Yearly

The Ides Of March

Beware the Ides of March! Julius Caesar was warned by a seer that harm would befall him before the end of the Ides of March – March the 15th. The seer was right. Caesar was assassinated on that day. But there is more to the Ides of March than Caesar’s death. In ancient Rome, the Ides of March was a celebration day for the first full moon of the year. To understand why March would host the year’s first full moon, we have to go back to the complicated issue of calendars.

The Julian calendar – introduced by Julius Caesar – is a solar calendar based on the Earth’s revolutions around the Sun. It replaced the more complicated ancient Roman calendar which was a lunar calendar based on the phases of the moon, the equinoxes and the solstices. In the Julian calendar, March is the third month of the year but in the ancient Roman calendar, March was the first month of the year. Due to the complicated calculations of the ancient Roman calendar, the full moon usually fell in the middle of the month, around March 15. March was a time of holidays and festivals celebrating the beginning of the new year and the arrival of the year’s first full moon.

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One figure associated with the Ides of March is the ancient Roman Goddess Anna Perenna. She represents the eternal cycle of a year’s ending and beginning. This is symbolised by her name which can be interpreted to mean per annum (every year). Her name also reflects the English words annual (anna) and perennial (perenna). As March is also springtime, she is associated with the cycles of life, death and renewal. She is also known as a Lunar Goddess.

As with many ancient deities, Anna Perenna’s origins are shrouded in mystery. One of my favourite origin stories is that Anna was an old woman living in Bovillae. During a secessio plebis – a type of extreme strike where all shops are shut down – Anna baked cakes every morning and gave them to the hungry rebels. In gratitude, they worshipped her as a Goddess. Thanks to their worship, Anna became a deified human. I love that she became a Goddess by baking cakes. There’s hope for me yet!

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Whatever Anna Perenna’s origin, the Goddess is celebrated on the Ides of March with feasting, drinking and toasting to health, long life and a happy year ahead. One tradition held that you would live as many years as the cups of wine you drank. I can only imagine the hangovers! That may be another reason to Beware the Ides of March 🙂

There are two places where it seems Anna Perenna was worshipped. One is Buscemi in Sicily where inscriptions to Anna and Apollo were discovered. The other is in Rome where a fountain to Anna was unearthed. Inspired by cake baking Anna and in honour of her two places of worship, I have created an Ides of March Cupcake. The cupcake is based on a  Sicilian cannoli ricotta filling. It is topped with a honey frosting. Honey was a favoured food in ancient Rome. Here’s hoping these cakes lead me to deification!

Ides of March Cupcakes

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Ingredients
for the ricotta cupcakes
1/4 cup honey
2/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup fresh ricotta
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup mixed peel

for the honey buttercream
1 cup (225g) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered (icing) sugar
1/2 cup honey

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
Using an electric mixer, beat together the honey, olive oil, ricotta, lemon juice and lemon zest in a medium sized bowl until combined.
Add the egg and beat until combined.
Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.
Add the flour and baking powder and beat until combined.
Add the citrus peel and mix until just combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into the paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling, make the buttercream by creaming together the butter and honey with an electric mixer on low speed. Gradually beat in enough powdered sugar until buttercream reaches a piping consistency. Spoon buttercream into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.
Enjoy with a glass of wine or honey mead.

You can also check out my Libum – an ancient Roman recipe for cheesecake.

The Austen Tea Room

A Tale Of Two Valentines, my first post about Valentine’s Day, was about love and death and the history of the day. As we move toward another Valentine’s Day, the shadow of death moves with me.

Someone very dear to me passed away just after xmas. Although neither of us were Eastern Orthodox any more, we were both born into that religion and some of the traditions still have special significance for me. One such tradition is the ritual performed on or around the 40th day after a death.

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In Orthodox theology, the soul of the departed stays on earth for 40 days after death. The soul wanders around, visiting their home and places of personal importance. Many rituals are performed during this period to help the soul on its journey. On the 40th day, the soul leaves the earth. This final departure is celebrated with family and friends. Rituals are performed culminating in a meal, usually eaten at the grave or at the home of the departed. Traditional funeral foods and the favourite foods of the departed are served. It is a time of celebration and the ending of the official mourning period for most involved.

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As the 40th day approached, I wondered what I would to do to honour this ritual. A visit to her grave was a must. But what about food? It was an important part of our relationship. We loved going out to eat and we spent most of our visits together talking about food and recipes. I thought about making one of her favourite dishes and bringing it to the grave but it didn’t feel right. Then, while doing research for an unrelated event, I found the perfect solution – The Austen Tea Room – a tearoom honouring the late and great romantic writer Jane Austen. Located halfway between my home and the cemetery, it was the perfect place to have a a celebratory funeral meal.

