cornmeal

Corn Dollies For Lammas

Lammas marks the halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It is the first of the Harvest Festivals and is usually celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere on February 1st. This year I decided to get into the spirit of Lammas by exploring Corn Dollies.

Corn Dollies are traditionally made for Lammas. They are made from a variety of grains and crafted into an assortment of different shapes. Corn Dollies can be used as good luck charms or as a home for the Spirit of the Grain.

In ancient Pagan culture, the Spirit of the Grain was believed to live in the crops. When the crops were harvested, the Grain Spirit was left homeless. A Corn Dolly was made from the last sheafs of the harvest and offered as a winter home for the Grain Spirit. When the new planting season arrived, the Corn Dolly would be ploughed back into the earth so the Grain Spirit could return to its home amongst the crops. If I can get my crafting act together, I may make a Corn Dolly for next Lammas. 

For this Lammas I used my culinary skills to make edible Cornbread Dollies. I usually make some type of cornbread  for Lammas, so this year I thought I would make sweet cornbread that could be cut into shapes using cookie cutters. In honour of the Grain Spirit, I used gingerbread women and men cookie cutters to make little corn people. They are too cute to eat. Well almost! 🙂

Cornbread Dollies

Special Equipment
Gingerbread women and men cookie cutters

Ingredients
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup honey
60g unsalted butter, melted and lightly cooled
1 cup buttermilk

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200C /400F.
Line a baking pan with baking paper. (I use a 18cmx32cm / 7.5”x13” sized pan).
Mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and honey until combined.
Add the melted butter and buttermilk and beat until combined.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.
Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until firm and golden.
Allow to cool slightly before cutting into shapes with your gingerbread people cookie cutters.
If you don’t have gingerbread cookie cutters you can use a knife to cut into shapes.

A Very Full Moon

This week’s coming Full Moon is going to be a big one. It’s being called a Super Blue Blood Moon and, depending on which part of the world you are in, you may experience it all!

The main event is the total lunar eclipse. During a total lunar eclipse the Earth comes between the Sun and the Moon and covers the Moon with its shadow. During this time the Moon can appear red which has led to the term Blood Moon. This eclipse will be fully visible in
Melbourne, Australia from around 10pm January 31st to around 3am February 1st.

A Super Moon is when a Full or New Moon occurs when the Moon is in its closest orbit to the Earth, making it look larger. While it won’t be the closest orbit, the Moon will be very close to the Earth making it almost a Super Moon.

In some parts of the world it is also a Blue Moon which is the second Full Moon in a month. It’s not a Blue Moon in Melbourne so we won’t be experiencing a Super Blue Blood Moon, we’ll be having a Super Blood Moon instead. Our Blue Moon will be at the end of March and will coincide with Easter.

If you follow a seasonal calendar, this Full Moon also coincides with a major festival – Imbolg in the northern hemisphere and Lammas in the southern hemisphere. Lammas is the mid point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox and is the first harvest festival of the year. Lammas is also known as Lughnasadh. The name Lughnasadh is derived from the name of the Celtic God Lugh whereas Lammas is derived from an Old English term for “loaf mass.” Traditional foods for Lammas/Lughnasadh are breads baked from new crops.

Inspired by my recent visit to America, I just had to bake cornmeal muffins flavoured with pecans and maple syrup. These sweet delights are perfect fare for a powerful harvest Full Moon.

Pecan and Maple Cornmeal Muffins

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Ingredients
1 cup flour, sifted
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup finely ground pecans
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 eggs, beaten
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200F / 400F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper liners.
Mix together the flour, cornmeal, pecans, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium sized bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat together the milk, maple syrup, egg and melted butter. (Don’t worry if it looks curdled. It should come together when you add it to the flour.)
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
Stir gently until just combined. Do not over mix, as the muffins will turn out tough.
Spoon batter evenly into the paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.
Place on a wire rack to cool.

A World Of Baking

As I was standing in line at the post office, I happened to see a book for sale called Bake: Beautiful baking recipes from around the world by Paragon Books. The heavy hardback was reasonably priced so I bought it. I couldn’t wait to get home and check out the recipes! The book contains so many bakes that I want to try but I just had to make one of the entries in the USA & Canada section – Spring Onion Cornbread! I was very happy with the result. The bread was moist, delicious and very flavoursome. It was great warm but also good the next day sliced with a bit of butter.

