Astrology

Sydney Under The Stars

My home state of Victoria is famous for having a public holiday for a horse race. Now we are becoming infamous for having a public holiday for a football match. Actually, it’s a holiday for the day before the football match which makes it even stranger. I’m not complaining. I’m grateful for any public holiday we can get! And it’s on a Friday, which I think is a great day to start a long weekend.

This year we went to Sydney and stayed at the Ultimo Hotel which is purported to be the world’s first astrology hotel. Among the services they offer are astrology reading packages that you can add to your booking. We didn’t do this but there was still heaps of astrological fun to be had.

On arrival we were greeted in reception by staff eager to talk astrology. They had city guides based on your star sign and astrologically appropriate “do not disturb signs.” I told them I was a sun sign Taurus with a Moon and Rising Sign in Sagittarius so they gave me both the Taurus and Sagittarius city guides. They offered me both a Taurus and Sagittarius door sign too but I only took the Taurus one as it said all that needed saying!

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Shifting seamlessly from astrology to astronomy, I booked myself two tours at the Sydney Observatory. My first tour was at night. It was a full moon which isn’t great for star gazing but I loved it, especially when bats started flying around! Peering through the enormous telescope I got to see Mars and Saturn. On the day tour I got to see the Sun which is a real treat as you have to have a special filter on the telescope to view it. Many years ago I was lucky enough to see Venus (my ruling planet) transit the Sun. While this Sun viewing wasn’t as spectacular it was still amazing. Both tours ended with a visit to the planetarium which was fun and informative.

When I returned to the hotel I noticed a selection of “Astrolo-Teas” in reception. These teas are specially selected to match your star sign. I looked at the one for Taurus which was English Breakfast. Not bad! I love English and Irish Breakfast although my favourite tea is Earl Grey. I then went to the Sagittarius tea which was Lemongrass and Ginger. This was another great match as I love ginger tea. Naturally I wanted to experiment with these flavours when I got home. 

As the weather is heating up here, I wanted to make an iced tea. I decided to create a chai blend because it can be served hot or cold. I used English Breakfast for Taurus and added ginger for Sagittarius. The great thing is you can mix and match ingredients for your own personal taste or create a blend that you think reflects your astrological profile!

Astrological Iced Chai

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Ingredients
3 cups milk
4 cardamon pods
4 black peppercorns
4 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
30g fresh ginger, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons black tea leaves (I used English Breakfast)
2 tablespoons honey
ice cubes for serving

Instructions
Place the milk in a saucepan.
Crack the cardamon pods open and place the seeds and shells into the milk.
Crack the peppercorns and add to the milk.
Add the cloves, cinnamon stick and ginger to the milk.
Bring very slowly to the boil (you want it to take about 10 minutes) 
Once boiling add the tea leaves and simmer for 2-5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea.
Stir in the honey.
Strain tea and refrigerate until cold.
Serve over ice cubes.

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Year Of The Red Fire Rooster

Saturday January 28 is Chinese New Year. It is time to say farewell to the Year of the Monkey and hello to the Year of the Rooster! What better way to celebrate than with a poached then roasted chicken.

Twice Cooked Chicken

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Special Note:
You will have to start the recipe the day before you want to serve it, as the poached chicken needs to rest overnight.

Ingredients
for poaching the chicken
1.5kg whole chicken (approximately)
2 spring onions, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, bruised with the back of a knife then peeled
6cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
3 star anise
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup Chinese rice wine
1/2 cup dark soy sauce
12 cups (3 litres) water, more may be needed

for the marinade
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sea salt

for serving
thinly sliced fresh red chillies

Instructions
Place the spring onions, garlic, ginger, star anise, cloves, cinnamon stick, Chinese rice wine and dark soy into a large saucepan. Add the chicken, breast side down. Pour the water over the chicken making sure the chicken is fully submerged. Add more water if necessary.
Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat. Cover and allow the chicken to steep for 1 hour.
Carefully remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and place into a baking pan. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.
Discard the poaching liquid.
The next day, preheat the oven to 220C / 430F.
Mix together the marinade ingredients.
Brush the chicken with half the marinade.
Bake for 20 minutes. Brush chicken with remaining marinade and continue baking for a further 10 – 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
The best way to check if the chicken is cooked is by placing a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh or the breast without touching the bone. It should be approximately 82C / 180F.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer you can pierce the thigh with a skewer and when the juices run clear the chicken is cooked.
Cover the chicken with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into pieces.
Serve with sliced chillies.

For an extra spicy kick, make a batch of Chinese five spice salt by combining 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder with 1 tablespoon sea salt. Sprinkle it over your chicken or use it as a dipping salt.

The Year Of The Red Fire Monkey

February 8 is Chinese New Year. We are saying goodbye to The Year of the Goat, Sheep or Antelope and welcoming in The Year of the Monkey.

Chinese New Year is a Lunar Festival that takes place between January 21 and February 21. Celebrations usually begin on the New Moon closest to the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. In addition, each Chinese year has two components; a zodiacal one and an elemental one.

Most of us know the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. The rat is the first animal and is followed by the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep/goat, monkey, rooster, dog and finally the boar/pig. I always assumed this was a 12 year cycle but the yearly elemental associations complicate the system.

