Seasonal

Midwinter Morsels

The solstices are upon us and here in Australia we’re about to celebrate the longest night of the year. After the winter solstice the nights will get shorter and the days longer but the weather will get colder! Midwinter always reminds me of fruitcake and pinecones so I just had to add a sprinkling of pine nuts to my fruitcake recipe.

Fruitcake Cupcakes

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Ingredients
3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup sultanas
1/4 cup mixed peel, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
24 maraschino cherries, cut in half

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 150C / 300F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a large bowl cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs one at a time.
Add flour, salt, mixed spice and ginger and mix until combined.
Stir in the dried fruit, mixed peel and pine nuts until just combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Push four half maraschino cherries into the top of each cupcake. 
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Halloween Down Under

A burst of fallen bamboo leaves decorate my backyard in a swirl of autumn colours. Their dry brittleness holds a promise of the winter to come. This is my favourite time of the year. There are still sunny days and warm patches of sun during the day but the long, hot Australian summer is finally over. The coolness of autumn has arrived and with it Halloween, my favourite Sabbat.

April 30th is Halloween Down Under. It is a night when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest. Halloween is the night when the dead wait between the worlds, ready to visit their loved ones. 

There are many ways to welcome and honour the dead on Halloween. I wait until the sun begins to set and shadows of darkness shroud the coming night. I set an empty plate for the dead at my table. Late in the evening I light a black candle and do a tarot reading. I end the evening with food and drink. I leave a small offering on the table for any lingering spirits to enjoy before blowing out the candle and going to bed. Sometimes I have strange dreams. In the morning I pack everything up and try and do something fun and life affirming. 

So what will I be serving this Halloween? We don’t get trick or treaters in April as most people celebrate Halloween on October 31st. So in honour of these absent door knockers, I thought I would make Trick or Treat Pumpkin Pies. Half of them have a savoury filling and the other half are sweet. You won’t know what you are getting until you bite them!

Trick or Treat Pumpkin Pies

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Ingredients
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten

for the rosemary pies
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried rosemary

for the pumpkin spice pies
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Divide the pumpkin into two bowls.
Mix the salt and rosemary into one portion of pumpkin and the sugar and spices into the other. 
Using a 6cm (2.25 inch) cookie cutter* cut pastry into 16 rounds.
Place half the pastry rounds on the prepared trays.
Place 2 teaspoons of pumpkin filling on each round.
Cut eyes and mouths out of remaining rounds.
Cover filling with these rounds.
Gently press the edges together to seal the pies.
Press edges together with a fork to create a decorative edge.
Brush tops with beaten egg. 
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until pastry becomes golden and is cooked on the bottom.
Place on a wire rack to cool.

*I used a pumpkin shaped cookie cutter

Autumnal Nights

The Autumn Equinox is here and I’m excited. Even though there still may be hot days ahead, the Autumn Equinox signals a shift in power between day and night. The Equinox is a time of balance, a time when the hours of day and night are relatively equal. After the Autumn Equinox, the long days and short nights will slowly be overtaken by shorter days and longer nights. As a creature of the night, I’m looking forward to a return to the dark half of the year.

One of the things I love doing in cool weather is curling up with a good book. The one I’m reading now is The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, edited by Kate White. It is a collection of over 100 recipes from mystery writers. Each recipe is accompanied by fascinating facts about the author and their murderous works.

My recipe below is adapted from Margaret Maron’s recipe for Granny Knott’s Baked Toast which is a French toast recipe which gestates overnight before being baked and devoured the next day. I’ve added autumnal gingerbread spices to the recipe and serve it with an optional scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Gingerbread French Toast
“An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread,” wrote William Shakespeare in Love’s Labour’s Lost. This delicious and warming bread is definitely worth a penny or two.

