Sun & Seasons

Baking For The Equinox

Thursday the 23rd is the September Equinox. On the Equinox, the hours of day and night are roughly equal. Following the Equinox, the days will become longer than the nights or the nights longer than the days, depending on where you live. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you’ll be celebrating the Autumn/Fall Equinox so your daylight hours will slowly decrease as nights become longer. For those of us in the southern hemisphere, we are celebrating the Spring Equinox so our hours of daylight will slowly increase and the days become longer as we head towards the Summer Solstice.

After grating too much carrot for a recipe, I decided to use the extra carrot to make something for the Spring Equinox. I’ve always wanted to make carrot cornbread or a cornmeal carrot cake so I decided to play around with some of my cornbread recipes and my previous Easter Bunny Cupcake recipe. With some trepidation I baked my carrot and cornmeal concoction in a loaf pan and hoped for the best. Thankfully the cake turned out to be sweet and moreish – perfect for the Spring Equinox!

Carrot and Cornmeal Cake

Ingredients
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, room temperature
30g (2 tablespoons) butter, melted
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 cup grated carrot

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a medium sized loaf pan with baking paper.
Mix together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, melted butter and maple syrup.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Stir in the grated carrot.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Remove from pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

A Blanket Of Winter

This weekend is Imbolc, the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Imbolc heralds the promise of spring, but cold weather is still abundant. The days have occasional bursts of sunlight but the nights are cold and dark.

For me it’s a time of in-betweens. One part of me wants to go out and enjoy the brief rays of sunshine while the other part hasn’t had enough winter down-time. I still want to spend a little bit more time snuggled under my cosy blankets and indulging in warm drinks and comfort foods.

One comfort food I love is potsticker dumplings. These delicious parcels of yumminess are filled with a meat or vegetable filling. They are fried and steamed so the bottoms become crispy as the tops steam, producing a flavour and textual taste sensation.

I recently discovered an interesting twist to the classic recipe where a flour and water mix is added during the cooking process to produce an extra crispy crust. The dumplings are served inverted on the plate so they are covered with the crust which is called a skirt or lace.

For this recipe you can make your own dumplings or use frozen ones. Try not to crowd the pan too much as they will take longer to cook. Having said that, I crammed 15 into my frying pan because I didn’t want to cook them in batches! They did take a while to cook but they were delicious. If you do cook them in batches, just repeat the lace recipe for each batch.

Dumplings with Lace

Ingredients
for the dumplings
About 15 homemade or frozen dumplings
2 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil

for the lace
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons flour
pinch of sea salt (optional)

Instructions
Heat oil in a large, lidded, non-stick frying pan.
Place the dumplings close together and fry for 3 – 5 minutes or until golden on the bottom.
While dumplings are frying, make the lace by whisking together the water, flour and salt.
Once dumplings are golden, slowly pour the lace mix into the frying pan. Be careful as it may splatter.
Cover and steam for 5 minutes.
Remove lid and cook for a few more minutes until the water has evaporated and the lace is crisp and golden. Move the pan around to make sure the lace browns evenly.
Cover pan with a plate and carefully flip so the lace is now on top of the dumplings.
Serve dumplings with your favourite dipping sauce on the side.

Midwinter Custard

As the wheel spins towards the winter solstice, I find myself craving the drinks of xmases past. Growing up, spiced eggnog was one of my favourite xmas drinks, especially if it had a good slug of rum or whiskey. Xmas is celebrated in summer down under, so a cool drink was the perfect tonic for the often warm weather typical for December.

As an Aussie Pagan, I celebrate the winter solstice in June, which in Melbourne is usually very cold. While I craved the creamy and boozy pleasures of an eggnog, I wasn’t too keen on sipping a chilled drink.

As I researched warm eggnog recipes, I discovered a drink called Southern Boiled Custard. Despite the name, the custard is not boiled but gently simmered and is usually served chilled like eggnog. While I loved the idea of drinking custard, I was still keen to find a warm drink for the winter solstice. After a bit more research I found a few recipes that suggested serving drinking custard warm!

I’ve added a good splash of bourbon to my recipe, making it a perfect festive drink for midwinter. 🙂

Warm Drinking Custard

Ingredients
2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of sea salt
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
60ml bourbon

Instructions
Whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl.
Bring the milk to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Slowly pour the hot milk mix into the egg mixture, whisking continually.
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan.
Whisk until the custard begins to thicken.
Remove from heat.
Whisk in the vanilla extract and bourbon.
Pour the custard into heatproof glasses or mugs.
(Makes two generous serves.)

