This weekend I’ll be celebrating a very special Blue Moon. Not only is it a Seasonal Blue Moon, it is also an Astrological Blue Moon, making it a very rare double Blue Moon!
There are three types of Blue Moon: a Calendar Blue Moon, a Seasonal Blue Moon, and an Astrological Blue Moon.
A Calendar Blue Moon occurs when there are two Full Moons in the same calendar month. The second Full Moon is the Blue Moon. While this is now the commonly accepted interpretation, it is actually the newest way to calculate a Blue Moon and is the least celebrated in the esoteric realms.
A Seasonal Blue Moon occurs when there are four Full Moons in a season. A seasonal cycle is measured from Equinox to Solstice, or from Solstice to Equinox. Each season lasts roughly three months and normally has three Full Moons. These Full Moons often have names associated with seasonal attributes which vary from place to place and hemisphere to hemisphere. Occasionally a seasonal cycle will have four Full Moons. When this happens it is the third Full Moon which is the Blue Moon, not the fourth as you might expect. By naming the third Full Moon a Blue Moon (rather than the fourth), the names and attributes of the usual seasonal Moons aren’t disrupted by the appearance of an extra Full Moon.
An Astrological Blue Moon occurs when there are two Full Moons in the same Astrological sign in the same Astrological month. Astrological months are approximately four weeks in length. When an Astrological month has two Full Moons in the same star sign, it is the second moon which is the Blue Moon.
So what season and sign is the August Blue Moon in? Well that depends on where you live. In Melbourne (Australia), the seasonal Blue Moon will be the third Full Moon in the Winter season and the Astrological Blue Moon is in the sign of Aquarius.
Personally I’ll be celebrating the Aquarius Blue Moon as Astrological Blue Moons are my favourite!
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.
July 16th is World Snake Day! To celebrate this serpentine day, I want to explore one of my favourite childhood games – Snakes and Ladders.
Snakes and Ladders is a board game which features squares numbered 1 to100. Played by two or more players, each player rolls a dice in turn and travels along the numbered squares. Some of the squares have the bottom of ladders which help you move up (to the top of the ladder), while other squares feature the heads of snakes which send you back down (to the tail of the snake). The snakes and ladders vary in length, so you can rise and fall vast or small amounts depending on where you land. The first player to reach the final square is the winner!
Snakes and Ladders is the English version of an ancient Indian game. There are a number of names and variations of the Indian game such as Gyan Chauper, Leela, Mokshapat and Moksha Patam. The games were originally used to impart moral and karmic lessons to children. The ladders represent a virtue which allows you to rise while the snakes represent a vice which causes you to fall. In the Indian version there are more snakes than ladders, probably because it’s easier to fall victim to vice than to be virtuous. 🙂
When the game came to England, a few changes were made. The number of snakes was reduced so there were equal numbers of snakes and ladders. The karmic lessons of the original were also replaced with moral lessons relevant to the Victorian era of the time. Eventually the moral lessons were left out or replaced by cartoon pictures that had no real link to virtues or vices.
The American version is called Chutes and Ladders. In a move that would make Saint Patrick proud, Chutes and Ladders has driven all the snakes off the board and replaced them with chutes. Interestingly, most of these versions still retain the moral lessons of the original games.
When I think of playing Snakes and Ladders as a child, I can’t remember any moral lessons being imparted. All I remember is my desperate desire to win and to avoid the snake boldly waiting at the top, ready to turn my impending victory into defeat! I actually loved the drawings of the snakes, with their cute tongues poking out, but I was annoyed that it was a punishment to land on them.
Snakes are one of the oldest, richest and most widespread mythological symbols. While they are seen as symbols of negativity in some cultures, they are more often associated with positive traits such as creativity, fertility, healing, rebirth, sexuality and wisdom. I’m glad Snakes and Ladders didn’t teach me to see snakes solely as a symbol of negativity.
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.)