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Ingredients
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
75g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons treacle*
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
brioche loaf**
2 eggs
1 + 1/2 cups milk

for serving
vanilla ice cream (try experimenting with different ice cream flavours)
maple syrup

Instructions
Sprinkle the sugar over the base of a 20cm x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) baking pan.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
Add the treacle, ginger, cinnamon and cloves and stir until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Cut brioche into enough 1.5cm (1/2 inch) slices to fit snugly into the baking pan.
Place the slices in the pan.
Beat the eggs in a bowl.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Pour over the bread.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
While the oven is warming, remove pan from fridge.
Carefully pour any unabsorbed liquid into a bowl, making sure you don’t disturb the bread.
Spoon over the top of the bread.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the top is browned.
Serve with a dollop of ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

*you can substitute molasses for the treacle.
**you can use any heavy bread like sourdough or wholemeal.

Lammas Down Under

February 1st is Lammas or Lughnasadh in the Southern Hemisphere. In the pagan calendar it marks the halfway point between the Midsummer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It is the first of the harvest festivals and the first autumn festival of the year. It is a time of thanksgiving and sacrifice. The name Lammas is derived from an Old English term for “loaf mass” while Lughnasadh is derived from the name of the Celtic God Lugh.

Back in my coven days we followed a Celtic calendar so we celebrated Lughnasadh. When I left the coven I tried to continue embracing this ritual but found it difficult. Using the name Lammas rather than Lughnasadh helped as I could focus on bread and the harvest rather than a male Celtic God. Unfortunately Lammas is celebrated in Australia during the hottest time of the year. Temperatures soar, days are hot and sticky and nights are warm and muggy. It’s hard to get into the spirit of a festival focussing on baked goods when you yourself are baking as long and hot as a Lammas loaf. So instead of baking bread, I thought I would concentrate on the thanksgiving part of Lammas and make a sandwich I had on a recent trip to the USA. 

One of the things I am really grateful for is being able to visit my dear friend Anne on Whidbey Island in Washington State. She was a great host and tour guide and took us to some fantastic places to eat. For our last meal on the island we had lunch at Pickles Deli. There was so much on offer so I took my time devising the perfect sandwich. For the fillings I chose turkey with cranberry sauce and mayonnaise. This combination always makes me think of a thanksgiving dinner. Feeling adventurous, I did something I have never done before, I chose lettuce leaves instead of bread as my wrapping. My bread-free sandwich was a light and fresh taste sensation!

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The great thing about this sandwich wrap is that you can make it with homemade ingredients or store-bought ones and you can also substitute chicken for the turkey. I’ve made it many ways and they have all been delicious.

You can read more about my travels and recipes from Whidbey Island and other parts of the USA in my book Bites and Pieces of America. 🙂

Grand Xmas Traditions

Over the last few years I’ve become the proud Grand Aunt to three wonderful Grand Nieces. I was dubbed a Grand rather than a Great Aunt because my family think of me as the Grand High Witch from Roald Dahl’s The Witches – and I love it! My three Grand Nieces’ birthdays each have a gothic connection, making them very Grand indeed!

To celebrate the coming holidays, I’ll be reblogging posts from Xmases past and introducing my Grand Nieces to the darker sides of Midwinter. Their first lesson begins with La Befana the Xmas Witch. 

The Legend Of La Befana

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Hot & Cold Equinoxes

This Sunday is the Spring or Vernal Equinox in Melbourne. It is the midpoint between Imbolc and Beltane. After the Spring Equinox there is a shift in power between day and night. The short days and long nights will slowly be overtaken by longer days and shorter nights. On the other side of the world the opposite is happening. The Autumnal or Fall Equinox is the midpoint between Lammas and Halloween. Following the Autumn Equinox, the long days and short nights will slowly be overtaken by shorter days and longer nights.

The Equinoxes offer us a moment of balance, when day and night are relatively equal. At the end of the Equinox, one part of the world will fall into spring and the other into autumn. In six months time we will meet again for a moment of balance before continuing in our oppositional seasonal dance.

A perfect blend between hot and cold, fried ice cream is a delicious symbol of the Equinoxes. One part frozen and icy, the other piping hot. Drizzled with syrup these golden orbs are a perfect treat for spring or autumn.

