Yearly

Red Red Panda

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Saturday the 15th of September 2018 is International Red Panda Day!

Celebrated every year on the third Saturday in September, IRPD was created to bring awareness to the plight of the red panda. Red Pandas are endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is celebrated by zoos and individuals around the world with special events and red panda themed fun. Some zoos celebrate on a different day, so check with your local zoo to see if they are doing anything and on what day. For more information on IRPD and red pandas in general visit the Red Panda Network.

I was lucky enough to participate in the 1st International Red Panda Day at The National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra. As it was supposed to be the only zoo in Australia participating in the event that year, I planned a weekend trip to the zoo including a red panda encounter. When I rang to book the encounter, I also asked what festivities they were doing for the special day. We were both surprised when they said they had never heard of International Red Panda Day! Happily a few hours later I got a call saying they loved the idea and that they were now officially participating in the event. I had a great time celebrating IRPD at the zoo and thoroughly enjoyed my awesome red panda encounter. Each year I look forward to this special day.

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Happy Red Panda Day!   

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Nothing To Fear Here

Friday the 13th is nearly here, and while some of us celebrate this day, many fear it. In Melbourne, this Friday the 13th also coincides with a Dark Moon. As some people also fear the moon, this may indeed be a very scary time for that unfortunate few.

The word phobia is derived from phobos, the Greek word for fear. Add it to the end of a word and you have a term for the fear of something.

A fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskaidekaphobia. The word combines Frigga, the Norse Goddess of Friday, with triskaidekaphobia, the Greek word for the fear of the number 13.

Moon

the dracula tarot

A fear of the moon is called lunaphobia, derived from “luna”, the Latin word for moon. It is also called selenophobia, derived from “seleno”, the Greek word for moon. Luna and Selene are also the names of the Roman and Greek Goddesses of the Moon.

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snake on a beach

If you aren’t terrified yet, Monday the 16th might tip you over the edge as July 16th is World Snake Day! The day was created to help people learn about snakes, understand their role in our world, and hopefully combat some of the fears associated with them. The fear of snakes is called ophidiophobia, derived from “ophis” the Greek word for snake.

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I was born in the Year of the Snake and have always felt connected to them. I love touching non-venomous snakes and don’t mind having a python draped around me. When I tell people I don’t have a fear of snakes, I mean I don’t have a phobia or irrational fear of them. But having grown up in Australia, I do have a rational fear of snakes. We are home to some of the world’s most venomous snakes. Being alert around snakes is ingrained in us. Having encountered a few of these deadly creatures in the wild, and in my backyard, I can tell you the first thing that runs through me is fear! Happily the next feeling that runs through me is fascination. I love watching them from a safe distance, keeping my eye on their movements as they slither back into the wild or the snake catcher comes to collect them. So while I do have a respectful fear of snakes, I don’t have an irrational fear of them.

Do you suffer from any of these phobias or will you be celebrating Friday the 13th, the Dark Moon and World Snake Day free from fear?

Bites & Pieces

I celebrated the Winter Solstice weekend by launching my first travelogue cookbook!

It’s called Bites and Pieces of America: Exploring food and friendship in Whidbey Island, Salem, Boothbay Harbour and Boston. It’s filled with pieces from my trip last year from Australia to the USA where I got to visit a dear friend on Whidbey Island, celebrate July the 4th in Salem the Witch City, visit puffins in Maine and meet a baby sloth in Boston. There are also many bites of recipes from the foods that inspired me along the way.

While I’m hoping you’ll rush out and buy the book 🙂 I will share parts of the journey here. I’ll also include recipes that nearly made it into the book but just missed out like my Stout Pancakes (below). These are perfect for Winter in Australia. If you’d like pancake recipes that are more in tune with Summer – like Blueberry Pancakes or Carrot Cake Pancakes – you can find them in my book!

