Autumn Equinox

A Balance Of Pandas

March 16 is International Panda Day – not to be confused with International Red Panda Day which is celebrated in September. International Panda Day is a day to celebrate the beloved black and white clowns of the bear world.

Pandas have meant a lot to me for many, many years. The first time I saw giant pandas in Australia was at Melbourne Zoo in 1988 when Fei Fei and Xiao Xiao toured Australia. I was so excited to see these almost mythical animals and they did not disappoint. They were much smaller than I expected but as cute and playful as I thought they’d be. The next time I saw giant pandas was at Adelaide Zoo in 2010 when I did a VIP tour to meet Fu Ni and Wang Wang. I got to pat them on their heads and feed them fruit, vegetables and panda cake through the bars of their enclosures. I then got to go into their outdoor enclosures and hide treats for them. It was an awesome experience! Happily I’ve been able to visit these fluff balls a few more times over the years. The cuddly pair are the first and only giant pandas (so far) to be loaned to an Australian zoo. 

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Being panda mad, I dreamed of going to China to visit pandas in their homeland. Finally my dream came true in 2013 when I went to China and met a one year old baby panda called Miao Miao. As I sat on a bench Miao Miao was placed next to me and I got to give her a cuddle and a couple of pats. The little panda seemed happy to meet her smiling fans – probably because she was rewarded with bamboo, apples and honey! I got to tour a few panda centres and enjoyed seeing the black and white bears in their homeland. It really was a trip of a lifetime.

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Coincidentally, International Panda Day falls close to the Autumn Equinox in the southern hemisphere and the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere. The equinoxes symbolise balance as do the black and white colours of the giant panda. So while the world goes mad, grab some balancing vibes and stay calm by thinking of pandas. 🙂

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.

A Roll By Any Other Name

The Autumn Equinox in Australia will take place on Wednesday, 21st March at around 3:15am. It is a time when the hours of day and night are equal. It heralds the beginning of cooler weather and Winter on the horizon. When I think of the Autumn Equinox I think of harvest time, of reaping what we have sown. I also think of bread 🙂

As one of my passions is researching food, I tend to find inspiration for recipes almost anywhere. Recently I had a most entertaining conversation with friends, while having drinks in my favourite bar. I was talking about my recent trip to America, which included a visit to Salem, Massachusetts. Talking about Salem flowed to a discussion about witches, which in turn led to a passionate discussion on religion, as so often happens after a few drinks. One of the patrons brought up the dead sea scrolls, or, as he called them, “the dead sea rolls!” After we all finished laughing, my foodie friend Pete and I turned to each and both said “but they sound delicious!” We spent a few minutes discussing how we would create these salty rolls. We both agreed they should be boiled in water and sprinkled with sea salt before baking. It wasn’t long before my mind turned to bagels.

Bagels are usually boiled in water sweetened with malt extract, but these heavenly rolls are boiled in salted water. This makes them a bit saltier than normal bagels so be careful how much salt you sprinkle on them before baking. If you don’t have access to salt from the dead sea, ordinary sea salt will do 🙂

My recipe for traditional bagels – and other tasty recipes – will be available in my soon to be 
published travelogue/cookbook!

Dead Sea Rolls (bagels)

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Ingredients
1 + 1/4 cups lukewarm water
1 teaspoon honey
3 cups strong white flour
7g (1 teaspoon) dry yeast
2 teaspoons sea salt
extra sea salt for poaching liquid
1 egg white
2 teaspoons cold water
sesame seeds for topping
sea salt flakes for topping

Instructions
Whisk together the water and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Attach the dough hook.
Add the flour, yeast and salt.
Knead on low speed for 8 – 10 minutes or until elastic.
Cover with plastic wrap.
Place in a warm spot and allow to prove for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Lightly punch down the dough.
Separate into 10 pieces then shape into balls.
Gently flatten each ball.
Make a hole in the centre of each ball using your thumb or the handle of a wooden spoon.
Twirl the bagel until you make a hole approximately 1/3 diameter of bagel.
Place on baking trays lined with baking paper.
Cover and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 220C / 425F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
Reduce to a simmer.
Place 2 – 3 bagels in the simmering water.
Poach for 2 minutes, turning over at the halfway point.
Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a tea towel to drain.
Repeat with remaining bagels.
Place 5 bagels back on each baking tray, keeping them apart.
Beat together the egg white and water in a cup.
Brush the mixture over the top of the bagels.
Sprinkle with chosen toppings.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until golden brown and the bottoms sound hollow when tapped.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.

A Touch Of Autumn

I stepped outside today and finally felt it – Autumn!

The air felt cold and crisp, the sky was covered in dark clouds and rain threatened to spit. I couldn’t wait to go for a walk. As I walked I remembered autumn days from my youth, when walking to school would entail kicking through the fallen leaves blanketing the streets; the trees happily giving up their greenery and shedding their autumnally coloured offerings.

Autumn was always my time. It was a sign I had survived another sweltering hot summer and a promise of colder weather to come. I looked forward to days of rugging up in jackets, scarfs, hats and gloves and putting on thick socks and warm shoes. Nights would be spent rugged up in front of a heater with a book and a hot drink. Today has given me hope that we may actually have an autumn this year.

We’ve just had our Autumn Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. It is a time when the hours of day and night are equal. For many Pagans it is a time of harvest, of reaping what we have sown. It is a time of reflection, particularly reflecting on what it means to be Pagan.

As I reflect on autumns past, present and future I can’t help but feel that a wise, warm and heady beverage would help these contemplations. And what could be more warm and wise than a herb infused mulled wine 🙂

Sage Mulled Wine

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Ingredients
750ml bottle white wine
1/4 cup honey
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh sage
2 sprigs fresh lemon thyme
1/4 cup gin
lemon slices for serving
extra fresh sage sprigs for serving

Instructions
Add the wine, honey and bay leaf to a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
Add the sage and lemon thyme.
Turn off the heat, cover and allow the wine to steep for 20 minutes.
Remove the lid and gently reheat the wine until it starts to steam.
Remove the bay leaf, sage and thyme.
Turn off the heat and add the gin.
Place a slice of lemon and a sprig of sage in heatproof glasses or mugs.
Ladle the wine evenly between the glasses.