Moon, Sun & Seasons

A Brew For The Rabbit And The Cat

January 19 is Brew a Potion Day. It is a fun day celebrating the magical and mystical mythology of potions. The word potion comes from the Latin “potio” which means to drink. Potions are thought to have magical properties, which can be used for healing or cursing, and are usually brewed by witches, wizards and other magical creatures. To celebrate Brew a Potion Day, concoct a potion of your own. It can be magical or non-magical, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, hot or cold. There are no rules, so have fun!

This is my first year of celebrating Brew a Potion Day and I’ve chosen to make a Bunny Mary, also called a Bloody Rabbit. A Bunny Mary is a fun version of a Bloody Mary where you replace the tomato juice with carrot juice. The spicy seasonings of a Bloody Mary can also be played around with. For my Bunny Mary I’m using Chinese five spice and garnishing it with a spring of mint.

My Bunny Mary concoction is inspired by the upcoming Lunar New Year on January 22. This year is a special one as it is the Chinese Year of the Rabbit and also the Vietnamese Year of the Cat. This means we have two animals to celebrate instead of just one! The element for this year is Water which is most appropriate for brewing up potions. The carrot juice pays tribute to the Rabbit while the mint pays tribute to the Cat as catnip is part of the mint family. To honour the Lunar New Year I’ve added Chinese five spice, as the five spices symbolise the five elements (Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth).

Bunny Mary

Ingredients (makes one drink)
50ml vodka
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice
1 cup carrot juice
good squeeze of lemon juice
mint sprig for garnish

Instructions
Pour the vodka into a tall glass.
Add the spice mix.
Pour in the carrot juice.
Add a squeeze of lemon juice.
Give a good stir.
Garnish with a sprig of mint.

If you can’t find Chinese five spice mix you can make your own. There is no specific recipe so you make one that suits your taste. This is my recipe:

Chinese Five Spice
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds
3 teaspoons ground star anise
2 teaspoons ground Szechuan pepper*
1 teaspoon ground cloves
Mix all the ingredients together.
Store in an air-tight glass container for up to 6 months.
*You can use ground black pepper but it won’t have the same numbing effect that Szechuan pepper has.

Happy Brew a Potion Day!
Happy Year of the Rabbit!
Happy Year of the Cat!

A Midsummer Night’s Scream

Thursday the 22nd is the Summer Solstice. It is the midpoint between Beltane and Lammas. The Summer Solstice celebrates the longest day of the year. After the Solstice, the days will slowly get shorter as the night begins its journey into ascendancy. Day and night will finally become equal at the Equinox. For now, the southern hemisphere will be enjoying/enduring some very hot weather.

In the northern hemisphere the opposite is happening. The Winter Solstice is the midpoint between Halloween and Imbolc. The Winter Solstice celebrates the longest night of the year. As Winter is a very dark time, naturally there are a bevy of scary legends to chill your Midwinter soul.

For those of us celebrating the Summer Solstice, we may have to get creative to add darkness and gothness to a festival celebrating the Sun at its most powerful point. Or do we? After a quick dance through the internet I managed to find a pretty scary Midsummer tradition. Well it’s particularly scary if you are a witch!

In some Scandinavian countries, the Summer Solstice is tied to the birthday of Saint John the Baptist. On the eve of his birthday, fires are lit to ward off any evil sprints that may come calling. As part of the celebrations, a large effigy of a witch is burned. Sometimes the witch is filled with firecrackers. One writer suggests that the sound of the exploding firecrackers mimics the sound of a witch screaming. Okay, this isn’t sounding good. I need to find another way to goth-up Midsummer.

If burning a screaming witch effigy doesn’t appeal to you either, then maybe you can add a bit of darkness to the light by joining me in celebrating Gothmas! Gothmas is simply a dark and gothic Xmas (think Halloween but with Xmas decorations) and it is fast becoming a tradition in both hemispheres.

This is the first year that I’ve started collecting Gothmas decorations and so far I have a witchy advent calendar with a cute fox date marker, a black Santa hat, and coffin shaped Xmas present earrings in Xmas colours. I even got a surprise Gothmas present as the earrings came with a “Merry Gothmas” tote bag!

As this turbulent year finally winds to its end I would like to wish everyone a Happy Gothmas and a Harpy New Year! (Yes I did mean Harpy) 🙂

A Beltane for Bram

Bram Stoker was born on the 8th of November 1847 making this Tuesday his 175th birthday!

This year Bram will share his birthday with a Full Moon in Taurus, a total lunar eclipse and Blood Moon. If that isn’t enough, the astronomical date for Beltane in the southern hemisphere, and Samhain in the northern hemisphere, will be celebrated on the eve of his birthday. Stoker’s most famous novel, Dracula, is a symphony of oppositions exploring life, death and rebirth. I think it is very fitting that Stoker’s 175th birthday falls on the eve of these most appropriate festivals.

