Seasonal

The Witches Of Easter

Thinking about my broomstick, I decided to google “broomstick cookies” for a laugh. I wasn’t surprised to find Halloween type recipes where cookies or pretzels are shaped to look like brooms but I was surprised to find recipes for Swedish Broomstick Cookies. When I saw pictures of them they looked like curled, lacey tuile cookies. So why are they called broomstick cookies? Because the warm cookies are draped over the handle of a broomstick to achieve the slightly curled shape. I love the idea of shaping cookies on broomsticks 🙂 What I love even more is that the discovery of these cookies also led to another witchy discovery – the Swedish Witches of Easter!

Blåkulla is a place in Sweden where witches go to celebrate a Witches’ Sabbath. The destination can only be reached by a magical flight. Luckily witches have broomsticks! On the Eve of Maundy Thursday – the night of the Last Supper – Swedish witches grab their broomsticks and fly out of their chimneys to Blåkulla. They take a black cat and a copper coffee pot with them. I expected a cat but not a coffee pot. It warms my heart to know these witches take their coffee drinking seriously – just like me 🙂 They party for three nights with the Devil before returning home just in time for Easter Sunday.

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This idea of an Easter Witches’ Sabbath has led to an interesting tradition where young girls dress up as påskkärringar – Easter Witches. Similar to Halloween, the Easter Witches visit their neighbours with gifts of paintings, drawings and cards and are given sweets in return. Unlike Halloween, traditional påskkärringar like to dress in long, colourful skirts with shawls on their shoulders, scarves covering their heads and sporting rosy cheeks and freckles. Naturally they ride broomsticks and carry copper coffee pots – because you can’t forget about coffee!

I was going to make a batch of Swedish Broomstick Cookies in case some Easter Witches come visiting me before I fly off to Blåkulla. But, as I was sorting through a pile of recipes I had clipped from newspapers way back in 2011, I came across the perfect recipe for a witchy Easter cookie – Strazzate. These Italian chocolate and almond cookies are flavoured with Strega, a liqueur named after the Italian word for witch. I talked about Strega in my post Season Of The Witch and offered a recipe for a Strega Sunrise.

The label on a bottle of Strega features an old witch holding a broomstick. There are other witches dancing with half goat, half man creatures. These witches seem to be partaking in the same revelries as the Swedish Easter Witches so to me they are the perfect Easter Witch Cookie. They even contain coffee 🙂

Strazzate

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Ingredients
1 + 3/4 cups plain flour, sifted
1 tablespoon cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 + 3/4 cups ground almonds
2 tablespoons roughly chopped almonds
1 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped dark chocolate
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup Strega
1/3 cup warm black coffee

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line 4 baking trays with baking paper.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, ground almonds, chopped almonds, sugar, chocolate, olive oil and Strega, until combined.
Add the coffee and beat until you have a pliable dough.
Roll into balls – use approximately 1/2 a tablespoon of dough per ball.
Place on prepared baking trays and flatten slightly.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.
Allow to cool on wire racks before serving.

Recipe by Kate McGhie published in the Herald Sun newspaper April 19, 2011.
The original recipe suggested dusting the cookies with cocoa powder before serving. I didn’t do this but you can give it a try.
You can substitute Galliano for Strega but then you won’t have the witchy connection.

Learning About Lammas

I had always assumed that Lammas, Halloween, Imbolc and Beltane were fixed date celebrations while the Solstices and Equinoxes were moveable dates. It’s a bit like Xmas being a fixed date and Easter being a moveable one. I thought it was the same for our eight witchy holidays – four are fixed and four are moveable. Well, that’s not quite the case.

