drink

A Twitch Of History

Growing up I hated learning history in school. Our lessons seemed to be focussed mainly on memorising dates which made history boring and devoid of life. Happily there was one place that taught history in a fun and exciting way. That place was my lounge room and the vehicle was Bewitched, one of my favourite television shows.

Throughout the eight seasons of this magical show, a bevy of historical figures were zapped into the future and forced to deal with the modern world. At other times characters were zapped back in time to experience history first hand. During the ensuing mayhem I learned so many things, not only about history, but about race relations, class prejudice and gender politics.

One historical lesson I thoroughly enjoyed was when Samantha and Darrin go for a holiday to Salem, Massachusetts. One of the places they visit is The House of the Seven Gables, an historic New England home and the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic novel of the same name. This episode features a spooky bedwarmer that follows Samantha and Darrin back to their hotel room at the Hawthorne Hotel, named after Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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Bedwarmer from the historic Altona Homestead in Melbourne

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born Nathaniel Hathorne in Salem on July 4th, 1804. It is believed that Nathaniel added the “w” to Hathorne to distance himself from his great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, a notorious lead judge in the Salem witch trials. Nathaniel used his ancestors as inspiration for many of his novels which explore colonial times and puritanical beliefs. He died on May 19th, 1864.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s deathiversary this Saturday is a special one for me. Last year I fulfilled a childhood dream to visit Salem Massachusetts and The House of the Seven Gables. I did this on July 4th, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthday. It was also Independence Day which added to the magic. My trip to Salem, and other parts of America, was so inspirational that I have written a book about it. I’ll be doing the final edit on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s deathiversary.

Before visiting The House of the Seven Gables for my own spooky adventure, I stopped in a cafe called Gulu-Gulu for a fortifying steamed milk drink. My version has a touch of Halloween pumpkin because I can never think of Salem without thinking of Halloween 🙂 

Pumpkin Pie Steamer

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Ingredients
I cup milk
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree, (homemade or canned)
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mix*
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
whipped cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Place the milk, pumpkin and spice mix into a blender and blend until smooth and combined.
Pour into a small saucepan.
Whisk over medium heat until warm.
Add the maple syrup and keep whisking until the milk is simmering but not boiling
Poor into a heatproof cup and top with whipped cream if desired.

*Pumpkin pie spice mix is a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and sometimes allspice.

This is my version:
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Mix the spices together in a small bowl.
Store unused spice mix in a spice container or small jar.

You can experiment with your own version but cinnamon should be the dominant spice.

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White Solstice

The Summer Solstice in the southern hemisphere this year falls on Friday the 22nd of December at 3:28am. On the Summer Solstice, the sun reaches its zenith – its highest point in the sky. It is our longest day of the year.

As part of my summer celebrations, I went to a berry picking farm to load up on fresh berries. I bought enough to enjoy a few days worth of fresh berries and plenty to freeze for the rest of the year. As I was about to pay, I saw some strange white berries on the counter and asked what they were. They were whitecurrants. The staff said you could eat them just like that but that most people bought them to make sauces with. I’ve eaten redcurrants, but never whitecurrants, so I bought a punnet to see what they would be like.

On the drive home I started thinking of how I was going to use them. I was originally going to make a whitecurrant version of a redcurrant sauce, maybe with a bit of apple or apple juice. But when I tasted a few fresh ones, I quickly changed my mind. These tiny berries packed a punch with a tart sharpness mellowed by only a hint of sweetness. My first thought after tasting them was they would go great with gin and tonic! I immediately started thinking of the many ways I could play with a gin, tonic and whitecurrant combination. After a little experimenting and the addition of apple juice, I came up with a surprisingly delicious and refreshing concoction – perfect for the Summer Solstice.

White Currant Gin and Tonic

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Ingredients
3/4 cup whitecurrants, stems removed
3/4 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup gin
tonic water

Instructions
Place the whitecurrants and apple juice in a blender and blend until smooth.
Strain into a jug.
Stir in the maple syrup.
Divide the gin between two glasses.
Pour the juice evenly over the gin.
Top up with tonic water to taste.

Hot & Cold Lemonade

As winter slowly moves into spring, the weather in Melbourne goes topsy turvy. Yesterday was so warm and sunny I was wearing a teeshirt and sandals. This morning I’m rugged up in pyjamas and a dressing gown, listening to the rain pouring outside. That’s change of season time in Melbourne – and I love it!

Last week I celebrated the last nights of winter by visiting the Queen Victoria Winter Night Market. I was pretty excited as there were so many new food stalls and some of them had food I could eat!

I started with dessert because it’s one of the safest food groups 🙂 for me due to my allergies and sensitivities. (Also the queue was short and I had a feeling it would get longer.) I wasn’t disappointed with my huge serve of apple crumble with granola topping served with custard and ice cream.