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The Austen Tea Room brings us right back to Valentine’s Day. What could be more romantic than dining under the watchful gaze of the creator of Mr Darcy! I had a toasted cheese and ham sandwich with coffee followed by scones with jam and cream and a pot of tea. The surroundings in the cafe section were informal but the rooms where the high teas are served were incredible. I am definitely going back for high tea.

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I must admit that I have read only one of her books – Northanger Abbey – but I do love the television and movie versions of Pride and Prejudice – especially Pride, Prejudice and Zombies! I also own the Tarot of Jane Austen 🙂

The scone recipe below is not traditional, but you can serve it with traditional jam and cream. I wanted something different so I went with butter and maple syrup which works really well with sparkling wine.

Sparkling Scones

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Ingredients
2 + 1/2 cups self raising flour
200ml cream
200ml sparkling wine
butter for serving
pure maple syrup for serving

Method
Preheat oven to 225C / 440F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Sift flour into a medium sized bowl. Add cream and sparkling wine. Mix together until just combined.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead into a 4cm thick square. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares.
Place scones so they are just touching on baking tray.
Bake for 12 – 15mins or until golden brown and cooked through.
Serve with butter and maple syrup or your choice of accompaniments.

 

Season Of The Witch

New Year’s Eve 1999 was not spent partying like it was 1999. It was spent extracting metaphorical knives from my back and wondering if there were any more to come. I was happy to see the end of a year, century and millennia. I had a lot to put behind me. I also had so many good memories and great achievements to take with me into the new millennia. I was excited for the journey ahead. I thought I knew where my paths would lead me. I was wrong. I really had no idea. It’s ended up being a wild and bumpy ride. But I wouldn’t change it for the world!

2016 was one of those years that makes you think about the past, present and future. So many strange things happened. So many deaths. It made me think about my past and the decisions I made in 2000, the things and people I lost when I removed those metaphorical knives all those years ago. I’m happy to say I don’t miss much from those times but the one thing I do miss is witchcraft.

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I decided to take a sabbatical from witchcraft in 2000, mainly because some of the knives had been wielded by my coven and those knives hurt a lot. A sabbatical usually refers to a leave of absence from a job, usually an academic position. The term comes from sabbath which represents a day of rest. More broadly, a sabbath highlights the importance of making time for periods of rest and rejuvenation throughout your life. This was just what I needed in 2000, a time to rest, nurture and restore myself. As the years rolled by, I yearned for a return to ritual and witchy magic. I often remembered the fun times I had with various covens. The nights spent outdoors with a fire burning. The singing, chanting and dancing followed by cookies and wine.

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As an homage to my past, I decided to make my old coven recipe for crescent cookies. I was going to use them for my new year post on Mari Lwyd. My mouth watered as I remembered the golden, buttery taste of the delicately flavoured almond cookies. I was so eager to taste them that I ate a hot one straight from the oven. It wasn’t very nice. It was bland and dry. I waited until they cooled. They were worse. What had gone wrong? I’m not sure. I’ve certainly become a much better cook than I was back then. Could that be it? Again, I’m not sure, but the failure of my cookies reminded me of both the good and bad coven times. It wasn’t all cookies and wine. So for now I’ll put the cookies and thoughts of covens on the back burner. There is a new path ahead for me. There are many reasons why I think 2017 will be my season of the witch. I’ll share those reasons soon, but for now I’d love to share a recipe for a Strega Sunrise – my witchy tweak to a Tequila Sunrise, one of my favourite cocktails 🙂

Strega is a saffron based Italian herbal liqueur. I first saw a bottle of this golden elixir many years ago at my Italian brother in law’s home. When he told me that strega was Italian for witch, I had to take a good look at the label. It features witches dancing with half goat, half man creatures. There’s also an old witch holding a broomstick. She has snakes in her hair! I couldn’t believe it. Medusa, Pan, Witches and Saffron – what’s not to love about Strega!

Strega Sunrise

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Ingredients
ice cubes
30ml Strega
3/4 cup orange juice
15ml grenadine

Method
Place a few ice cubes in a tall glass.
Pour the Strega over the ice.
Pour in the orange juice.
Gently pour in the grenadine so it slips down and then rises again, creating a sunrise effect.

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A Birthday Surprise For Bram

Tuesday November 8 is Bram Stoker’s birthday. To celebrate, I have done a guest post over at Cordelia’s Mom Still. Cordelia’s blog is an eclectic mix of personal anecdotes, photos and other interesting things! Feel free to pop by and have a read 🙂 You can also pop round to Not Cordelia’s Mom if you want to see the world from a very different perspective!!