Realising Lammas was upon me I googled to see what was happening for Aussie Lammas. That is when I got a surprise. Some were celebrating on the traditional date of February 2nd while others were celebrating on February 4th. Why the discrepancy? Lammas is meant to be the mid point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox, but if the dates of the Solstices and Equinoxes change, then so too would the midpoint. It makes sense, but does it feel right? I’m not sure. It’s something I will think on. One thing I do know – I won’t be celebrating Halloween on May 5th. When it comes to Halloween I’m a traditionalist – I celebrate on April 30th and October 31st 🙂

Lammas, also known as Lughnasadh, is the first Autumn festival of the year. Lughnasadh is derived from the name of the Celtic God Lugh while Lammas is derived from an Old English term for “loaf mass.” While I am into Gods, I am way more into bread, so to celebrate Loaf Mass Day, or Lammas, I went to one of my favourite places for jaffles – Bad Frankie.

Jaffles are one of my favourites forms of toasted sandwich. Two pieces of bread filled with savoury or sweet ingredients, buttered on the outside and then cooked in a special sandwich maker known by a few names such as pie iron, toastie iron or jaffle iron. The key to a jaffle is that the bread is toasted while the filling is heated and sealed between the slices of bread. It’s the sealing that makes it different to a toasted sandwich.

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Round Jaffle Iron

Rather than give a recipe for a jaffle, I’m going to share some photos of the different jaffles I have enjoyed from Bad Frankie and my other favourite jaffle place, Windmills and Waffles – a great place to break your trip from Melbourne to Adelaide when visiting the pandas 🙂

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Bangers & Mash from Bad Frankie – pork sausage and onion jam sandwiched between one slice of bread and one layer of cheesy mashed potato! And served with gravy!!

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The Chook from Bad Frankie – poached chicken, celery and pine nuts. Served with mayonnaise. My favourite 🙂

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Classic Ham & Cheese from Windmills and Waffles – served with tomato sauce and pickles on the side.

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Lamington from Bad Frankie – sponge cake soaked in chocolate, rolled in coconut and filled with jam. Served with cream.

Feeling inspired?
Let me know what your favourite jaffle fillings and creations are 🙂

Horsey New Year!

What if I told you you could ring in the New Year with a Zombie Horse! For those of us of a gothic persuasion, the spirit of the New Year cannot be embodied in a better form than that of the Welsh Mari Lwyd. Mari Lwyd, or Y Fari Lwyd in Welsh, translates as Grey Mare or Grey Mary. Mari Lwyd is a horse that comes back from the dead in the guise of a horse’s skull decorated in ribbons and mounted on a pole. A white sheet is attached to the pole hiding both the pole and the person carrying the Spooky Hobby Horse.

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Mari Lwyd and her gang of followers engage in Hobby Horse Hijinks by travelling from house to house trying to gain entry. They do this by singing and engaging in a battle of riddles. The occupants refuse entry in song and riddles. The banter continues until the occupants relent and allow Mari Lywd inside, where she is rewarded with food and drink. It is lucky to allow the Grey Mare entry as she brings good luck to the occupants for the New Year.

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If Mari Lywd comes knocking on your door New Year’s Eve, you can try offering the Zombie Horse some horsey based food and drink. Devils on Horseback sound like an appropriate treat. My two versions of the popular canapé feature dates and prunes stuffed with blue cheese wrapped in prosciutto and dates and prunes stuffed with dark chocolate wrapped in bacon.

Devils On Horseback

Ingredients
12 dates, pitted
12 prunes, pitted

for the blue cheese devils
100g blue cheese
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
12 thin slices of prosciutto

for the chocolate devils
12 squares of 70% dark chocolate,
6 strips of bacon, halved crosswise

Instructions
Preheat oven to 230C / 450F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Place the blue cheese in a small bowl. Add the pepper and mash until combined.
Fill 6 dates and 6 prunes with an equal amount of cheese.
Wrap each one tightly with a slice of prosciutto.
Secure with a toothpick.
Fill remaining dates and prunes with a piece of chocolate.
Wrap each one tightly with a slice of bacon.
Secure with a toothpick.
Place on prepared trays and bake for about 10 minutes or until the prosciutto and bacon are crispy. Turn over once, halfway through cooking time.
Serve warm.

What better way to wash done these tasty snacks than with a horsey cocktail 🙂 I thought of making a Moscow Mule, but chose a less known drink called a Horse’s Neck. I think it is the perfect drink for a horse whose head is balanced on a stick!