Halloween on Easter

One of the quirks of celebrating Halloween on April 30th in the southern hemisphere is that it sometimes coincides with Eastern Orthodox Easter. Due to the differences between the way Orthodox and Western churches calculate Easter, they are often on different days. Halloween and Western Easter cannot fall on the same day, but that’s not so for Orthodox Easter. You can read about the complicated reasons for the differences in Easter dates in my previous post Moon Over Easter.

This year Orthodox Good Friday falls on Southern Hemisphere Halloween, which got me thinking about the similarities between those two special days. Naturally I thought about Halloween’s focus on ghosts and spirits and Easter’s focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. How much more Halloween can you get than a story of a man dying and then returning from the dead? It doesn’t even matter if he returns as a man, zombie or ghost – it all fits with the spirit of Halloween!

Another Halloween/Easter theme is blood. Gory and scary looking food is a feature of Halloween celebrations, while the Easter tradition of colouring eggs red is meant to represent the blood of Christ that is shed on Good Friday. The hard eggshell represents the tomb Jesus is sealed in, and when you crack the eggshell, it symbolises Jesus’ release from the tomb and his resurrection from the dead. This connection of the egg with blood, death and rebirth, makes eggs perfect symbols for Halloween too.

A tasty egg dish that is traditionally served for both Easter and Halloween is Devilled Eggs. I’ve already shared a recipe for Devilled Eggs in my Dracula’s Journey post. I’ve added a Halloween tweak to the recipe, which now features pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice. I also decorated the eggs with pumpkin seed flour, pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin seeds to really pump up the pumpkin flavours. You can also drizzle with pomegranate molasses or another red sauce to give them a ghoulish look. 🙂 The great thing about Halloween food is that you can go all out with the decorating!

Pumpkin Devilled Eggs

Ingredients
6 boiled eggs
2/3 cups pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon sour cream
sea salt to taste
pumpkin spice to taste*

for decorating
pumpkin seed oil
pumpkin seed flour
pumpkin seeds

Instructions
Cut eggs in half lengthways and scoop out the yolk into a bowl.
Mash the egg yolk then add the sour cream and pumpkin puree. Mix until combined.
Add salt and pumpkin spice to taste.
Spoon or pipe mixture back into the eggs.
Decorate your eggs your way!

*you can use store-bought pumpkin spice mix or make your own. This is my version:
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
Mix the spices together in a small bowl.

Happy Halloween!

After Easter Eggs

During the lead up to Easter, a recipe for a Cadbury Creme Egg “Scotch Egg” was doing the rounds and the reactions ranged from Yum? to Yuck! When a friend asked me what my take on this twisted treat would be, I put my thinking cap on and did a bit of research.

First step was to check the ingredients in the Creme Egg. Palm oil is an ingredient which was a concern because of its environmental impact, however, Australian Cadbury products are supposed to use palm oil sourced from sustainable producers which is great. The next ingredient that caught my attention was the red/orange food colouring 160c – aka paprika – yes paprika! I am allergic to paprika and all other chillies, so I couldn’t use that egg for my recipe. Undeterred, I decided to use Caramello easter eggs which I know don’t contain paprika. 🙂

My next step was to decide what coating I would use to wrap around my eggs. After some thought I went with a condensed milk and biscuit (cookie) crumb truffle mix. I couldn’t decide whether to add cacao powder into the mix so I made one batch with cacao powder and another one with milk powder. The milk powder mix is drier than the cacao mix which is really sticky, making it slightly challenging but heaps of fun to work with. I can’t decide which one I like best as they are both so tasty!

You can experiment with your own flavour combinations by mixing and matching different flavoured easter eggs such as Turkish delight or peppermint cream. You can also experiment with different toppings such as crushed cookies, sprinkles, grated chocolate, cocoa or cacao powder.