Spring Onion Cornbread

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Ingredients
1 cup fine cornmeal
1 cup plain flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground celery seed
1 teaspoon sea salt
55g (2oz) parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 eggs, beaten
1 + 2/3 cups milk
55g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
3 spring onions, chopped

Instructions
Preheat oven to 190C / 375F.
Line a baking pan with baking paper (approximately 28cm x 20cm).
Sift the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, celery seed and salt into a bowl.
Stir in 40g (1.5oz) of the parmesan cheese.
In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, milk and butter.
Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined.
Add the spring onions and mix until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until firm and golden.
Cut into squares.
Best eaten warm.

Love spring onions? Check out my recipe for Spring Onion Pancakes 🙂
Love cornmeal? Check out my recipes for Hush Puppies, Panda Cam Cuppycakes and Mamaliga 🙂

A Halloween To Remember

From the film Dracula (1979)
Dracula and Lucy discuss the sound of howling wolves.

DRACULA:
Listen to them, the children of the night. What sad music they make.

LUCY:
Do you think it’s sad?

DRACULA:
So lonely, like weeping.

We named our first two dogs for a bat and a wolf – the animals Dracula turns into in the novel. We named our pack WolfChild – as they were our Children of the Night. A year later, near Halloween, two more WolfChildren joined the pack. They made beautiful music together. Then one of our wolves left the pack far too soon for his journey to the Underworld. This year he was followed by first by one, and then another of our wolves as they too journeyed into the Underworld. We are left with only one wolf, our original bat.

When I think of my musical wolves I feel sad, lonely and constantly like weeping. The time will come when I, like Lucy, will not feel sad at the sound of howling wolves, but that time is not now. It is Halloween – a time for tricks and treats and honouring the dead.

Our dogs are buried in the backyard. Three little graves testifying to the fragility of life and the call of death. They are constant reminders of what we have lost and confronting reminders of what will happen to us all. But they are also comforting. When I look at their graves I remember their lives and their deaths. The pleasure and the sorrow. I remember them playing and running around the yard and I remember laying them in their graves and covering them with dirt. They are always with me and yet they will never be with me again.

Not long after Wolfy, our first wolf passed away, I saw a post on a pug forum about Shelter Pups, a dog charity in the USA that custom makes small stuffed dogs and cats based on your own photos. We knew straight away that we wanted one of Wolfy. Little Wolfy arrived on Halloween 2013. When our next two wolves, Wally and Furghy, passed away, we had little versions of them made. They are in our bedroom where we all slept, watching over us. We also had one made of our remaining wolf, Batty. But she won’t be introduced to the world until she passes away, which we hope will be a very, very long time away.

The Little WolfChildren

IMG_2142a  little wolfy

Wolfy Maynard WolfChild and his Tribute Doll

IMG_9220 copy little wally 1

Wally DennyCrane WolfChild and his Tribute Doll

IMG_3014 little furghy 1

Furghy Fergie WolfChild and her Tribute Doll

Death and food are intimately linked. In honour of the decreasing howls of my Children of the Night I am sharing a recipe for Hush Puppies. These feature corn which is an ancient symbol for birth, death and renewal – appropriate food for mourning and Halloween.

Hush Puppies
Some stories say these fried cornmeal treats were used to “hush puppies”.

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Ingredients
vegetable oil for deep frying
1 + 1/2 cups cornmeal
3/4 cups self-raising flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1/2 cup canned corn kernels, rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup buttermilk (more or less may be needed)
extra sea salt for sprinkling

Method
Heat oil in a large saucepan to 180C / 350F.
Mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, egg and oil. Add the spring onion, corn, salt and pepper. Mix until just combined.
Stir in half the buttermilk, adding enough buttermilk for a loose batter that is still thick enough to drop.
Drop tablespoons of the batter into the oil, making sure you don’t crowd the pan. Cook, turning them over halfway, for 3-4 minutes or until they are evenly coloured and cooked through.
Drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with salt to taste.

In the Footsteps of Jonathan Harker

Jonathan Harker’s adventure in Transylvania takes up the first four chapters out of twenty seven in the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. Yet this small part of the novel contains some of the most memorable scenes and lines from the book. When I went to Romania in 2005 I couldn’t wait to retrace Jonathan Harker’s journey from Bistrita to Castle Dracula. This was written shortly after I returned 🙂

In the footsteps of Jonathan Harker

Count Dracula had directed me to go to the Golden Krone Hotel

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

A hotel recommended by Dracula himself was definitely a place I wanted to visit. Luckily for me The Hotel Coroana de Aur, (The Golden Crown Hotel), which did not exist in Stoker’s time, has since been built in Bistrita to capitalise on the burgeoning popularity of Dracula tourism.Nine of Coins

As I arrive at The Hotel Coroana de Aur, I cannot help but feel that I am stepping into gothic literary history. At first the foyer of the hotel seems like any other until I spy the Dracula and Bram Stoker postcards, the hotel stationary which features Bram Stoker’s face and the store selling a variety of vampire paraphernalia. There is also a Jonathan Harker Salon.