Horse’s Neck Cocktail

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Ingredients
Ice
25ml whisky
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Spiral of lemon peel
Ginger ale

Instructions
Fill a highball glass with ice.
Pour the whisky over the ice.
Add the bitters and lemon peel.
Top up with ginger ale.

Omit the lemon peel and you have a variation on the Horse’s Neck cocktail called a Horse Feather cocktail.

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A Very Warm Solstice

It’s time for those of us in the southern hemisphere to get ready for Midsummer! Wednesday 21st is the Summer Solstice, our longest day/shortest night of the year. While the northern hemisphere is preparing for their cold winter, we are getting warmer and warmer as we move into our summer. Since the Winter Solstice, the days have become longer and the nights shorter. When we reach the Summer Solstice, this reverses. Our longest day heralds the beginning of shorter days and our shortest night gives birth to longer nights.

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There was a time when I dreaded the arrival of summer but those days are gone. Over the years I have made peace with my solar deities, although I still hate the really hot days and long, oppressive nights that our summer can throw at us. I have learned to love the days when the weather is beautiful, warm and sunny and you just have to go outside and enjoy it. I’ve also come to appreciate the pleasantly warm nights where all you want to do is relax with a sparkling drink and wait for the night to slowly cool.

So with thoughts of outings and get-togethers with friends, I would like to celebrate the Summer Solstice with a sweet and golden Sunflower Seed Brittle. This sugary delight can be used to decorate cakes and desserts or eaten as is.

Sunflower Seed Brittle

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Ingredients
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Instructions
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Place the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat.
Stirring constantly, cook for 5 – 10 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves and caramelises.
Remove from heat.
Quickly stir in the sunflower seeds.
Pour onto prepared pan.
Allow to cool completely before breaking into shards.

If you like sunflower seeds, check out my recipe for Sunflower Seed Baklava.

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Kitty Claws Is Coming To Town!

Did you survive Krampus night? Well don’t rest easy, because there is another scary xmas monster coming your way! I am happy to introduce you to Jólakötturinn – Iceland’s Yule Cat. Steeped in the mythology of countries that have long, cold, dark and deadly winters, rises the giant black cat of xmas. Jólakötturinn is monstrously huge, has glowing eyes, whiskers as sharp as nails and razor sharp claws. As if cats weren’t scary enough, Jólakötturinn takes feline fear to a new level.

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Jólakötturinn prowls the night of xmas eve, looking in windows for a Yule offering. But what offering could subdue such a terrifying beast? If you’re thinking food you’d be wrong. Your soul? Luckily nothing so dramatic. This fashionista feline desires an offering of new clothes. Bizarrely, the clothes are not necessarily for the cat – I mean cats aren’t known for their love of being dressed up! No, the new clothes are for you and your children. If there are no new clothes to be seen, the feisty Jólakötturinn may take all your gifts, eat all your food, eat you or take away your children and eat them. What better incentive do you need for new xmas threads!

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In some ways the scary kitty myth brilliantly mirrors our capitalist and consumerist approach to xmas with its emphasis on buying new clothes. Some say the myth of Jólakötturinn was used by farmers to frighten workers into finishing processing all the sheared wool before xmas so that new clothes could be made. Others say that the threat of a visit by Jólakötturinn was used to encourage people to work hard all year so they could have the money to buy new clothes for xmas.

It’s not clear when Jólakötturinn joined the cast of Icelandic monsters but the creepy cat’s popularity surged when Icelandic bard Jóhannes úr Kötlum wrote a poem about Jólakötturinn. Interestingly, the poem suggests that we should make sure that the needy, particularly poor children, are given a special piece of clothing at xmas. The basic theme in the poem is that if those who have give to those who don’t, Jólakötturinn will be thwarted. It is actually a beautiful xmas message clothed in a scary cat tale!