I haven’t read many Shakespeare plays, but of the ones I have read, Macbeth is my favourite. I love the way Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s lives change after Macbeth meets the three witches and hears their prophecies. The play is filled with so many fabulous speeches and unforgettable moments. Naturally the scenes that bewitch me the most are those with the three witches.
“When shall we three meet again?” ask the witches. “Whenever Macbeth comes to town!” is my answer.
So when Verdi’s opera Macbeth came to Melbourne recently, I couldn’t wait to get there and meet the three witches again. 🙂
The opera was staged at the historic Her Majesty’s Theatre. Before the show started an announcement was made that Helena Dix, the lead soprano playing Lady Macbeth, had severe sinusitis and couldn’t sing. However, in the grand tradition of the show must go on, she was going to act the role and another soprano would sing her part offstage. While the crowd groaned in disappointment, I was excited. A disembodied voice at the opera? How very Macbeth!
The curtain rose for the first act and I was pleasantly surprised to see not three witches but thirty! The fascinating coven of witches were hypnotic as they sang, spun and wove their way through the scene. Hearing them sing their lines in Italian was appropriately eerie. My eyes occasionally darted to the monitors with English translations, but, not wanting to miss too much of the action happening on stage, I relied on my knowledge of the play to get me through the language barrier.
As much as I love the witches, I was getting excited about Lady Macbeth’s entrance. I couldn’t wait to see a soprano lip-syncing. I was even more excited when I realised I could see the woman singing the role from my seat. My eyes jumped from the miming opera singer on stage to the singing soprano just offstage. In the end, voice or no voice, the power and brilliance of the artist playing Lady Macbeth enthralled me. I soon forgot about lip-syncing as the divine opera performer took me through the tragic journey that is Lady Macbeth’s life. By the time the play ended I was bewitched, not only by the witches, but by the unforgettable performance of an opera singer without a voice.
Ironically, not long after seeing Macbeth I was struck with a severe cold, sinusitis and laryngitis. It made me wonder if the superstitions surrounding Macbeth may have been visited upon me! Unfortunately, it’s something that happens to me occasionally so I wasn’t too worried. When I was young and suffering from a cold or sore throat, my parents would make me a cup of tea with honey, lemon and a good splash of whisky. This drink is similar to a Hot Toddy which is usually made with hot water instead of tea. As a tribute to the witches in Macbeth, I’m making my toddy with Strega Liqueur (witches liqueur) named in honour of the Benevento Witches!
Ingredients 1 teaspoon honey 1 cup hot water 30ml (1 oz) Strega 15ml (1/2 oz) whiskey 1 slice of lemon
Instructions Place the honey in a heatproof glass or mug. Add the water and stir until the honey is dissolved. Pour in the Strega and whiskey. Top with a slice of lemon. Sip slowly and enjoy its magical properties. 🙂
May 26 is World Dracula Day. This is the day that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was published in 1897. There are so many brilliant characters in Dracula who, although they do not appear very often, are nonetheless unforgettable. The three vampire women who live in Castle Dracula are such creatures.
The three female vampires are never individually named in Dracula but are collectively called the “weird sisters” or “sisters”. It is Jonathan who calls them the “weird sisters”, a name that links them to the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They are known as the “Brides of Dracula” in popular culture but that name was never used in the novel. Intriguingly, it is the name “sister” that the female vampires themselves embrace.
After Mina is been bitten by Dracula and slowly starts to turn into a vampire, she travels to Transylvania, where she meets the three female vampires. They recognise her vampiric nature and welcome her into the sisterhood with the words “Come, sister. Come to us. Come! Come!” Another form of sisterhood is the relationship between Mina and Lucy in which Mina describes Lucy as a sister. The nuns that take care of Jonathan when he escapes from Castle Dracula are another important form of collective “sisters” that highlight the importance of sisterhoods in Dracula.
While the vampire sisters are never named, they are certainly described in graphic detail by Jonathan who meets the beguiling vampire trio at Castle Dracula.