If you’re looking for a recipe, here’s last year’s birthday one for Bram – Irish Coffee Dessert.

 

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I Never Drink … Wine

When Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi first uttered those immortal words in Tod Browning’s 1931 movie Dracula, he didn’t realise he would be giving birth to one of the most famous lines in vampire folklore. These words never appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel. They were unique to the film which is loosely based on the 1924 stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. It was this play that introduced us to an urbane, tuxedo wearing Count Dracula, much different to Stoker’s quite repulsive vampire. The romantic, cape wearing Count would become one of the most popular versions of the mercurial vampire in literature and cinema. His popularity does not appearing to be waning.

To celebrate Bela’s upcoming 134th birthday on Thursday October 20, I thought I would drink some wine in his honour 🙂 Sangria, a chilled Spanish red wine drink, is supposedly named after the Spanish word for blood – sangre – which reflects its dark red colour. I have chosen to meld a chilled Spanish sangria with a warm mulled wine. After all, if Dracula did drink wine he most certainly would want it served warm – like blood!

Hot Blooded Sangria

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Ingredients
1/2 cup blood orange juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
750ml bottle of red wine
1/3 cup brandy
1 blood orange, cut into pieces

Method
Place the juice and sugar in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Stir until combined.
Add the cloves and cinnamon sticks. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 – 10 minutes or until the mixture becomes syrupy.
Add the wine and brandy. Cover and simmer, without boiling, for 5 minutes.
Add the blood orange pieces to a heatproof jug.
Pour wine over the blood orange pieces.
Drink while warm.
Refrigerate any leftover wine and enjoy cold over ice.

Spanish Rioja is traditional but you can use any red wine you like. I used a Vampire Merlot from Transylvania 🙂
You can use any variety of oranges when blood oranges are out of season.

A Cup Of Coffee Comfort

I spent International Coffee Day (October 1st) thinking about how important a warm cup of coffee can be at certain times. My partner and I had planned a short trip to South Australia hoping to visit Adelaide and Monarto zoos. It was our second trip to the zoos this year. We went early in the year to see the giant pandas and for this trip we had a few more encounters planned. We were expecting our giant and red panda encounters to be cancelled as it is mating season, what we weren’t expecting was to drive into the worst storms in South Australia in 50 years.

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Pandacino at Adelaide Zoo. That’s right, a cappuccino decorated to look like a giant panda!

We drove through torrential rain, losing complete visibility of the road for one terrifying moment because the rain was so heavy. All we could think of was getting to our hotel safely and having a hot coffee and a warm shower. But as we continued driving we could see, or maybe not see, that there were no lights. The entire state was experiencing a blackout! We arrived at our hotel in almost darkness and had to sign in via candlelight. It was romantic and gothic. Hungry and in desperate need of a comforting coffee we were told that there was no hot food and no hot drinks. I didn’t care about the food but I did care about the coffee! As I sat down to eat my ham and cheese sandwich I did the only thing I could – order a coffee liqueur 🙂 The power came on just as we got to our room so at least we could have warm showers. Even better, there was hot coffee for breakfast!

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My first coffee in Adelaide!

The rest of the trip was quite an adventure. The blackouts continued and all of our Adelaide zoo encounters were cancelled. Happily, we did get to hand feed rhinos at Monarto zoo. We even found a restaurant that had its own generator so we could have hot food, and most importantly, hot coffee 🙂

Next time I travel I think I’ll take some of this granola so I always have some coffee with me. Naturally it goes great with a hot coffee – when you can get one!

Coffee Granola

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Ingredients
1 + 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup cashews
2 teaspoons instant coffee
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg white

Method
Preheat oven to 150C / 300F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Mix together the oats, coconut, walnuts, cashews, coffee, salt, honey and oil in a large bowl until combined.
Whisk the egg white until frothy. Stir into the granola and mix until combined.
Spread mixture out onto prepared tray and bake for 50 – 55 minutes.
At the halfway point, remove the granola from the oven. Place a piece of baking paper over the granola and top with another baking tray. Carefully flip over so that the granola is now on the new tray, being careful not to break up the mixture too much.
Return to the oven and bake until granola is brown and dry to the touch.
Allow to cool completely before breaking up the granola into desired size clusters.
Store unused granola in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

You can try different combinations of nuts. I think macadamias, pistachios or brazil nuts would be great.