B&P cover 

Bites and Pieces is currently available from Lulu. An ebook is on the way and it will be in other online stores soon 🙂

Stout Pancakes

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Ingredients
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons maple sugar*
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup stout**
butter for frying

Instructions
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar into a large bowl. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and stout.
Add to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Heat a small amount of butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat.
Pour some batter into the pan. Remember that the bigger the pancakes, the harder they are to flip, so don’t make them too big.
Cook until bubbles start to form.
Flip and cook for a further 1 – 3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with your choice of toppings.
I like them with a good drizzle of pure maple syrup, golden syrup or honey.

*You can substitute brown sugar for the maple sugar.
**Try different flavoured stouts like chocolate or coffee ones. I used a maple flavoured stout.

Food For Death

Bram Stoker died 106 years ago on April 20th, 1912. Many of us will never forget this great writer nor the amazing works and characters he created.

My recipe for this year’s deathiversary is inspired by a traditional dish called funeral potatoes, an American comfort food casserole that is often brought to gatherings held after funerals. There are many variations but the key ingredients are potatoes, cheese, onion, sour cream, a canned cream based soup and a crunchy topping. It is easy to prepare, travels well and is easily reheated.

My funeral potatoes are a very different dish and are inspired by Dracula’s immortal line “I Never Drink … Wine.” Although these words never appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel, they were uttered by the equally unforgettable Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning’s 1931 movie Dracula. Baked in red wine and olive oil and flavoured with rosemary, the herb of remembrance, these versatile potatoes can be eaten hot from the oven or cold from the refrigerator. I find the flavour of the wine is more pronounced when they are eaten at room temperature.

Served with sour cream you’ll want to make them for all occasions – not just funerals!    

Funeral Potatoes with Red Wine & Rosemary

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Ingredients
1kg potatoes
1 cup red wine – split in two
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
sprigs of fresh rosemary
sour cream for serving

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F.
Peel then chop the potatoes in half and then in quarters.
Place in a baking tray in a single layer.
Pour over 1/2 cup of red wine, reserving the other 1/4 cup for later.
Pour over the oil.
Add the dried rosemary and salt.
Toss together until combined.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and flip them over.
Pour over the remaining 1/2 cup of wine.
Return to the oven and bake for another 15 – 20 minutes or until they are cooked to your liking.
Drain on paper towels and allow to cool.
Place in an airtight container and add some sprigs of fresh rosemary.
Refrigerate until needed.
Allow them to come to room temperature before serving.
Serve with sour cream.

Act 1 – Shakespeare Around The Globe

This Sunday is both Easter Sunday and April Fools’ day and I know which one I am most excited about!

April Fools’ Day for me is a day to celebrate the spirit of the tarot Fool. The Fool is the first card in the major arcana and it is the Fool who journeys through the tarot and learns the lessons of the cards. The Fool is so important it is the only major arcana card to be represented in modern playing card decks. In these decks the Fool plays the role of the Joker.

Fool

fool card from the dracula tarot

The Fool symbolises new beginnings, adventures and journeys – that’s why I have adopted April Fools’ Day as my personal New Year’s Day. On April Fools’ Day I take time to look back on the year that has passed and make plans for the year ahead. What is most exciting for me is that my plans for this coming year are intertwined with the journeys I made this past year.

Last year I travelled to America and fulfilled a childhood dream of visiting Salem, Massachusetts. I also got to meet in person a friend I have known online for many years. Plus I visited the island where an Atlantic puffin I sponsor spends their summer. A few weeks ago I travelled to America again to attend a giant panda fan convention in San Diego, something I have wanted to do for many years. I ended this trip with a visit to San Fransisco where my partner Paul and I celebrated 30 years of not being married by walking on the Golden Gate Bridge 🙂 Both trips have been enriching and will provide me with inspiration – and recipes – for this year’s blog posts. They may also have given me material for a book or two!

What does this have to do with Shakespeare? Well Shakespeare was no stranger to the power and importance of Fools. Many of his most memorable characters were witty and clever Fools. Plus, it was two Shakespeare inspired establishments that provided me with comfort and nourishment in San Diego. That’s right – Shakespeare’s influence extends around the globe!

One of the things I love to do before I travel is research places to eat. Two of the places I picked in San Diego were the Shakespeare Pub & Grille and Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea. I couldn’t wait to visit them.