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I enjoyed reading about Jólakötturinn but the Yule Cat really came alive to me when I heard Icelandic singer Björk’s version of Jóhannes úr Kötlum’s poem. My favourite link is one that features animation with a written English translation of the poem and Bjork’s haunting voice singing the poem in Icelandic. So before I share my catty recipe for xmas, sit back and enjoy this powerful myth in images and song: Jólakötturinn – The Yule Cat.

We know the Yule Cat wants new clothes rather than food, but I can’t resist trying to tempt the scary kitty with a black bottom cupcake – a chocolate cupcake with a cheesecake filling. Will Jólakötturinn be the cat that got the cream? If creamy cheese isn’t enough, there’s also catnip! Catnip is part of the mint family so you can use any mint you like for this recipe. Chia is also part of the mint family but I’m not sure if cats would be tempted by chia seeds 🙂

Creamy Catnip Cupcakes

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Ingredients
for the cheesecake filling
8 ounces (225g) cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature

for the chocolate cupcakes
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint essence, or to taste

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
Make the cream cheese filling by beating the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and egg and beat until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
Make the chocolate cupcakes by sifting the flour, baking powder, cocoa, salt and sugar into a jug. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the water, oil, cider vinegar, vanilla extract and peppermint essence.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients until smooth.
Evenly pour the batter between the 12 paper cases.
Spoon the cream cheese mixture evenly into the center of each cupcake.
Bake for 10 – 25 minutes or until the cupcakes feel springy and the cream cheese filling has set. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Scary Xmas!

There are many reasons why the holiday season can be scary – family gatherings being one 🙂 But did you know that there is a dark side to the tradition of gift-giving? If good children are rewarded with gifts, what happens to naughty children? Enter one of the many scary creatures of xmas – Krampus!

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Krampus is half goat, half devil. He is hairy, has cloven hooves, goat horns, a long pointed tongue and fangs. His horned form appears to be a blend of ancient horned goat deities like Pan and traditional images of the devil. The name Krampus is derived from a German word for claw. I first saw Krampus in the television series Grim. He made a real impression on me 🙂

Krampus is the dark half of Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas. Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas reward good children by giving them gifts, while Krampus punishes bad children by giving them coal and sometimes beating them with the bundle of birch sticks he carries. In his scariest moments, Krampus carries a sack which he stuffs with naughty children. The fate of the children varies – but the outcome is always grim.

Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of the Feast of Saint Nicholas. It is on this night that Krampus appears, ready to punish naughty children. Sometimes he is accompanied by Saint Nicholas, reflecting they are two halves of one gift-giving whole. So ask yourself this on Krampus Night – “Have I been naughty or nice?” The consequences of the answer have never been so scary!

To honour Krampus Night I thought I would do a cheeky pasta dish – Gnudi with Puttanesca Sauce. Gnudi are nude or naked ravioli. Basically they are a ravioli filling without the pasta. I have chosen goats cheese for the gnudi to reflect the goat origins of Krampus. I chose to serve them with a puttanesca sauce as the name is derived from an Italian word for whore or prostitute. I couldn’t resist topping my naked gnudi with a tart sauce. Serve with breadsticks, just in case some naughty children come for a visit and need a light beating 🙂

Gnudi with Puttanesca Sauce

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Ingredients

for the gnudi
150g soft goat cheese, room temperature
2 eggs
good pinch of sea salt
100g hard goat cheese, finely grated
1/4 cup plain flour, more or less may be needed
extra flour for dusting

for the puttanesca sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic gloves, finely minced
6 vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
6 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
1 + 1/2 tablespoons small capers, drained
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Instructions
In a large mixing bowl mix together the soft goats cheese, eggs and salt.
Using a wire whisk, beat until smooth.
Using a wooden spoon stir through the hard goat cheese.
Add a tablespoon of flour at a time and mix through until you have a soft and light dough.
Shape into walnut sized balls.
Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
Add onion and saute until soft and lightly caramelised.
Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients.
Stir until combined, then simmer gently while you cook the gnudi.
Preheat oven to 190C / 375F.
Bring a large saucepan of generously salted water to boil.
Remove gnudi from fridge and roll in extra flour until lightly dusted.
Drop in batches into boiling water.
As they cook they will rise to the surface. Once risen, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them in a large oven proof dish or individual ramekins.
Pour the puttanesca sauce gently over the gnudi and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