Fried Ice Cream

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Ingredients
6 scoops – approximately 500ml, best quality vanilla ice cream
2 eggs
1/2 cup plain flour, sifted
1/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
150g shortbread biscuits, finely crushed
2/3 cup rice crumbs
vegetable oil for deep frying (I use peanut oil)
golden or maple syrup for drizzling

Instructions
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Use a large ice-cream scoop to form 6, round scoops of ice cream.
Place on baking tray and freeze for 30 minutes or until firm.
Whisk together the eggs, flour, milk and sugar until smooth in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine biscuits and breadcrumbs.
Working quickly, dip ice-cream balls in batter then roll in crumb mix.
Return to tray and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Dip the balls in a second layer of batter and roll again in the crumb mix, making sure the balls are completely coated in crumbs.
Return to tray and freeze for at least 1 hour or overnight.
When ready to cook, heat oil in a medium sized pan to 185C / 365F.
Fry 1 – 2 balls at a time for 2 – 3 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
Serve immediately with a good drizzle of syrup.

Mira Mira On The Wall

Another Winter slowly comes to an end in Melbourne as the wheel spins towards Imbolc, the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Even though it is still cold, I can feel the Sun slowly coming back to life. The chill days are punctuated with more and more sunny breaks and the nights are not so bitterly cold. I spotted my first lizard a few weeks ago, a sure sign that Spring is on its way.

The return of Spring heralds the return of Persephone, one of my favourite Goddesses. Persephone spends Autumn and Winter in the Underworld with her husband Hades where she rules as the Queen of the Dead. In Spring she returns to Earth where she rules as the Goddess of Spring. In celebration of Persephone’s return, her mother Demeter slowly brings the Earth back to life.

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Normally I’m sad when Winter comes to an end but this year I am celebrating the return of the Sun. Surprisingly it’s due to a weekend I spent in Mira Mira, a bed and breakfast place that specialises in weird and wonderful accommodation. The property in Gippsland has a Zen Retreat, a Treehouse and a Cave. Naturally I chose to stay in the cave in the chill of Winter.

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When I arrived at the accomodation I was greeted by Magog, the doorway through which I was to enter the cave. After stepping through Magog’s mouth, I slowly descended the winding, stones steps. Fire lanterns adoring the walls threw strange shadows on my path. As I made my way into the womb of the cave, I felt like Persephone entering the realm of Hades.

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The cave was everything I hoped it would be. Carved into the hillside, the stone look was cosy and sumptuous. Coloured lights glowed eerily in the rooms and windows revealed surprising but stunning vistas. A log fire completed the scene. As I toasted marshmallows on the fire and snuggled into the lush blankets, I thought of Persephone and Winter.

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I had always thought that if I was Persephone I would resent having to leave the Underworld. But as much as I was enjoying my cave weekend of cold days, chill nights and warm fires, I was surprised to find a craving for the Sun take seed. As I ascended the winding stone steps, saying farewell to the realm of the Underworld cave, I finally understood why Persephone is happy to live in two domains. 

A few days ago I was sitting outside enjoying a sunny day. A sparrow flew into the yard and landed on my ram’s head skeleton. It cleaned its beak on one of the horns and then hopped about on the skull. I couldn’t help thinking “Quoth the Sparrow” – my apologies to Edgar Allan Poe. But as I watched the sparrow happily flit in and out of the skull, I thought it was a perfect symbol for the seasonal cycle of life and death. Persephone is now leaving the land of the dead and returning to the land of the living. And, for the first time in a long time, I am truly looking forward to the warm half of the year.

To celebrate the reunion of Persephone and Demeter I whipped up a classic bulgur wheat tabbouleh salad with the addition of pomegranate seeds. Wheat is sacred to Demeter and pomegranates are sacred to Persephone so I’m hoping the two Goddesses will enjoy this combination.

Pomegranate Tabbouleh

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Ingredients
1/4 cup bulgur wheat
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
pomegranate seeds for sprinkling 

Instructions
Soak the bulgur wheat in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain well.
Mix together the bulgur wheat, parsley, mint, oil and lemon juice in a bowl.
Toss the pomegranate seeds through the salad and serve.