cookies

Gothic Meditations

It’s been a long time since I’ve knocked on a stranger’s door for an esoteric experience. The first time was over 30 years ago when I was invited to a witches coven meeting. There were so many reasons why my hand was shaking when I knocked on that door. As an introvert, walking into a room filled with strangers had its own set of terrors. The fact they were witches was only one of them! Three decades later I was knocking on another stranger’s door. This time it wasn’t witches I was meeting. I was here to participate in a “Meditations on Death” workshop. I couldn’t wait to get inside!

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I walked into a room where a diverse group of people were sitting on cushions. I found a cushion with a cupboard behind me so I could sit in a comfortable position. As expected, we all had different backgrounds and different reasons for being there. Some had friends or family members who were dying, others had been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and a few just wanted to be comfortable with the concept of death. I was there continuing my life long journey of exploring death in all its forms. The only thing we all had in common was that one day we would die. But the point of the workshop was not to see that truth as morbid, but rather to use it to empower our lives.

The workshop explored the different ways we have viewed death historically and from different cultural perspectives. I found my head was nodding in agreement with many of the things our host was saying. As a Goth, I am comfortable in the world of the dead. But as the workshop continued, I found myself reflecting on how I was brought up. Coming from an Eastern European background, death was no stranger to me. I grew up on stories about the horror of war, pain, loss and death. I was taught from a young age how precarious life is and how easily it can be taken away. These lessons weren’t meant to instil fear, but rather to highlight how precious life is. Understanding the fragility of life and how close we are to death at any moment, can be liberating. It can help you live your life more fully because you don’t know how long you have left. At least that’s the way I have always viewed it.

Another lesson I learned growing up was that accepting death as a natural part of life doesn’t stop you from feeling pain and loss when loved ones die. Quite the opposite actually. As the workshop wound its way to a conclusion, my thoughts roamed to the elaborate death rites and rituals I grew up with. Some of them were challenging, like kissing a dead body in a coffin, others were less extreme. All of them were ways of dealing with the loss of a departed loved one, the need to say goodbye and the importance of moving on. It was during these reminiscences that I had the most disturbing thought of all – I was raised by Goths! I had always thought my love of vampires had turned me into a Goth but I realised I had been born into a culture where being a Goth was a way of life and death. As I pondered on these revelations, the workshop moved on to the next stage and the one I was really looking forward to – a death bed meditation!

We were first asked to stretch out on the floor if we were comfortable to do so. I pushed away from the cupboard and stretched out. With my eyes closed, I listened as our guide asked us to feel what it would be like to die. We began by releasing from our bodies each of the four elements in turn. It was an extraordinary experience. When it came time to release the element of air, I had a minor panic attack. Being claustrophobic, I hate being in situations where I feel like I can’t breathe. Being asked to feel like all the air was pushed out of my body had me almost physically clawing at the air. I really did feel like I was dying and I was surprised at how panicked I felt.

Calming myself, I continued with the meditation and was rewarded with some extraordinary insights and a feeling of peace. But there was pain and sadness too. I don’t want to die, but one day I will. All I can do is live my life as best I can. Experiencing this symbolic death was more powerful than I thought it would be. I left the meditation will many things to ponder. But the one thing I was truly grateful for was that I was born and raised a Goth.

Black Tahini Cookies
To ground myself after esoteric explorations I always have something to eat and drink. I thought a plate of black cookies and a pot of black tea would be most appropriate. I used black tahini as a natural food colour and because I love tahini. These biscuits are really strong in flavour so you can try substituting the tahini with peanut butter or another nut butter and adding a few drops of black food colouring if you like.

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Ingredients
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup caster sugar
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup black tahini
1+1/2 cups plain flour

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 320F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Mix together the sugars, butter, beaten egg and vanilla in a large bowl until combined.
Add the tahini and mix until combined.
Add the flour and mix until combined.
Place tablespoons of batter on prepared trays, flattening slightly with a fork.
Bake for 10 – 15 minutes. The shorter they cook the softer they will be. 
Allow to rest for 5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack to cool completely.

The Witches Of Easter

Thinking about my broomstick, I decided to google “broomstick cookies” for a laugh. I wasn’t surprised to find Halloween type recipes where cookies or pretzels are shaped to look like brooms but I was surprised to find recipes for Swedish Broomstick Cookies. When I saw pictures of them they looked like curled, lacey tuile cookies. So why are they called broomstick cookies? Because the warm cookies are draped over the handle of a broomstick to achieve the slightly curled shape. I love the idea of shaping cookies on broomsticks 🙂 What I love even more is that the discovery of these cookies also led to another witchy discovery – the Swedish Witches of Easter!