“In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner.”
“Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires.”
“All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips.”
“I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips.”
While Johnathan is both seduced and repulsed by the vampire sisters, they only see one thing in him – blood!
“He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.”
To celebrate the sisters’ desire for bloody vampire kisses I thought I would make them a Vampire’s Kiss Cocktail.
A Vampire’s Kiss is a delicious drink made with Chambord, vodka and cranberry juice. Chambord is a French liqueur flavoured with red and black raspberries. The colour of the red and black raspberries made me think of the two dark haired sisters and the vodka made me think of the pale sister. The red cranberry juice adds to the bloody colour of the cocktail and is a perfect reflection of the bloody lips and bloody desires of the vampire sisters. While cranberry juice is traditional, I used pomegranate juice as pomegranates are linked to Demeter, Persephone and Hades. There are many references to this myth in Dracula, especially in the name the Demeter, the ship that brings the Count to England.
To make sure we don’t disappoint the vampire sisters by running out of liquid kisses, the amounts below are easy to scale or up or down so you can make a small cocktail for one or a pitcher for a crowd!
Ingredients 1 part Chambord 2 parts vodka 2 parts pomegranate juice
Instructions Pour the Chambord and vodka into a chilled glass or jug. Top with pomegranate juice.
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.
This year I thought I would commemorate Bram Stoker’s April 20th Deathiversary by exploring Quincey P. Morris, an important but often overlooked character in Dracula.
Quincey P. Morris is a young, rich American from Texas. He’s a larrikin who carries a bowie knife. He has travelled and had many adventures and is a bit rough and ready. He loves using American slang when he is with friends but is also a gentleman with impeccable manners. Quincey is close friends with both Arthur Holmwood and Dr Seward. All three are in love with Lucy Westenra and all three propose to her. Although Lucy chooses Arthur, Dr Seward and Quincey remain loyal and devoted friends to both Arthur and Lucy. When Lucy is bitten by Dracula, Arthur, Dr Seward and Quincey join forces with Abraham Van Helsing to try and save her life. Sadly they fail and Lucy becomes one of the undead and is eventually staked by Arthur.
When Mina Harker becomes the next target of Dracula, Arthur, Dr Seward, Quincey and Abraham Van Helsing join forces with Mina and her husband Jonathan Harker, to do battle with Dracula for the life and soul of Mina. After mighty struggles and an arduous journey to Transylvania, Mina watches as Jonathan and Quincey fight a band of gypsies protecting the fleeing Dracula. As they fight their way towards Dracula’s crate, Quincey is stabbed by one of the gypsies. Undeterred, Quincey makes it to Jonathan’s side and together they pry open Dracula’s crate. A horrified Mina watches as Jonathan slits Dracula’s throat and Quincey stabs Dracula in the heart with his bowie knife. Dracula’s body crumbles and disappears before their eyes. A dying Quincey watches as the symbol of Mina’s corruption, a wafer burn scar on her forehead, vanishes. He dies a happy man knowing that Mina’s soul is restored.
On the anniversary of Quincey’s death, Mina gives birth to a son. Quincey Harker has a bundle of names that link all the vampire hunters together but they call him Quincey in honour of his ultimate sacrifice. Quincey P. Morris is in many ways the true hero of Dracula. As a big fan of Quincey, I’m happy that his name and spirit live on.
To pay tribute to Stoker’s fascinating yet underrated character, I was considering making a Texas Funeral Cake. This way I could honour Quincey’s Texan heritage, and also enjoy a chocolate sheet cake topped with chocolate frosting and pecans. But as I thought of Quincey, I couldn’t help thinking of quinces. The name play being too tantalising for me, I started working out how I could add quince jam or paste to a Texas Funeral Cake. As I pondered whether to add quince to the cake batter, the cooked cake, or add it to the frosting, the thought hit me that as Dracula dies he crumbles. My mind then went straight to a Quince Crumble!