A Game Of Love And Death

There are eight seasonal festivals that many witches and Pagans celebrate. Three of them are really well known – Yule, Easter and Halloween. Yule and Easter fall around the Summer Solstice and the Spring Equinox. They have been overlaid by a veneer of Christianity and so are celebrated in many different ways across the globe. Halloween falls between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. It too has been overlaid by many cultural veneers but has stubbornly remained Pagan. From its ghoulish iconography to its impish games, there is no mistaking that Halloween is a time for remembering, honouring and fearing the dead.

Last week I discussed the issue of flipping northern hemisphere festivals to fit with southern hemisphere seasons. For a moment I fell into step with my witchy compatriots. Beltane, a fertility festival with a special emphasis on love and unions, was calling. For the first time since I became a solitary witch I was considering celebrating Beltane on October 31st. But a few things happened that flipped me back to Halloween.

As I was perusing the shelves at my local craft beer shop I saw a can of beer that really called to me – a saison named Persephone! When I saw the name, and the Grecian inspired artwork, I just had to have it. The beer is flavoured with balsamic, grapefruit, pink pepper and, not surprisingly, pomegranate. But what really interested me was that saison is French for season. I didn’t know that. The label told the story of Persephone’s journey and how her love of pomegranates bound her to the Underworld and to a seasonal dance of Love and Death with her husband Hades. I can think of no better drink than a saison for Persephone.

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I chose to drink my Persephone saison while finishing a book recommended to me by my friend and cupcake conspirator Anne Belov. Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love and Death is an extraordinary tale featuring the anthropomorphic characters of Love and Death. Each chooses a human player that will represent them in a game. The human players don’t know they have been chosen. Love and Death then manipulate the lives of their players to see if they will choose each other or go their separate ways. Choose Love and the game ends, choose Death and you end! One of the intriguing questions in the book is if we didn’t have Death, would we Love as deeply? Does knowing that Death is our final destination inspire us to Love more fully? Another fascinating aspect is the relationship between Love and Death. Are they enemies or are they two halves of the same coin? You’ll have to read the book to find out 🙂

This October 31st I will be celebrating Halloween. I can’t resist the siren call of the Halloweeny paraphernalia surrounding me! But I won’t be forgetting Beltane. Although I have symbolically chosen to celebrate a festival of Death over a celebration of Love, I will also be thinking of my fellow witches down under who will be leaping over bonfires to promote fertility and dancing around a maypole in November. As for me, this Halloween I will begin a new round of my own seasonal game of Love and Death.

Coeur a la Creme

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Love and Death unite in this decadent heart of cream bathed in pomegranate juice and scattered with fragrant pomegranate seeds.

Ingredients
125g mascarpone
125g ricotta cheese
300ml double cream
1/3 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pomegranate, juice and seeds

Method
Beat mascarpone and ricotta with an electric mixer until smooth.
Add cream, sugar and vanilla and mix lightly.
Line coeur a la creme moulds* with muslin that has been moistened with water and wrung out. Make sure there is enough overhang to cover the top of the mixture. Pour mixture into moulds and cover the top with muslin. Place on a cooling rack over a baking tray and leave in fridge to drain overnight.
Unmould onto serving dishes and decorate with fresh pomegranate juice and seeds.
To prepare pomegranate, cut the fruit in half and squeeze into a bowl. Separate the juice and seeds. Pour as much juice and scatter as many seeds over the coeur a la creme as you like.

*Coeur a la creme moulds are heart shaped ceramic moulds with holes for drainage. They are difficult to get so there are a number of ways to achieve the desired heart shape without them: 
1) You can buy a heart shaped silicone cake pan or mini cake pans and make holes in the bottom with a skewer.
2) You can leave the mixture in a muslin bag to drain overnight then place in a heart shaped mould or moulds before serving.
The important thing is that the cream mixture is allowed to drain overnight before shaping.