Blåkulla is a place in Sweden where witches go to celebrate a Witches’ Sabbath. The destination can only be reached by a magical flight. Luckily witches have broomsticks! On the Eve of Maundy Thursday – the night of the Last Supper – Swedish witches grab their broomsticks and fly out of their chimneys to Blåkulla. They take a black cat and a copper coffee pot with them. I expected a cat but not a coffee pot. It warms my heart to know these witches take their coffee drinking seriously – just like me 🙂 They party for three nights with the Devil before returning home just in time for Easter Sunday.

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This idea of an Easter Witches’ Sabbath has led to an interesting tradition where young girls dress up as påskkärringar – Easter Witches. Similar to Halloween, the Easter Witches visit their neighbours with gifts of paintings, drawings and cards and are given sweets in return. Unlike Halloween, traditional påskkärringar like to dress in long, colourful skirts with shawls on their shoulders, scarves covering their heads and sporting rosy cheeks and freckles. Naturally they ride broomsticks and carry copper coffee pots – because you can’t forget about coffee!

I was going to make a batch of Swedish Broomstick Cookies in case some Easter Witches come visiting me before I fly off to Blåkulla. But, as I was sorting through a pile of recipes I had clipped from newspapers way back in 2011, I came across the perfect recipe for a witchy Easter cookie – Strazzate. These Italian chocolate and almond cookies are flavoured with Strega, a liqueur named after the Italian word for witch. I talked about Strega in my post Season Of The Witch and offered a recipe for a Strega Sunrise.

The label on a bottle of Strega features an old witch holding a broomstick. There are other witches dancing with half goat, half man creatures. These witches seem to be partaking in the same revelries as the Swedish Easter Witches so to me they are the perfect Easter Witch Cookie. They even contain coffee 🙂

Strazzate

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Ingredients
1 + 3/4 cups plain flour, sifted
1 tablespoon cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 + 3/4 cups ground almonds
2 tablespoons roughly chopped almonds
1 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped dark chocolate
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup Strega
1/3 cup warm black coffee

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line 4 baking trays with baking paper.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, ground almonds, chopped almonds, sugar, chocolate, olive oil and Strega, until combined.
Add the coffee and beat until you have a pliable dough.
Roll into balls – use approximately 1/2 a tablespoon of dough per ball.
Place on prepared baking trays and flatten slightly.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.
Allow to cool on wire racks before serving.

Recipe by Kate McGhie published in the Herald Sun newspaper April 19, 2011.
The original recipe suggested dusting the cookies with cocoa powder before serving. I didn’t do this but you can give it a try.
You can substitute Galliano for Strega but then you won’t have the witchy connection.

A Taste Of Roses

When I first came across Samira’s recipe for Almond Biscuits at Sam’s Kitchen blog I knew I had to make the rose water ones. And I did! Wow, what a recipe. These macaroon-like delicacies are so easy to make. I loved the delicate rose water flavour and the pretty pink colour.

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The only changes I made to the recipe were to make half the amount and I didn’t dust them with extra icing sugar. Other than that, this is a recipe that I will make again and again.

I even made my own variation inspired by a Bounty – a coconut chocolate bar 🙂

Coconut and Chocolate Almond Cookies

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Ingredients
125g almond meal
100g icing sugar
1 egg white
1 teaspoon coconut essence, or to taste
75g milk chocolate
1/4 cup shredded coconut

Method
Preheat oven to 160C / 320F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Mix together the icing sugar and egg white.
Add the coconut essence and almond meal.
Mix to a soft cookie dough.
Form into 9 crescent shapes.
Place on prepared tray.
Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden.
Place on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
Once cool, melt the chocolate and smooth a dollop on the top of each cookie.
Sprinkle shredded coconut over the chocolate.
You can eat them warm or allow chocolate to set.

April Fool’s Day Treat

I love April Fool’s Day – and not because I play pranks on people 🙂

April Fool’s Day is my unofficial Name Day. It’s a day when I celebrate who, what and where I am. It’s also my self-appointed New Year’s Day. It’s a time when I look back on the year that has passed and make plans for the year ahead. It’s also the day I started my blog – two years ago!