Pretty in Red

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Saturday September 17th will be International Red Panda Day. I’ve been celebrating IRPD since it first began in November 2010. Zoos around the world will be celebrating with special events and red panda themed fun. If your local zoo has red pandas, ask if they are celebrating. If they aren’t, see if they can next year. Information on IRPD can be found at Red Panda Network!

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On December 10th, 2015, Melbourne Zoo’s red panda mum Roshani and red panda dad Seba became proud panda parents to two adorable male cubs, Mandu and Keta. Mandu is short for Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city and Keta means boy in Nepalese.

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We decided that we would visit them as often as we could and make a photographic journal. We visited the zoo often throughout December, January, February and March but with no sightings. Finally, in early April, we saw them for the first time. And they were worth the wait! Two little bundles of fur clung to their tree branches whilst devouring an enormous amount of bamboo. Mum watched over them protectively.

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Since April we have visited them 6 times 🙂  It’s hard to pick a sample of best shots as they are adorable in almost every shot but I have given it a go. I hope you enjoy this small sample of the journey of Mandu and Keta, so far!

For my tasty Red Velvet Cupcake recipe created especially for IRPD and an hilarious panda cartoon by Anne Belov, please click here 🙂

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Deathly Delights For Friday the 13th

It’s Friday the 13th again and for some the day is seen as unlucky, for others it means nothing, and for people like me it’s a time to dip into mythology and try out a few recipes!

13 is sometimes considered the Devil’s number, but in a tarot deck the Devil card is actually 15. It is the Death card that is number 13. Ancient Egyptians believed there were 12 stages of life and the 13th stage was death and transformation in the afterlife. For them, 13 was a lucky number. The number 12 is often associated with completion, so it makes sense that the number 13 can symbolise death and rebirth into a new cycle. This is part of the Death card’s meaning – transformation and renewal.

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The Dracula Tarot

One of the key symbols in the Death card is the white rose. White roses epitomise purity, humility, reverence and innocence. They symbolise new beginnings and are therefore popular at both weddings and funerals.

For this Friday the 13th, I thought I would play around with the rose from the tarot Death card and the dessert called Death by Chocolate. There are so many ways this could have gone, but I really felt like a nurturing milk drink. I concocted two Death by Chocolate Delights – because I really couldn’t choose between them 🙂

Rose Water Iced Chocolate

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Ingredients
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon rose water (or to taste)
1 scoop chocolate ice cream

Instructions
Place the milk and rose water in a glass and stir until combined. Add the chocolate ice cream.

Chocolate and Rose Water Milkshake

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Ingredients
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon rose water (or to taste)
3 scoops chocolate ice cream

Instructions
Add the milk, rose water and ice cream to a blender or milkshake maker. Blend until smooth.

The Not So Absent Mother

For Mother’s Day 2014 I wrote about a panda movie.
A year later I explored that movie further.

So it’s not surprising that this Mother’s Day I will be discussing another panda movie – Kung Fu Panda 3.

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Among the many themes in Kung Fu Panda 3 is the theme of fatherhood. In Kung Fu Panda 2 we learn of Po’s history. His parents sacrificed themselves to save him from an attack designed to kill all pandas. In flashback we see Po’s father defend his wife and child so they can get away. We then see his mother place Po in a crate of radishes and then run away, luring the deadly Shen army away from Po and towards her. It is a traumatic scene and I don’t mind saying I cried – a lot. The crate of radishes is delivered to a restaurant owned by Mr Ping, a goose. He finds the hidden baby Po and adopts him, raising him as his son. In Kung Fu Panda 2, Po starts having flashbacks about his panda parents. At the end of Kung Fu Panda 2 we see that Li Shan, Po’s panda father, is alive and living in a secret panda village. Li looks up, somehow sensing that his son Po is also alive.

Kung Fu Panda 3 continues this story. Li Shan comes to Mr Ping’s restaurant, looking for his son. Li takes Po home to the secret panda village, much to the sadness of Mr Ping. But being the protective father he has always been, Mr Ping stows away in Po’s luggage and ends up at the secret panda village too. There Li and Mr Ping resolve their differences and accept the fact that they are both Po’s father. So what does this fatherhood journey have to do with Mother’s Day?

One of the more poignant scenes in Kung Fu Panda 3 is when Li takes Po into his home. There, on what appears to be an altar, is a drawing of baby Po in his mother’s arms. There are two red candles burning, a vase with a sprig of bamboo and sticks and stones holding the drawing in place. Po gingerly reaches for the drawing while his father talks about the panda he calls the love of his life. Po’s mother was “the total package.” She was smart, beautiful and had a tremendous appetite. She was also brave. She sacrificed her life for her baby. Considering Po is a master warrior and saviour, that is a very important sacrifice.