The Shakespeare Pub & Grille was established in 1990 by British expats. It is modelled on a traditional British pub in English Tudor style. The food is classic British comfort food and the bar stocks beers from around the world. We ordered a couple of beers and their signature dish – Fish & Chips. We were treated to crisp and crunchy pieces of beer battered cod with peas and chips (fries) served with tartare sauce and malt vinegar. It was delicious. After such a tasty meal we had to try their desserts. Paul chose Sticky Toffee Pudding – a steamed light sponge cake covered in a sweet and sticky toffee sauce. He couldn’t decide between custard and ice cream so he had both. I chose something I have never tried before but have always wanted to – Spotted Dick! This amusingly named dessert is a steamed suet pudding containing dried fruit and is traditionally served with custard. YUM 🙂 Each bite melted in my mouth and I was rewarded with the scent and taste of a soft, warm and spicy fruit cake. The custard was smooth and creamy and complemented the pudding perfectly. We were ready to go back to the hotel and have a nap but we had one more culinary stop to make.

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Next door to the Shakespeare Pub is Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea which is run by a British family. We had hoped to have a cream tea in their patio tearoom but we were too full from lunch. Instead we decided to check out the store and see what they had on offer. Not surprisingly the shelves were stocked with British produce. Missing my nightly tea and shortbreads, I was happy to find a box of Earl Grey teabags and a packet of Scottish shortbreads. I also found an interestingly shaped spoon which the staff told me was a Black and Tan spoon used for pouring layered cocktails. As a fan of layered cocktails, I had to have it. In the fridge I saw a jar of clotted cream which I was so tempted to buy but valiantly resisted. When I went to pay I noticed they were selling scones to take home. I looked at Paul and he knew exactly what I was thinking – Cream Tea for Dinner! We grabbed scones, a jar of strawberry jam – and the jar of clotted cream 🙂 That evening we sat on the balcony of our hotel room and enjoyed our cream tea. We even had enough scones, jam and cream left for a cream tea breakfast the next morning.

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While there may not have been too much “Shakespeare” in this story I shall make up for that in Act 2, which tells a tale of my Shakespearean adventures in Melbourne. It will be closely followed by Act 3 – a recipe inspired by these tales.

If you are need of more adventure this Easter weekend there is a Full Moon to celebrate. And for those of us in Melbourne, Australia, due to time zone differences, this will be a Blue Full Moon!

Barky New Year

February 15th is Chinese New Year’s Eve. It is the night when we say goodbye to the Year of the Red Fire Rooster and welcome in the Year of the Brown Earth Dog. At the stroke of midnight, all doors and windows in the home are opened to let the new year out. It is also the eve of the New Moon in Melbourne so it will be a perfect time to bid a fond farewell to the old year and say hello to the new one.

The Year of the Brown Earth Dog begins on February the 16th and heralds 15 days of celebration which will end on the Full Moon. To pay homage to the new year, and to honour its very special animal, I thought I would make some chocolate bark.

Sometimes when I start thinking of recipes to make for an event, my mind travels a curious path. When I thought of the Year of the Dog I could just picture excited dogs howling and barking to welcome in their year. This of course made me think of chocolate bark 🙂 I chose dark chocolate for its rich and earthy colour although you could use milk chocolate if you prefer. I added peanuts to the mix as they grow in the ground so they are a perfect symbol for an Earth year. They also taste great with chocolate!

Just be aware that these are not dog friendly treats. To make them dog friendly substitute carob for chocolate and use raw peanuts instead of roasted ones. Or you can just give your dogs a spoonful of peanut butter to welcome in The Year of the Dog!

Dark Chocolate and Peanut Bark

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Ingredients
100g good quality dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts

Instructions
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Fill a saucepan about one-third full with water and bring to a gentle simmer.
Set a heatproof-bowl over the saucepan, making sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl.
Add the chocolate and gently stir until melted, being careful not to burn the chocolate.
Remove from the heat.
Working quickly, stir in the peanuts.
Pour onto prepared tray.
Smooth out to your desired thickness.
Refrigerate until firm before breaking into pieces.