Why have I chosen April Fool’s Day as my very own special day? Well because of tarot. The Fool is the first card in the major arcana. It is the Fool who journeys through the arcana and learns the lessons of the cards. The Fool is so important symbolically that it is the only major arcana to be represented in modern day playing cards (as The Joker).

Fool

Renfield and Wolf
The Dracula Tarot

The Fool card traditionally features a brightly dressed young man standing on the edge of a cliff. His face is lifted up, not watching where he is going. His belongings are wrapped in a sack and tied to a stick slung over his right shoulder. In his left hand he holds a white rose. A dog plays at his feet while the sun shines brightly. Will he step off the precipice and fall, will he leap to the other side, or will he turn around? The Fool begins the journey of the Tarot with no knowledge of what will be. Every April Fool’s Day I too begin a Fool’s journey into the unknown.

In honour of April Fool’s Day pranks, the tarot Fool’s dog and my own very special dogs, I have created a tricky recipe for both Fools and Dogs. The oatmeal cookies below have been cut to look like dog treats and are served in a dog bowl. Surprise your friends by serving them these tricky treats 🙂

Doggie Treats

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Ingredients
1 + 1/4 cups ground oatmeal
2/3 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
65g unsalted butter
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk

Method
Preheat oven to 200C / 395F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Combine the oatmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl. Using your fingertips, rub in the butter until combined. Add the egg and milk and continuing mixing with your hands for 3-4 minutes or until the dough comes together into a ball. The dough should be firm enough to roll out. If it is too firm add a bit of milk, if it is too soft add a bit of flour.
Turn out onto a lightly floured board and roll dough out to about 5mm thickness. Use a dog bone shaped cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Repeat with any remaining dough.
Place on prepared trays and bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes before placing on racks to cool completely.

Invitation To A Funeral

Dracula author Bram Stoker died 103 years ago on April 20th. Twice a year, on Bram’s birthday and death day, I think about the author and his infamous vampire creation Count Dracula; two of the greatest influences on my life. This deathiversary got me thinking about death and cookies, two other great influences on my life 🙂

Stoker lived most of his life in the Victorian era. One of the most obvious themes in the novel Dracula is the exploration of the strict and repressive Victorian attitudes toward sexuality. But Dracula is also an exploration of Victorian attitudes to death and mourning. After all, Queen Victoria is as famous for her strict codes of morality as for her role as the “widow of Windsor”.

After the death of her beloved husband, Queen Victoria wore nothing but black for the rest of her life. Mourning jewellery became fashionable, and jewellery containing the hair of dead loved ones was popular. Queen Victoria particularly favoured jewellery made from Whitby jet for her mourning dress. Is it a coincidence that Dracula first lands in Whitby when he travels to England or is it a nod to the Victorian Queen’s favourite mourning gemstone? I don’t know. What I do know is that during Queen Victoria’s reign, mourning became an art in itself. And that brings us to cookies!

Funeral cookies have a long history and are part of the customs related to eating food for the dead. Funeral cookies were essentially edible offerings that were handed out at funerals. They could be eaten at the funeral to honour the dead, eaten as snacks on the way home from the funeral or given as treats to those who couldn’t attend the funeral. They could also be kept as mementoes of the day.

In Victorian times, homemade cookies were replaced by bakeries who offered made to order products on short notice. The evolution of printing technology allowed bakers the opportunity to package cookies in creative ways. Cookies could be wrapped in ornate wrappings containing printed information such as the funeral notice for the deceased, biblical quotes or poems. The Funeral cookies could then be used as funeral invitations with all the funeral details printed on the wrapper. If you were particularly peckish, you could even snack on them on the way to the funeral!

I loved the quaint idea of a cookie wrapped in a funeral invitation so much that I decided to make my own version of traditional funeral cookies. My version is a shortbread style cookie flavoured with caraway seeds, which are a traditional spice in old-style cookies. I have added rosemary as it symbolises remembrance and is therefore associated with remembering and honouring the dead. I have also used a cookie stamp to give them an ornate appearance.

Funeral Cookies

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Ingredients
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cornflour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
180g unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped finely
extra cornflour for dusting biscuit stamp

Instructions
Mix together the flour, cornflour, salt and caraway seeds.
In a separate bowl cream together the butter, icing sugar and rosemary until smooth.
Add the flour mixture and beat until combined.
Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Roll dough mixture into balls.
Press into biscuit stamp lightly dusted with cornflour.
Place on prepared trays.
Continue until all mixture is used.
Place trays in refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 150C / 300F
Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
Allow to cool briefly before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.