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Kung Fu Panda 3 shows us how alike Po and Li are, but what it also shows us is how alike Po and his mother are. Po and his mother share one key, one very important trait – the gift of self-sacrifice. Through the three movies Po is never afraid to sacrifice himself for the safety of others. Yes, most of the other characters are warriors and therefore happy to lay down their lives in battle as well, but Po does it in a way that is innocent, filled with trust and imbued with grace. It is reminiscent of his mother, who leaves a vulnerable baby in a crate of radishes and hopes and trusts that he will survive. When Po sacrifices himself it is not as a warrior bested in battle but as a spiritual being who is happy to die so others may live.

Although she is not named, the spirit of Po’s mother hovers around the movie. The film is imbued with her maternal spirit, her love and the tragedy of her loss. The power of her sacrifice is reflected again and again through Po, her self-sacrificing, warrior saviour son. For a character that has only had minimal screen time, Po’s mother is one of the most powerful characters in the Kung Fu Panda franchise. I know I’m not the only one who hopes we find Po’s mother alive and well in Kung Fu Panda 4.

In Kung Fu Panda 3 we learn that Po’s birth name is Little Lotus. In honour of his name I have made lotus seed steamed buns. They would make a great Mother’s Day treat 🙂

Lotus Seed Buns

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Special Equipment
2 large bamboo steamer baskets with lid

Ingredients
1 teaspoon dried yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup caster (granulated) sugar
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup lotus seed paste
lotus leaf tea for serving

Method
Place the yeast, 2 tablespoons of warm water, 1 tablespoon of caster sugar and 1 tablespoon of flour into a bowl. Whisk with a fork until lump free. Cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes or until frothy.
Sift the remaining flour and baking powder into a separate bowl. Add the remaining water, sugar, yeast mix and melted butter to the flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir until combined. Using your hands, mix the dough until it comes together. You may need to add more water to get a smooth dough.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 10 minutes or until smooth.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest in a warm place for 1 hour or until the dough doubles in size.
Cut 6 pieces of baking paper into 10cm (4 inch) squares.
Divide the lotus seed paste into 6 and roll into balls.
Remove the plastic wrap. Punch down the centre of the dough.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or until smooth. Divide dough into 6 balls.
Roll a ball of dough into an 8cm (3 inch) disc about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick. Place a lotus seed ball in the centre of the disc. Wrap the dough around the filling to enclose, making sure the bun is sealed.
Place the bun seal side down on a square of baking paper. Repeat with remaining dough and paste.
Fill a wok or shallow frying pan with enough water that it touches the bottom of your bamboo steamer but doesn’t touch the food. Bring the water to a simmer.
Put 3 buns in each steamer basket. Stack together and cover with the bamboo lid.
Place baskets in the wok. Steam for 15 – 20 minutes or until the buns are puffed and cooked through. Check often to make sure there is enough water in the wok and top up as needed. Repeat with remaining buns.
Serve warm with tea.

Pancakes for Bram

Wednesday the 20th of April is the 104th Deathiversary of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.

Every year I commemorate his birthday and death day.
Last year I went to the newly resurrected pancake restaurant appropriately named Stokers.
This year I decided to make my own pancakes in honour of Bram.

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Pancakes are filled with mythological and folkloric meanings. They are most commonly associated with Shrove Tuesday and Lent. Their circular shape associates them with the sun and they are often eaten at the end of winter to welcome the coming spring. They are symbols of the beginning and the end of life. I remember eating pancakes at funerals and I remember new mothers being given pancakes after childbirth. With their links to life, death and the sun, pancakes are the perfect food to honour an author whose greatest character was deeply connected to life, death and the sun.

The pancakes below are unusual as they are leavened with yeast. Yeasted pancakes are common in Eastern Europe, especially in Transylvania! They can be eaten with savoury or sweet fillings. I have chosen a classic combination of strawberry jam and cream, not only because I love the flavours, but because the colour combination has a vampiric feel for me – perfect for Mr Stoker.

Yeasted Pancakes

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Ingredients
2 cups flour
2 cups lukewarm milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried yeast
extra olive oil for frying

for serving
strawberry jam
cream

Instructions
Add the flour to a large bowl.
Slowly stir in the milk.
Add the egg, butter and oil and mix until they form a smooth pancake batter.
Add the salt and yeast and stir until combined.
Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm place for 1-3 hours or until doubled in size.
Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat.
Pour in approximately 1/4 cup of batter.
Cook for 3-4 minutes or until it starts to form bubbles.
Flip and cook for a further 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with jam and cream.