A Dark Beginning

The 8th of November will be Bram Stoker’s 170th birthday!

Count of Goblets

The Dracula Tarot

Famous for writing the gothic novel Dracula, Bram Stoker had an interesting start in life. Bram spent the first seven years of his childhood suffering from a mystery illness which left him mostly bedridden. During his long illness, Stoker spent much of of his time alone or being entertained by his mother Charlotte who loved to tell him stories, some of them quite scary. Stoker himself said that the time he spent bedridden as a child deeply influenced his future writing.

When I think of the young Bram and his illness, I think of Lucy Westenra and her battle with Dracula. I also think of Count Dracula himself, alone with his thoughts in his isolated castle far away in Transylvania. I wonder if Dracula would ever have been written if Stoker had not had such a challenging start to his life.

I sometimes imagine what the young Bram Stoker would have been fed during his ailment. I have many foods I go to for comfort and convalescence but one of favourites is porridge. I love rice porridges like congee, cornmeal porridges like mamaliga and classic oatmeal porridges.

Oats were an important crop in Ireland so Bram probably had a few porridges in his day. There are many ways I like to eat oatmeal, but when I’m thinking of Bram Stoker and vampires I like to serve my porridge with a good drizzle of black as night molasses and a dollop of cream 🙂

Steel-Cut Oats

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Ingredients
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup steel-cut oats*
molasses for drizzling
cream for dolloping

Instructions
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a saucepan.
Add the oats.
Stirring occasionally, cover and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes or until they achieve your desired level of chewiness.
Turn off the heat and allow to rest for 2 minutes.
Place oatmeal in a bowl.
Drizzle with molasses.
Add a good dollop of cream
Cover and refrigerate any leftover porridge. You can reheat it or have it cold.

*Steel-cut oats are known by a few names such as Irish oats, pinhead oats or coarse oatmeal.

Soup For The Soulless

Bela Lugosi was born on October 20th, 1882 in Lugos, Hungary. Bela was most famous for his portrayals of the vampire Count Dracula. As an Hungarian actor famous for playing a Romanian prince, it seems appropriate that his birthplace is now called Lugoj and is in Romania.

In honour of Bela’s Hungarian heritage I wanted to make a traditional Hungarian dish for his 135th birthday. I also wanted it to be blood red. Classic paprika dishes like goulash are an option but I wanted something sweet and liquid. That’s when I discovered meggyleves, a sweet(ish) soup made from fresh sour cherries. The name is a combination of the Hungarian words “meggy” meaning sour cherries and “leves” meaning soup.

To make meggyleves, unpitted sour cherries are simmered in spices before adding sour cream. The soup is then chilled and served cold. I was looking forward to making this soup but our greengrocer didn’t have any fresh cherries as they are out of season. When I got home I started thinking of ways of “resurrecting” the recipe. I had a jar of sour cherries, and although the recipes don’t recommend canned cherries, I thought I would give it a try.

Rather than simmering the already soft cherries I decided I would simmer just the juice in the spices before adding the sour cream. The one thing I was really disappointed with was that the flavour of the cherry stones would be missing. Then I remembered that one of my favourite spices is mahleb which is made from ground cherry stones. I added a dash of mahleb and hoped for the best. The soup is pink rather than blood red but I enjoyed the flavour and could taste the mahleb. I would definitely make it again and am looking forward to making it with fresh cherries when they are back in season.

Resurrected Sour Cherry Soup

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Ingredients
600g (21oz) jar pitted morello cherries
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon flour
1/4 teaspoon ground mahleb (optional but recommended!)
cream for serving

Instructions
Strain the cherry juice into a saucepan and place the cherries into a bowl.
Heat the cherry juice, water, cinnamon and cloves in a small saucepan.
Bring to a gentle boil.
Cover and simmer for 5 minutes on low heat.
Remove from heat.
Mix together the sour cream, flour and mahleb in a bowl.
Stir a little warm soup into the sour cream mix.
Pour back into the soup and stir until combined.
Cover and allow to cool before straining over the cherries.
Refrigerate until cold.
Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of cream.