To celebrate this very special birthday I decided to pay tribute to Bram’s Irish heritage by making an Irish milk punch called Scáiltín. It’s basically a spiced milk hot toddy. Milk and dairy are traditional foods/drinks used in both Beltane and Full Moon festivities which makes this a perfect drink for Bram’s birthday this year.

For the spices, I used pumpkin spice instead of the traditional ginger and cinnamon to add a bit of Halloween to the drink. If you don’t have pumpkin spice you can replace it with a 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger and a 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. I’ve also added an optional toasted marshmallow as a reminder of the bonfires that will be burning on both sides of the globe.

Happy Birthday Bram Stoker!

Irish Milk Punch (Scáiltín)

Ingredients
(Makes one generous cup)
1/4 cup Irish whiskey
1 cup full fat milk
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice
freshly grated or ground nutmeg for serving
1 marshmallow for serving (optional)

Instructions
Warm the whisky and milk in a small saucepan over low heat. (Do not let the mixture boil).
Add the honey and pumpkin spice and whisk until bubbly and combined.
Pour into a heatproof mug.
Sprinkle with nutmeg.
Top with a toasted marshmallow if desired.
If you don’t have access to a bonfire, you can toast the marshmallow by spearing it on a fork and slowly turning it over a low heat on a gas fire until it is toasted to your liking. (Be careful not to drop it as it softens).

A Tricky Halloween

Once upon a time, Australia didn’t really celebrate Halloween. There were no ghoulish goodies to buy, no spooky houses to visit, and no trick-or-treaters visiting on All Hallows Eve. Thank goodness times have changed!

Halloween is an Autumnal festival celebrating the beginning of Winter, so being a Pagan who lives in the southern hemisphere, I celebrate Halloween on April 30th. But I’m also a Goth so I celebrate northern hemisphere Halloween on October 31st because one Halloween just isn’t enough!

The corresponding festival to Halloween is Beltane, a festival celebrating the beginning of Summer. I’ve always felt I’m cheating Beltane by sharing it with Halloween and I’ve tried to work out ways of dealing with this tricky issue. Happily this year I have found a perfect compromise! I’m going to celebrate Halloween on the usual date and Beltane on an astronomical date. However, understanding astronomical dates can be a bit tricky too. 🙂

Halloween and Beltane (and Imbolc and Lammas) are cross-quarter festivals that mark the approximate mid points between the Solstices and Equinoxes. Like Xmas they are fixed date festivals which means they are celebrated on the same date every year. The Solstices and Equinoxes, like Easter, are moveable festivals meaning they are celebrated on different dates each year. The fixed date festivals mark the approximate midpoint between Solstices and Equinoxes but you can actually work out the exact astronomical date too. If you do this, you’ll find that the dates of the fixed festivals will now change every year as well.

This year the exact astronomical date of Beltane in the southern hemisphere falls on November 7th. I’m really excited about this date, as it is the eve of the Taurus Full Moon, a perfect symbol for Beltane. On November 8th there will be a total lunar eclipse which also happens to be Bram Stoker’s birthday. A lunar eclipse on the birthday of the author of Dracula brings me right back where I want to be – Halloween!

Spring Crumble

The Spring Equinox is here again! This year it falls on Friday the 23rd of September. The Equinox symbolises balance as the hours of day and night are roughly equal on this night. After the Spring Equinox, our hours of daylight will slowly increase and the days will become longer than the nights as we head towards the Summer Solstice.

The Spring Equinox usually makes me feel like doing a spring clean. Sometimes it’s house cleaning, sometimes it’s cleaning up my emotional and spiritual state. This year I’m spring cleaning my living space! A collapsing clothes cupboard has forced me to take a look at my storage and has inspired me to do a big clothing purge.

Seeing my crumbling wardrobe made think of a fruit crumble, but rather than a sweet one I decided to make a savoury zucchini crumble. Vibrant green zucchini, combined with a light filling and topping, is a refreshing way to celebrate the Equinox and prepare for upcoming spring cleaning.

Zucchini Crumble

Ingredients
for the filling
500g zucchini, finely grated
1 tablespoon semolina
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
125g feta

for the topping
1 cup wholemeal flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
80g unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Lightly oil a 24cm x 18cm baking dish.
To make the filling:
Squeeze zucchini, making sure all liquid is extracted, then place in a bowl.
Add the semolina, rosemary, salt and feta and stir until just combined.
Spread the mixture into prepared dish.
To make the topping:
Add the flour and salt to a separate bowl.
Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips.
Add the nuts and continue mixing until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Sprinkle the topping over the zucchini mix.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the topping is lightly browned.

Imbolc Delight

As the wheel slowly turns toward Spring in the southern hemisphere, many are getting ready to celebrate Imbolc on August 1st.

