Super Moon is when a Full or New Moon occurs when the Moon is in its closest orbit to the Earth, making it look larger. While it won’t be the closest orbit, the Moon will be very close to the Earth making it almost a Super Moon.

In some parts of the world it is also a Blue Moon which is the second Full Moon in a month. It’s not a Blue Moon in Melbourne so we won’t be experiencing a Super Blue Blood Moon, we’ll be having a Super Blood Moon instead. Our Blue Moon will be at the end of March and will coincide with Easter.

If you follow a seasonal calendar, this Full Moon also coincides with a major festival – Imbolg in the northern hemisphere and Lammas in the southern hemisphere. Lammas is the mid point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox and is the first harvest festival of the year. Lammas is also known as Lughnasadh. The name Lughnasadh is derived from the name of the Celtic God Lugh whereas Lammas is derived from an Old English term for “loaf mass.” Traditional foods for Lammas/Lughnasadh are breads baked from new crops.

Inspired by my recent visit to America, I just had to bake cornmeal muffins flavoured with pecans and maple syrup. These sweet delights are perfect fare for a powerful harvest Full Moon.

Pecan and Maple Cornmeal Muffins

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Ingredients
1 cup flour, sifted
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup finely ground pecans
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 eggs, beaten
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200F / 400F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper liners.
Mix together the flour, cornmeal, pecans, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium sized bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat together the milk, maple syrup, egg and melted butter. (Don’t worry if it looks curdled. It should come together when you add it to the flour.)
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
Stir gently until just combined. Do not over mix, as the muffins will turn out tough.
Spoon batter evenly into the paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.
Place on a wire rack to cool.

Moon Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cherries in Red Wine

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

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

White Solstice

The Summer Solstice in the southern hemisphere this year falls on Friday the 22nd of December at 3:28am. On the Summer Solstice, the sun reaches its zenith – its highest point in the sky. It is our longest day of the year.

As part of my summer celebrations, I went to a berry picking farm to load up on fresh berries. I bought enough to enjoy a few days worth of fresh berries and plenty to freeze for the rest of the year. As I was about to pay, I saw some strange white berries on the counter and asked what they were. They were whitecurrants. The staff said you could eat them just like that but that most people bought them to make sauces with. I’ve eaten redcurrants, but never whitecurrants, so I bought a punnet to see what they would be like.

On the drive home I started thinking of how I was going to use them. I was originally going to make a whitecurrant version of a redcurrant sauce, maybe with a bit of apple or apple juice. But when I tasted a few fresh ones, I quickly changed my mind. These tiny berries packed a punch with a tart sharpness mellowed by only a hint of sweetness. My first thought after tasting them was they would go great with gin and tonic! I immediately started thinking of the many ways I could play with a gin, tonic and whitecurrant combination. After a little experimenting and the addition of apple juice, I came up with a surprisingly delicious and refreshing concoction – perfect for the Summer Solstice.

White Currant Gin and Tonic

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Ingredients
3/4 cup whitecurrants, stems removed
3/4 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup gin
tonic water

Instructions
Place the whitecurrants and apple juice in a blender and blend until smooth.
Strain into a jug.
Stir in the maple syrup.
Divide the gin between two glasses.
Pour the juice evenly over the gin.
Top up with tonic water to taste.

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.