Celebrating Red Pandas

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Saturday the 16th of September is International Red Panda Day!

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Celebrated on the third Saturday in September, IRPD was created to bring awareness to the plight of the red panda and the need to protect this very special little panda. Red Pandas are endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is celebrated by individuals and zoos around the world who raise funds for red panda conservation. Some zoos celebrate on a different day, so if you are interested in participating, check out the IRPD page at Red Panda Network.

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“Two” Many Cupcakes?

Tuesday June 13th is Cupcake Lovers Day 🙂

Coming up with a cupcake recipe for this awesome day should be so easy for me – after all, I am writing a cupcake cookbook! But as the day neared, I found myself surprisingly uninspired. So I decided to get my creative juices flowing by looking at the history of the cupcake and discovering why they are indeed called cupcakes.

Historically there are two types of cupcakes. The first is called a cupcake because the ingredients are measured by volume rather than weight. For this type of cake, most of the ingredients are measured in a cup. A popular cupcake of this type is called a 1234 cake because it is made with 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour and 4 eggs. These cakes are usually baked in conventional cake pans.

The second type of cupcake is the cupcake we know and love today. They are called cupcakes because before the invention of muffin tins, these small, single serve cakes were actually baked in tea cups or mugs. Today, cupcakes are no longer baked in cups but are baked in muffin tins lined with decorative paper cases. They are usually topped with frosting or icing and can be filled or unfilled. They can also be decorated in many creative ways.

Did my trip down cupcake history lane whet my appetite? It sure did! After much thought and battling sugar cravings, I was inspired by the concept of the mug cake – quick, single serve cakes that are baked in mugs. But what I really wanted was to make a small batch of cupcakes baked in paper cases, not mugs. A quick bit of research and I happily discovered that there are many recipes for 1 or 2 cupcakes. The recipes for 1 cupcake required tablespoon measurements of egg white which I really don’t have time for, so I explored the 2 cupcake recipes, most of which use a whole egg white.

I know what you’re thinking. Why would you only bake 2 cupcakes? Well, I’d like to say it’s because I’m worried about eating a dozen cupcakes on my own but I would be lying 🙂 I was really thinking that by making only 2 cupcakes at a time I can experiment with more flavours and more combinations. In fact, I could well end up eating more than a dozen! I also did think there may be people out there who would like to make small batch cupcakes. So here is the first of what I hope are many creations for my “two for me” cupcakes!

Two Brown Butter Vanilla Cupcakes

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Ingredients
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 egg white
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1 + 1/2 tablespoons milk

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Place 2 paper cases in either a 6-hole or 12-hole muffin pan.
Add the butter to a small frying pan.
Carefully swirl the pan for two minutes or until the butter is golden brown, being careful not to burn the butter.
Pour into a heat-proof bowl and allow to cool slightly.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg white and sugar until combined.
Stir in the vanilla and melted butter.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until combined.
Add the milk and stir until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly between the 2 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.

So how do you frost two cupcakes? Well the possibilities are endless. As you are not going to make a huge batch of frosting – unless you want to – you can be a bit more creative with your topping choices. For one of the cupcakes I went the simple route. I topped the cupcake with a dollop of double cream and grated some white chocolate over the top. You can do this with any of your favourite toppings and spreads. No recipe needed!

For the other cupcake, I challenged myself to create frosting for one, because who doesn’t want to know how to make frosting just for yourself 🙂 There were many options available but I finally went for a peanut butter one. The thought of a brown butter cupcake topped with peanut butter frosting actually made me drool.

Peanut Butter Frosting For One

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Ingredients
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons icing (powdered) sugar
1 tablespoon milk

Instructions
In a small bowl, whisk together the butter and peanut butter. You can use a small whisk or a fork.
Whisk in the icing sugar until combined
Mix in the milk and whisk until you reach your desired consistency.
Dollop onto cupcake.

Click Cupcakes for more of my recipes 🙂