Imbolc is the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It brings the promise of Spring in the midst of cold Winter weather. Nights are still cold but the days are warming as nature begins to slowly awaken from a Winter slumber. It’s a beautiful time of year and one of my favourites.

One of the things I like to start thinking about at Imbolc is spring cleaning. This year I began with my pantry and found a bottle of rose syrup that I had forgotten I had. I decided to use some of it to make a rose syrup jelly (jello) that reminds me of Turkish delight. Rose syrup is a syrup made from rose water with sugar added. If you don’t have rose syrup you can use rose water but you may have to add extra sugar to get that sweet flavour of Turkish delight.

I added hibiscus tea to my jelly as I wanted to get a nice pink colour. I also find the tartness of hibiscus balances out the sweetness of the rose syrup. If you don’t have hibiscus tea, you can add food colouring or just enjoy the almost pink blush of the jelly.

Rose Syrup Jelly

Ingredients
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 titanium strength gelatine leaf*
1 tablespoon rose syrup
1 tablespoon hibiscus flower tea leaves
cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Soak gelatine sheet in cold water for 5 minutes.
While the gelatine is soaking, place the water and sugar in a small saucepan and gently heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Squeeze out gelatine sheet and add to the saucepan.
Remove from heat.
Stir once or twice until the gelatine has melted.
Stir in the rose syrup and hibiscus tea.
Steep for 3-5 minutes.
Strain into a heatproof jug.
Allow to cool then pour into serving bowls or glasses.
Cover and refrigerate until set.
Serve with cream if desired.

*check the strength of your gelatine leaves and use as many as you need to set 1 cup of liquid.

A Winter Solstice Star

In preparation for the June 21st Winter Solstice, I spent a weekend away at an eco-friendly sky pod in Victoria’s stunning Otways. Perched on a hill in a wildlife refuge property, the pod I chose featured floor to ceiling windows which look out onto the Southern Ocean.

During the day I watched as the changeable weather treated me to scenes of sunshine imbued surf, rain and storm clouds, and stunning rainbows. At night, with the lights turned off, the night sky was bewitching. I fell asleep with the gentle caress of starlight on my face.

Deep in the night I woke up and was amazed at the amount of starlight in the room. When I looked around I saw that it was the Southern Cross shining through the south facing window. I have seen this star pattern many times before but never so close. I felt as though I could reach out and touch the bright stars as they filled the room with translucent light. It was magical. I felt an immediate connection to the Southern Cross, something I have never felt before.

The Southern Cross star pattern is composed of four bright stars and one fainter star which form the shape of a cross, or more accurately, a kite. The Southern Cross is not a constellation but an asterism which is a group of stars that can be part of a constellation or span across multiple constellations. The Southern Cross is the brightest star pattern in the Crux constellation, the smallest constellation in the sky.

photo from Wikipedia

The Southern Cross asterism was once a feature of the northern skies and was an important celestial symbol for ancient cultures. The ancient Greeks considered it part of the Centaurus constellation. By Roman times it had sunk below the horizon and out of view for most of the Northern Hemisphere, although it is still visible in some southern parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The Southern Cross was virtually forgotten in the Northern Hemisphere until it became an important asterism in navel navigations.

The Southern Cross has always been a powerful celestial symbol in the southern skies and features prominently in the mythology and stories of Southern Hemisphere cultures. The Southern Cross configuration is featured on the flags of Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Samoa. It is also mentioned in the national anthems of Australia and Brazil.

In my home country of Australia, the Southern Cross is an important part of indigenous and non-indigenous Australian culture. Australian indigenous culture is wide and diverse, and while there are many stories about the Southern Cross, it is regarded as one of many star patterns that grace the southern skies. However, for many non-indigenous Australians, this celestial symbol has almost mythic status and is considered one of the most important star patterns in the southern skies. Unfortunately, the Southern Cross has also been used as a symbol of nationalism, bigotry and rebellion, often in nasty ways. This association with the uglier parts of Australian culture has made me uncomfortable about getting to know the Southern Cross asterism. However, after seeing how beautiful it truly is, I’m now keen to form a relationship.

Happy Solstice!

The Halloween “Pom” Queen

Sunday the 30th of April is southern hemisphere Halloween! There are so many ways to celebrate this most auspicious of nights. This year I’ll be celebrating the seasonal coronation of Persephone as she once again embraces her role as the Queen of the Underworld.

Persephone spends Spring and Summer in the land of the living and Autumn and Winter in the land of the dead. During the Autumn Equinox, Persephone makes her descent into the Underworld. On Halloween, we celebrate the seasonal coronation of Persephone as she regains her crown and guides us through the remaining dark half of the year.