The joy of using fresh quinces is that, as they cook, an amazing alchemical process takes place and the white flesh slowly transforms to a reddish pink colour. Watching the quince change colour naturally makes me think of blood, which is so appropriate for a recipe honouring the deaths of the author of, and a character in, a vampire novel! I’m sure Bram will enjoy my playful take on Quincey’s role in Dracula’s crumbly end. 🙂
Ingredients 750g quinces, peeled, cored and quartered 1/4 cup caster sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 + 1/4 cups plain flour 175g unsalted butter, diced and chilled 4 tablespoons brown sugar 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Instructions Place the quince in a medium sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the caster sugar, vanilla extract and enough water to just cover the fruit. Bring to the boil then simmer for 3 – 4 hours or until the quince have turned a pinkish red. Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F. Add the flour and chilled butter to a medium sized bowl. Using your fingertips, rub the mixture together until you form large crumbs. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and mix through until combined. Spoon the quince into a baking dish, leaving behind any excess liquid. Sprinkle the crumble topping over the fruit. Bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes or until the crumble is golden brown. Serve with cream, ice cream or custard.
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.
I recently enjoyed a concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre by Vardos, a three-piece band that performs traditional folk music inspired by their travels through Eastern Europe. The concert I attended was “The Balkan Cookbook” which explored the culinary identity of Eastern Europe through song. During the hour long performance we were taken on a mouthwatering journey through a traditional Eastern European menu. While my body responded to the vibrant music, my mind began concocting recipes for the food and dishes being celebrated.
The starters began with a song about bacon, followed by a basil song and then one about bread. My stomach rumbled as I pictured a toasted bacon and basil sandwich! The soup course was next followed by mains, side salads, sweets and Turkish coffee. While I do love coffee and a Balkan sweet, it was the soup course that really fired my imagination – especially the tale of the stone soup.
Before launching into song, we were treated to tales about Balkan soups. It may be surprising to learn that Balkan soup courses can sometimes feature fruit soups, which are slightly sweet, usually served hot, but can also be served cold. I’m a big fan of fruit soups and have previously posted recipes for Cherry Soup and Blueberry Soup. The other soup discussed was stone soup – yes stone soup!
Stone soup is a European folktale about hungry travellers who visit a village. Carrying only a large cooking pot, they ask the villagers if they will share some food with them. The villagers say no. The travellers go to the stream, fill their pot with water, drop a large stone in it and then place it over a fire. One curious villager asks the travellers what they are making. The travellers say it is a tasty “stone soup” which they are happy to share but it could be improved with the addition of a few more ingredients. The curious villager, wanting to try the soup, says they have carrots which they are happy to share with the travellers. One by one the rest of the villagers bring ingredients to add to the soup until the pot really does contain a flavourful soup. The inedible stone is removed and the travellers and the villagers all share the soup. Although the travellers have tricked the villagers, they have taught them the value of sharing and the importance of coming together as a community.
Stone soup begins with a trick so I thought it was the perfect tale to inspire an April Fool’s Day recipe. I chose a mussel soup as it contains mussel shells which reminded me of the stone. Just remember that the shells, like the stone, are inedible so discard them once you have scooped out the tasty mussels. 🙂
Ingredients 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 small onion, finely chopped 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced 1 medium red chilli, deseeded* and finely sliced 1 tablespoon tomato paste 1/2 cup white wine 1 lemon, juiced and zested 1kg tomatoes, finely chopped 1/2 cup fish stock sea salt to taste pepper to taste 1kg mussels, scrubbed and debearded 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped 1/4 cup basil, roughly chopped
Instructions Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and chilli and cook for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Add wine and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes. Add lemon juice, zest and stock. Stir until combined. Increase heat to high and bring the stock to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered for 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add mussels to stock. Cover and steam, shaking the pan occasionally, for 3-5 minutes or until the mussels are opened. Discard any unopened mussels. Stir through the parsley and basil before serving.