As I step into my room I am disappointed to discover that they are standard hotel style, with barely a hint of the vampiric. But my disappointment is allayed the next day when I take breakfast in the Jonathan Harker Salon. Draped in the traditional vampire colours of black and red, and decorated with animal heads, flying bats and dripping candelabra the salon offers a feast for the eyes as well as the body. Devouring a sumptuous buffet breakfast, surrounded by such paraphernalia, is a real gothic treat. I am reluctant to leave the salon, but equally eager to continue my journey. Following in the footsteps of Jonathan Harker, my next destination is the famed Castle Dracula.

The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

The road from Bistrita to Piatra Fantanele is the same road described by Stoker over a century ago. The long journey takes in the Borgo Pass, the place where Jonathan meets the horse drawn carriage of Count Dracula. After a long and fearful journey, Jonathan reaches the dreaded Castle Dracula. But I enjoy a relaxing car trip, not to a haunted castle, but to a modern hotel.

The HotTowerel Castel Dracula is another hotel created to take advantage of Dracula tourism. Built where Dracula’s Castle is described in the novel, the hotel is a curious construction. The strangely greyish purplish building is both gothic and comically vampiric. There is even a cemetery on the grounds. A small market on the hotel grounds stocks local souvenirs and Vlad Ţepeş and Dracula memorabilia. The hotel lobby also stocks an assortment of Dracula gifts.

After freshening up, the staff offer me a guided tour of Dracula’s Dungeon. I’m excited as I slowly walk down the stairs into the candlelit room. There is a coffin in the corner and I move forward to take a closer look. The staff have a surprise for me which I won’t reveal, but I screamed, loud and hard, but not before swallowing a few Aussie curse words. The staff are ecstatic at my response and after I catch my breath, we leave the dungeon for the next unsuspecting guest.

After dinner I return to my room which boasts beautiful views of the famous Carpathian Mountains. I sit and drink champagne, watching as darkness creeps along the mountain tops. It’s not hard to picture wolves, and other creatures, roaming free in the mountains. Finally I retire to sleep contented on a bed whose bedhead features the dragon motif of the Dracula family. I have enjoyed following in the footsteps of Jonathan Harker, but tomorrow my journey takes a different turn.

Good-bye, all!

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

In the novel, Jonathan jumps out a window of Castle Dracula and is eventually found physically and mentally traumatised in a hospital in Budapest, Hungary. I, not surprisingly, chose a different way to end my journey.

Four of CoinsHeading for Bucharest, the capital city, I spend my final night in Romania at The Count Dracula Club, a gothic club that truly caters to the vampirically inclined. Themed rooms and a downstairs dungeon are some of the treats that await the diner. I am lucky enough to be there the night of a Dracula show when the Count himself makes an appearance. Quoting from the novel in both Romanian and English the dashing Count cavorts around the restaurant, swishing his black cape and menacing the willing patrons. The menu contains Dracula themed dishes and vampire inspired cocktails are sipped between courses. I finish the meal with a glass of ţuică, the traditional plum brandy. My Jonathan Harker journey is almost at an end. Thankfully it is not with madness and despair that I end my trip but with an evening of food, wine and entertainment.

Three of Goblets

Like me, Jonathan Harker has a great love for food and drink. There are a number of passages in the novel where Jonathan describes the food and drink he is enjoying in Transylvania. He even writes the names of some of the dishes so he can get Mina to cook them when he gets home! When I returned from Romania I also brought home a love of Romanian food and a deep desire to know more about this cuisine. Below is my version of the classic Romania breakfast dish that both Jonathan and I ate and loved in Romania.

I had for breakfast more paprika, 

and a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was “mamaliga,”

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

Mamaliga

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 Romanian cornmeal porridge with honey and sesame baked feta.

Ingredients
for the feta
225g feta cheese
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

for the cornmeal
2 cups water
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup cornmeal
30g unsalted butter

Method
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F
Drain feta and dry with paper towel.
Slice feta in half.
Pour half the oil in the bottom of a baking dish.
Place feta side by side in the dish.
Drizzle with remaining olive oil and honey.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the feta is soft but not melted.
While feta is baking bring the water and milk to a low boil in a saucepan.
Add the salt and stir through.
Pour the cornmeal in a slow stream then turn the heat to low.
Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and thick, about 10-15 minutes.
Stir in the butter.
Place cornmeal in bowls and top with baked feta.

This makes two very generous serves.

Artwork for the Dracula Tarot by the wonderful Anna Gerraty

If you have any Romanian dishes you’d like to share with me please do 🙂