To celebrate Persephone’s Halloween Coronation, I’m making hot chocolate. Chocolate is linked to death – and not just by the dessert Death By Chocolate! Cacao has been used in celebrations and rituals symbolising both death and rebirth for millennia. You can even buy Ceremonial Grade Cacao if you’re really keen. I’m adding mint and pomegranate to my hot chocolate which also have links to death and rebirth, so they are perfect ingredients for a Halloween drink dedicated to Persephone.

Mint is a key herb herb used in funerary rites, and also an ingredient in kykeon, a fermented barley drink used in the Eleusinian Mysteries dedicated to Demeter and Persephone. Interestingly, Minthe is the name of a nymph who was the lover of Hades. Minthe said some unflattering things about Persephone and was trampled on by either Persephone, or her mother Demeter. The herb mint sprang from the earth where Minthe was squashed. That’s a pretty powerful allegory for death and rebirth!

Pomegranate is a red fruit filled with seeds that oozes blood red juice when opened. Not surprisingly they are a fruit abundant in symbology. During her first trip to the Underworld, Persephone eats some pomegranate seeds which tie her forever to the realm of the dead. For each seed she has eaten, she must spend a month in the Underworld. There is no consensus on how many seeds she ate. As her journey represents a seasonal cycle of light and darkness, six seems to be an appropriate number. Pomegranate seeds bring Persephone back to the Underworld and on Halloween she reclaims her throne as Queen of the Dead. It is this for reason I call her my Halloween Pom (Pomegranate) Queen.

Mint Hot Chocolate with Pomegranate Whipped Cream

Ingredients (1 serving)
for the whipped cream
1/2 cup cream
1 tablespoon powdered (icing) sugar
1 teaspoon fresh pomegranate juice
pomegranate seeds for decorating
mint leaves for decorating

for the hot chocolate
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
20g finely chopped dark chocolate buds
2 tablespoons (or to taste) peppermint cordial

Instructions
Whisk the cream until slightly thickened.
Add the powdered sugar and whisk until soft peaks form.
Stir in the pomegranate juice until fluffy and combined. Set aside while you make the hot chocolate.
Heat the milk until hot, but not boiling.
Whisk in the cocoa powder until combined.
Add the chocolate and whisk until melted and combined.
Add the peppermint cordial and whisk until combined.
Pour into a heat-proof mug.
Top with whipped cream.
Decorate with mint leaves and pomegranate seeds.

A Time For Corn

Monday the 21st of March is the Autumn Equinox in the southern hemisphere. It’s the midpoint between Lammas and Halloween. The hours of day and night are relatively equal on the Equinox. Following the Equinox, the darkness starts to gain ascendancy as the day slowly retreats into the dark half of the year.

The Autumn Equinox marks the second summer harvest festival. It represents the harvesting of grains and produce that can be enjoyed now and also preserved for the winter. Corn is one of the most sacred symbols for Autumn and is revered for its versatility. It can be eaten fresh, or preserved by being frozen or canned. It can be dried to make popcorn or ground into cornmeal and corn flour. The leaves and husks can also be used to make Corn Dollies, Corn Husk Dolls and other crafts.

Popcorn is one of the many ways I enjoy corn. I love it piping hot with lots of butter and a good sprinkling of sea salt. I’ve always used individual kernels but I recently discovered popcorn on the cob. These dried corncobs can be placed in a paper bag and popped in the microwave. I didn’t actually own a microwave but I bought one just so I could try popcorn on the cob!

Thankfully the popcorn was worth the investment. 🙂

A Day For Pancakes

This year we begin the month of March with Pancake Day!

Pancake Day, also know as Shrove Tuesday, is part of Easter observances so it doesn’t have a fixed date. It is followed by Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Shrove Tuesday is the last day to eat rich, sweet and fatty foods before a period of fasting begins. Thankfully I don’t celebrate Easter (so no fasting) but I do celebrate pancakes!

This year I am indulging in mini pancakes called pikelets. Pikelets are an Aussie and New Zealand treat and are enjoyed any time of the day. They can be eaten hot or cold and can be served with sweet or savoury toppings.

I’ve tweaked a traditional pikelet recipe to make an overnight version that also has oats. You’ll need to start preparing these the night before, as the oats and milk need to soak overnight.

Overnight Oat Pikelets

Ingredients
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
butter for frying

Instructions
Mix the oatmeal and milk together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning remove the oat mix from the refrigerator.
Stir in the beaten egg until combined.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a small bowl.
Add to the oat mix and stir until combined. (You want a thick batter so add more milk or flour to get the right consistency).
Melt some butter in a frying pan.
Drop tablespoons of batter into the pan, allowing room for spreading.
Cook for 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and the bottom is lightly browned.
Turn them over with a spatula and cook for 30 – 60 seconds or until lightly brown on the bottom.
Remove from the pan.
Eat them hot or cold with sweet or savoury toppings.