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I wasn’t really looking for a drink but a stall selling hot buttered lemonade caught my eye.
Butter in lemonade? I just had to try it. It was as I suspected – fresh lemonade mixed with butter and a surprise hint of cinnamon and it was divine. The butter added a creamy element to the drink and helped balance the sweet acidity of the lemons. I loved that it was served hot. Excited at the new food on offer I continued my culinary journey.

As I wandered the food stalls I stopped and drooled at one serving polenta. A mound of soft, piping hot polenta was just waiting to be scooped up and topped with a choice of delicious accompaniments. My mouth watered as I wondered if any of the toppings had chilli or tomato. And then I saw them; fried polenta chips. My choice was made and my order quickly placed. As I bit into the crispy crust I was rewarded with a mouthful of that soft, creamy polenta. The dipping sauce of lemon myrtle mayonnaise paired beautifully with my buttered lemonade. It was a wonderful way to enjoy the last of our winter nights.

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I couldn’t get the hot buttered lemonade out of my mind so I just had to make some myself. I decided to make another one of my favourite lemonades – pink lemonade – and then turn it into a hot buttered lemonade. The recipe below makes about 3 cups of lemonade so you can have some cold and some hot – just like Melbourne weather!

Pink Lemonade
Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed ruby grapefruit juice

Instructions
Place the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan.
Heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Remove from heat. Set aside.
Pour the remaining 1 + 1/2 cups water, lemon juice and cranberry juice into a jug.
Stir in the sugar syrup.
Place in the refrigerator and chill before serving.

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Buttered Pink Lemonade
Ingredients
1 teaspoon butter (or to taste)*
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup Pink Lemonade

Instructions
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
Add the cinnamon stick and juice.
Stir until the juice is cloudy and hot.
Pour into a mug or heatproof glass.

*my drink was quite buttery so you may want to experiment with the amount of butter and tailor it to your taste 🙂

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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Horsey New Year!

What if I told you you could ring in the New Year with a Zombie Horse! For those of us of a gothic persuasion, the spirit of the New Year cannot be embodied in a better form than that of the Welsh Mari Lwyd. Mari Lwyd, or Y Fari Lwyd in Welsh, translates as Grey Mare or Grey Mary. Mari Lwyd is a horse that comes back from the dead in the guise of a horse’s skull decorated in ribbons and mounted on a pole. A white sheet is attached to the pole hiding both the pole and the person carrying the Spooky Hobby Horse.

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Mari Lwyd and her gang of followers engage in Hobby Horse Hijinks by travelling from house to house trying to gain entry. They do this by singing and engaging in a battle of riddles. The occupants refuse entry in song and riddles. The banter continues until the occupants relent and allow Mari Lywd inside, where she is rewarded with food and drink. It is lucky to allow the Grey Mare entry as she brings good luck to the occupants for the New Year.

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If Mari Lywd comes knocking on your door New Year’s Eve, you can try offering the Zombie Horse some horsey based food and drink. Devils on Horseback sound like an appropriate treat. My two versions of the popular canapé feature dates and prunes stuffed with blue cheese wrapped in prosciutto and dates and prunes stuffed with dark chocolate wrapped in bacon.

Devils On Horseback

Ingredients
12 dates, pitted
12 prunes, pitted

for the blue cheese devils
100g blue cheese
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
12 thin slices of prosciutto

for the chocolate devils
12 squares of 70% dark chocolate,
6 strips of bacon, halved crosswise

Instructions
Preheat oven to 230C / 450F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Place the blue cheese in a small bowl. Add the pepper and mash until combined.
Fill 6 dates and 6 prunes with an equal amount of cheese.
Wrap each one tightly with a slice of prosciutto.
Secure with a toothpick.
Fill remaining dates and prunes with a piece of chocolate.
Wrap each one tightly with a slice of bacon.
Secure with a toothpick.
Place on prepared trays and bake for about 10 minutes or until the prosciutto and bacon are crispy. Turn over once, halfway through cooking time.
Serve warm.

What better way to wash done these tasty snacks than with a horsey cocktail 🙂 I thought of making a Moscow Mule, but chose a less known drink called a Horse’s Neck. I think it is the perfect drink for a horse whose head is balanced on a stick!

Horse’s Neck Cocktail

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Ingredients
Ice
25ml whisky
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Spiral of lemon peel
Ginger ale

Instructions
Fill a highball glass with ice.
Pour the whisky over the ice.
Add the bitters and lemon peel.
Top up with ginger ale.

Omit the lemon peel and you have a variation on the Horse’s Neck cocktail called a Horse Feather cocktail.

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