Each year also has a corresponding element and each element has a colour; wood (green), fire (red), earth (yellow), metal (white) and water (black/blue). Each element has a yin year and a yang year so each element has a 2 year cycle making it in fact a 10 year cycle. This 10 year elemental cycle is overlaid with the 12 year zodiac cycle. For the two to come back to the same point takes 60 years.

When I turn 60, I’ll be celebrating the Year of the Green Wood Snake in the Yang phase – the exact same configuration as when I was born. It will take another 60 years for the two cycles to play out and meet up again. I don’t think I will be around for that one 🙂

When we take into consideration the elemental and zodiacal calendars, this year is actually The Year Of The Red Fire Monkey. It is the first phase of Fire which is Yin and the lucky colour is Red. We will have to wait another 60 years for A Red Fire Monkey in the Yin phase to repeat.

To celebrate this Red Fire Monkey year, I have created a banana cupcake topped with chocolate chilli ganache and served in a red cupcake case.

Red Fire Monkey Cupcakes

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Makes 24 mini and 6 large cupcakes

Ingredients
for the banana cupcakes
1 cup mashed bananas, approximately 2 large bananas
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (125g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups plain flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate), sifted
1 teaspoon cinnamon, sifted

for the chocolate chilli ganache
330g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
1 + 1/2 cups double cream
3/4 teaspoon chilli powder

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 24-hole mini muffin pan with 24 paper cases.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 6 paper cases.
In a medium sized bowl, beat together the bananas and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy and combined. Beat in the eggs one at a time until combined. Add the butter and buttermilk. Beat until combined.
Using a spatula or wooden spoon, gently fold in the flour, baking soda and cinnamon until combined.
Spoon the batter evenly into the 24 mini paper cases and the 6 large paper cases.
Bake mini cupcakes for 10 – 15 minutes and the 6 larger cupcakes for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cuppycake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting by placing the chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Place the cream and chilli powder into a saucepan. Heat until the cream just starts to boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for one minute then whisk until smooth and glossy. Allow to cool before refrigerating for 1 hour. Bring out of the fridge and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Place in a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.

Note:
The ganache has a mild chilli flavour. Add more chilli powder if you would like it hotter!

Full Moons & Full Drinks

Moon

Dracula Tarot Moon Card
Created by Vicky Vladic
Illustrated by Anna Gerraty

December’s full moon falls on xmas day, which is a very rare event. The last one was in 1977 and the next one will be in 2034. In honour of the full moon and the shining bright star that is a part of the xmas story, I created a very special drink – a glow in the dark gin and tonic. The inclusion of apple is tasty, but the star hidden inside makes it a perfect solstice and xmas addition 🙂

Quinine, found in tonic water, glows under UV light so, if you have a blacklight you can shine it on this drink for a glowing surprise.

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Gin & Tonic By Day

 

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Gin & Tonic By Blacklight

Glow In The Dark Gin And Tonic
For each glass you will need:
100ml frozen tonic water
100ml frozen apple juice
50ml gin
apple slice cut crosswise to show the star shape

Method
Freeze the tonic water in large cubes.
Freeze the apple juice in large cubes.
Place the ice cubes into a large glass.
Pour in the gin.
Add the apple slice and wait for the cubes to melt.

A Very Sheepish Year 

The Chinese Lunar New Year begins on Thursday, February the 19th, 2015. That’s the easy bit! As for what animal it is, that’s the confusing bit. It’s either the Goat, Sheep or Ram. It is the only confusing one of the Zodiac. The confusion comes from the translation of the Chinese character for the 8th animal of the Zodiac which is yáng 羊

Yáng is used interchangeably for sheep, goats and, even more confusingly, some antelopes such as gazelles. To distinguish between these animals, the Chinese add a character in front of the yáng character. As the character on the Zodiac wheel is just yáng, it is up to you what animal you choose. This is what the Chinese do. Some parts of China are celebrating the Year of the Goat, some are celebrating the Year of the Sheep, while others are celebrating the Year of the Ram. The Eastern countries that have adopted the Chinese Zodiac have made a choice of which animal they believe represents the 8th Zodiac. Some have chosen the goat, others the ram or sheep. In the West, there is still debate about which animal should be celebrated. To the best of my knowledge, no-one is celebrating the Year of the Antelope 🙂

Whether you are Team Goat, Team Sheep, Team Ram or Team Antelope you must try these delicious Chinese Lion’s Head Meatballs. The meatball is supposed to resemble the head of a lion while the cabbage is its mane.

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Ingredients
for the meatballs
500g ground pork
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine*
peanut oil

for the broth
peanut oil
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ginger, finely minced
1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced
1 + 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon sugar
4 large Chinese cabbage leaves (wombok)
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Instructions
For the meatballs:
In a bowl, mix together the pork, egg, cornflour, spring onion, salt, soy sauce and wine. Form into 4 large meatballs. Flatten slightly so they are not completely round.
Heat peanut oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs on all sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and keep warm.
For the broth:
Heat peanut oil in a saucepan large enough to hold the meatballs in one layer over high heat. Fry the spring onion, ginger and garlic until fragrant. Add the chicken stock and sugar and bring to the boil. Carefully place meatballs in a single layer in the stock, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Place a cabbage leaf on top of each meatball. Cover and simmer for another 15 minutes or until dumplings are cooked through and there is no pinkness in the middle.
Serve one meatball covered with a cabbage leaf in each bowl. Ladle with stock and drizzle with some sesame oil.

* you can substitute Chinese rice wine with pale dry sherry or dry white wine.