Easter Egg Truffles

Ingredients
125g shortbread cookies
25g cacao powder
25g milk powder
150ml sweetened condensed milk
12 mini caramel filled easter eggs
shredded coconut for topping

Instructions
Crush the shortbreads into fine crumbs in a food processor or by placing in a ziplock bag and smashing with a rolling pin.
Divide the shortbread crumbs evenly into two bowls.
Add cacao powder to one bowl and mix until combined.
Add milk powder to the other bowl and mix until combined.
Add half the condensed milk to the cacao powder mix and stir until combined.
Add the remaining condensed milk to the milk powder mix and stir until combined.
Place coconut in a bowl.
Remove wrapping from the easter eggs.
Place a tablespoon of milk powder mix in your hand, top with an easter egg, then shape the mix around the egg.
Roll in coconut. Repeat until 6 eggs are covered.
Place a tablespoon of cacao powder mix in your hand, top with an easter egg, then shape the mix around the egg.
Roll in coconut.
Repeat until remaining 6 eggs are covered.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
You can serve them straight from the fridge or bring to room temperature if you want a gooey centre.

An Apple For Autumn

This weekend is the March Equinox. One half of the world springs into Spring while the other half falls into Fall. I’m in the half that is falling into Fall, or as I more often call it – Autumn. I love this time of the year, when day and night are balanced. I love it even more knowing that colder weather is on its way! There are still sunny days ahead but the cooler nights remind us that the seasons are turning.

The Autumn Equinox is the second harvest festival on the Pagan calendar. Grains, fruits and nuts are traditional foods, as are breads, cakes, pies and other baked goods. Beer, cider and mead are great drinks to help wash down hearty Autumn fare while warming drinks such as mulled wines, ciders and piping hot chocolates provide comfort for lengthening nights.

When I think of Autumn, I think of apples and when I think of apples, I think of caramel apples! While holidaying in Las Vegas one Autumn, my best friend and I saw a store window filled with caramel apples. We were both too full to try one, so he took a photo instead. 

photo by Trevor

When I got home, I just had to create a cupcake version of a caramel apple. I think the perfect drink for these sweet apple cupcakes would be a warm mug of spicy mulled apple cider. 🙂

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Ingredients
for the apple cupcakes
1 cup plain flour, sifted
1/3 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
150g (2/3 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces  

for the salted caramel frosting
115g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup double cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 – 3 cups icing (powdered) sugar, sifted

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a medium sized bowl, mix together the flour, almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and sea salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add the milk and vanilla and beat until combined.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat on low speed until just combined.
Fold in the apple pieces.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean.
Cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the frosting by melting the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Once the butter has melted, turn the heat to medium and add the sugar and cream. Stir continually with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved. Add the salt and allow to cook for 2 minutes, being careful not to burn the caramel. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Place the caramel in a mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, gradually beat in the powdered sugar until frosting is smooth and reaches a piping consistency. This will take a few minutes of beating to achieve. Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes. 

Corn Dollies For Lammas

Lammas marks the halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It is the first of the Harvest Festivals and is usually celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere on February 1st. This year I decided to get into the spirit of Lammas by exploring Corn Dollies.

Corn Dollies are traditionally made for Lammas. They are made from a variety of grains and crafted into an assortment of different shapes. Corn Dollies can be used as good luck charms or as a home for the Spirit of the Grain.

In ancient Pagan culture, the Spirit of the Grain was believed to live in the crops. When the crops were harvested, the Grain Spirit was left homeless. A Corn Dolly was made from the last sheafs of the harvest and offered as a winter home for the Grain Spirit. When the new planting season arrived, the Corn Dolly would be ploughed back into the earth so the Grain Spirit could return to its home amongst the crops. If I can get my crafting act together, I may make a Corn Dolly for next Lammas. 

For this Lammas I used my culinary skills to make edible Cornbread Dollies. I usually make some type of cornbread  for Lammas, so this year I thought I would make sweet cornbread that could be cut into shapes using cookie cutters. In honour of the Grain Spirit, I used gingerbread women and men cookie cutters to make little corn people. They are too cute to eat. Well almost! 🙂

Cornbread Dollies

Special Equipment
Gingerbread women and men cookie cutters

Ingredients
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup honey
60g unsalted butter, melted and lightly cooled
1 cup buttermilk

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200C /400F.
Line a baking pan with baking paper. (I use a 18cmx32cm / 7.5”x13” sized pan).
Mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and honey until combined.
Add the melted butter and buttermilk and beat until combined.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.
Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until firm and golden.
Allow to cool slightly before cutting into shapes with your gingerbread people cookie cutters.
If you don’t have gingerbread cookie cutters you can use a knife to cut into shapes.