A Kimchi For All Seasons

As the wheel spins toward Halloween, I’m thinking about the Pagan festival I usually don’t celebrate – Beltane. It’s not that I don’t like Beltane, it’s just that it happens to fall on Halloween. In the topsy turvy world of the southern/northern hemispheres, Pagan holidays are reversed. As the classic festivals were celebrated in the northern hemisphere, those of us in the southern hemisphere can feel a bit out of place. Do we celebrate Yule in December or June? Halloween in October or April?

As the festivals are based on the seasons, it makes sense to simply reverse the holidays down under. I do this for seven out of the eight classic seasonal celebrations, but when it comes to Halloween, I celebrate it twice! It hasn’t bothered me before. As a vampire loving goth, I love celebrating this spooky holiday twice a year. But as I went for my usual walks down my local streets, I felt the draw of Beltane deep in my bones. While alternating between keeping my eyes up for swooping magpies and eyes down for passing snakes, I was inspired by all the animal life coming out to enjoy our Spring. So now I am in a quandary. Do I celebrate Halloween, Beltane or both next week? I’m not sure, but I am certainly getting signs that paying attention to seasons is very important! Which brings me to kimchi 🙂

Ever since I heard about Korea’s national dish I have wanted to try it. Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish, famous for its rich red colour and its spiciness. Unfortunately, one of the key spices is chilli, which I am allergic to. It was only after talking to a friend well versed in kimchi, that I discovered white kimchi, a type of kimchi that doesn’t have chilli. Armed with a copy of The Kimchi Cookbook: 60 Traditional and Modern Ways to Make and Eat Kimchi (Lauryn Chun), I began exploring the world of white kimchi.

Apart from the different types of vegetables that could be used, the different seasonings and the different types of fermentation processes, what I also learned was that there are different kimchi for different seasons. I considered making a Spring kimchi but was more drawn to the Autumn offerings. You just can’t take the Halloween out of me 🙂 So while I still don’t know what festival I will be celebrating next week I do know one thing – I’ll be contemplating my dilemma over a bowl of refreshing Autumnal kimchi.

Apple, Pear, and Cabbage Water Kimchi with Fennel in Clear Broth

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Ingredients
450g wombok (napa) cabbage
2 tablespoons sea salt
1 medium nashi pear
1 medium fuji apple
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons sugar
4 cups cold water
1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced

Instructions
Cut the cabbage in half.
Cut the core out of the cabbage then cut into 5cm pieces.
Wash the cabbage thoroughly.
Mix together the cabbage and salt in a large bowl. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Peel and core the pear and apple.
Cut into quarters or thick slices. I do a combination of the two.
In a food processor, puree together the onion, garlic and ginger.
Place the pureed mixture into a large bowl.
Add the sugar and water and stir well.
Add the cabbage with the brining mixture.
Add the pear, apple and fennel and mix together.
Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate.
Use within 1 month.

This is my first attempt at kimchi. It came out rather salty and I’m not sure if that’s how it is meant to taste. I’ve taken a small batch out and added extra water. I’ll see how that goes. I’ve also read that adding radish slices can cut down on the saltiness. However, the apples and pears work well with the saltiness. Am happy for any tips or advice on my kimchi journey 🙂

Spring Equinox / Spring Pancakes

When I first tried a spring onion pancake at a Chinese New Year festival, I almost wept in happiness. The moment I bit into the crunchy, flaky pastry and tasted the warm spring onions I had a memory of a similar taste sensation from my childhood – leek zelnick. A zelnick is a Macedonian flaky pastry filled with all sorts of things from pork, pumpkin, cheese and my favourite – leek with ricotta and feta. I love zelnicks but they can be a bit time consuming to make. Could I make a fusion version of a spring onion pancake? There was only one way to find out – experiment!

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I followed the recipe for Shanghai Onion Cakes from Bamboo: A Journey with Chinese Food by Sally Hammond & Gordon Hammond and then added my own Macedonian twist. After adding the spring onions, I crumbled some feta cheese on a few of the pancakes. I then followed the recipe to completion. The traditional spring onion pancakes were as fabulous as the ones I tried at the festival. As for the feta ones, they ended up tasting like a delicious cheesy spring onion pancake zelnick 🙂 I’m already thinking up new variations.

These pancakes make me think of the Spring Equinox, and not just because of the key ingredient! The Spring Equinox in the southern hemisphere falls on Friday the 23rd of September this year. The northern hemisphere is heading for its Autumn Equinox at the same time. The Equinoxes are a time of balance, when day and night are relatively equal. After the Spring Equinox, the days will be longer than the nights, until we reach the Autumn Equinox and night once again overtakes day.

Like the Equinoxes, these pancakes symbolise balance and union. They are a balance between two cultures and a melding of a childhood staple food with a new culinary discovery. I loved the idea of playing with spring onions for Spring!  And for those of you celebrating the Autumn Equinox, don’t worry, pancakes are great for Autumn too 🙂

Spring Onion Pancakes

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Ingredients
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
3/4 cup boiling water
sesame oil
sea salt
4 spring onions, green parts only, chopped
feta cheese (my fusion twist)
high smoke point vegetable oil for frying

Instructions
Sift the flour into a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour in the boiling water. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, quickly work into the flour until you have a smooth, soft dough. Invert the bowl onto a board and leave the dough to cool.
When cool enough to handle, knead the dough for 2 – 3 minutes or until smooth. Form into a smooth ball. Rub with sesame oil. Cover and leave to rest for 1 hour.
Lightly flour a board. Cut dough into 5 pieces. Roll out thinly. Brush with sesame oil, sprinkle with sea salt and cover evenly with spring onions.
It is here that I add my fusion twist. I crumble some feta cheese over the spring onions!
Roll up the dough then coil each roll into a round cake. Lightly dust with flour, then gently roll into a thin circle (about 1/2 cm or 1/4 inch thick).
Heat oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Fry the pancakes until golden brown, turning once or twice. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

Check out my recipes for Pumpkin Pancakes and Yeasted Pancakes 🙂

Following The Sun

Monday August 1st is Imbolc in the southern hemisphere. It is the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Traditionally it is the first day of spring. Even though winter is still in full swing, the promise of the sun returning is awakened on Imbolc.

To celebrate the return of the sun I thought I would explore a solar symbol – the sunflower. Sunflowers are of the genus Helianthus, named after Helios, the Greek God of the Sun. While they are growing, young sunflower buds track the movement of the sun from east to west. This is called heliotropism. Once they bloom, sunflowers generally face east – the direction of the rising sun. For me sunflowers symbolise a beautiful solar dance and are a symbol for the impending return of the summer sun.

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Sunflowers are also an important food crop. Sunflower seeds and sunflower oil can be used in many ways in cooking. I was tempted to make sunflower muesli bars but then I thought I would make one of my favourite desserts – baklava.

Sunflower Seed Baklava
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Ingredients
for the filling
1 cup hulled sunflowers seeds
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

for the pastry
125g unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
375g packet of filo pastry

for the syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Method
Place the sunflower seeds, pine nuts and walnuts into a food processor or blender. Process until finely chopped.
Add the sugar and cinnamon and mix until just combined.
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Generously brush the bottom and sides of a baking tray with melted butter.
Unroll the filo onto a chopping board. Cut the whole stack to fit your baking dish.
To prevent the pastry drying out, cover the filo sheets with a damp tea towel.
Working with one sheet at a time, place in the baking tray and brush with butter.
Repeat until roughly half of the sheets of filo have been buttered.
Spread the filling evenly over the top.
Place one sheet at a time over the top and brush with butter until they have all been used.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the pastry layers into square or diamond shapes.
Bake for 50 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crisp.
While the pastry is baking, make the syrup by placing the sugar, water, cinnamon and lemon juice in a small saucepan.
Bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Set aside to cool.
When the baklava is baked, pour the cool syrup over the top of the hot baklava.
Allow to soak for at least 5 hours.

baklava