A Taste Of Midsummer Wine

Monday December 21st is the Summer Solstice in Australia. It’s the longest day of the year and the midpoint between Beltane and Lammas. The Summer Solstice is a time of magic and mystery, a time when the veils between the worlds are thin. It is a time to celebrate summer, life and love. 

After the solstice, the days start to get shorter but there are still plenty of long, hot days and nights ahead of us.

To cool down during the longest day of the year, you can make a lovely Summer Solstice drink by steeping strawberries and basil in wine. Play around with the proportions to fit your taste. You can also adapt the recipe to make a smaller or larger batch. 

This wine can also be served for the Winter Solstice, as red and green are the colours of Yule.

Happy Solstice! 

Strawberry and Basil Wine

Ingredients
2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced lengthwise
a sprig or two of basil
3 cups white wine
2 cups soda water

Instructions
Place the strawberries and basil in a large pitcher or jug.
Pour in the wine.
Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Pour in the soda water just before serving.

A Krampus Kind Of Christmas!

It’s been a tough year and it might be about to get tougher. Krampus Night is almost here! On this night nice children will be rewarded and naughty children will be well and truly punished. 

Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5th, the eve of Saint Nicholas Day. In fact, St Nick and Krampus usually team up for the night and do a type of “good Santa bad Santa” routine. St Nick rewards good children, but naughty children are handed over to Krampus for punishment. Krampus may give a naughty child a lump of coal, beat them with sticks or stuff them in a sack. No-one knows what happens to the children Krampus stuffs in his sack, but I’m assuming it’s not something Christmassy. 

Adults might think they escape punishment on Krampus Night, but don’t worry, the Icelandic Yule Cat is on its way. It’s ready to strip lazy adults of their possessions, their children and possibly their lives. To find out how to avoid the wrath of Jólakötturinn, click to my previous post Kitty Claws Is Coming To Town! It also includes a recipe for Creamy Catnip Cupcakes for extra feline appeasement.

Scrying Times

On October 31st, many around the world will be celebrating Halloween, but if you’re a Pagan in the Southern Hemisphere, you may be celebrating Beltane instead.

Both Halloween and Beltane are seasonal festivals. Halloween is a harvest festival signifying the beginning of winter, while Beltane is a spring celebration and heralds the coming summer. I’m usually partial to celebrating Halloween in April and October, but this year I am really feeling the Beltane spirit. 

My home state of Victorian is coming out of a very long, dark winter. It wasn’t our weather, but the global pandemic. Victoria experienced a deadly second wave but after a series of restrictions, lockdowns and an overnight curfew, we managed to beat the virus down to manageable levels. We are now opening up in sensible stages and celebrating our victories. Our joyous return to the world of light and life is the essence of Beltane. As always, my Beltane festivities will include a touch of Halloween.

At Beltane, like Halloween, the veil between the worlds is thin. Communication with the spirit world is easier on these nights. 

One way of connecting wth the spirit realm is through the ancient art of divination. There are many forms of divination, but scrying is one of the most popular for Halloween. Scrying is the art of looking into a reflective surface for messages. There is no consensus or restriction on what these reflective surfaces should be. Gazing into water, mirrors, glass, crystals, stones, clouds, smoke and fire are common forms of scrying. Staring into black surfaces, darkness or the night sky are also perfect ways to scry on Halloween in particular. 

This Beltane/Halloween falls on a Full Moon in Taurus. The luminescent Full Moon is a great scrying tool and one that I love. As a child I would often gaze at the Full Moon, delighting in its beauty and seeing images reflected on its silvery surface. I am looking forward to doing some serious moon gazing this weekend. 🙂

For my Beltane recipe I have chosen a bowl of soup. Not only is it a soulful bowl of comfort and contentment, it’s also a great scrying tool. A bowl filled with water is a classic divination vessel but replacing the water with a flavoursome soup is a tasty tweak I could’t resist. For an added divination twist I’ve used alphabet pasta. Not only can you scry for images in the soup but you can look for messages scribed in pasta!

Alphabet Soup For The Scrying Soul

Ingredients
1 cup chicken stock*
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup alphabet pasta
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon chopped chives

Instructions
Bring the chicken stock and water to a boil.
Add the pasta and cook following the instructions on the packet.
Remove pasta from the heat and stir in the butter.
Pour into a bowl or bowls and top with cheese and chives.

*for a vegetarian version replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock