halloween

Halloween Down Under

A burst of fallen bamboo leaves decorate my backyard in a swirl of autumn colours. Their dry brittleness holds a promise of the winter to come. This is my favourite time of the year. There are still sunny days and warm patches of sun during the day but the long, hot Australian summer is finally over. The coolness of autumn has arrived and with it Halloween, my favourite Sabbat.

April 30th is Halloween Down Under. It is a night when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest. Halloween is the night when the dead wait between the worlds, ready to visit their loved ones. 

There are many ways to welcome and honour the dead on Halloween. I wait until the sun begins to set and shadows of darkness shroud the coming night. I set an empty plate for the dead at my table. Late in the evening I light a black candle and do a tarot reading. I end the evening with food and drink. I leave a small offering on the table for any lingering spirits to enjoy before blowing out the candle and going to bed. Sometimes I have strange dreams. In the morning I pack everything up and try and do something fun and life affirming. 

So what will I be serving this Halloween? We don’t get trick or treaters in April as most people celebrate Halloween on October 31st. So in honour of these absent door knockers, I thought I would make Trick or Treat Pumpkin Pies. Half of them have a savoury filling and the other half are sweet. You won’t know what you are getting until you bite them!

Trick or Treat Pumpkin Pies

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Ingredients
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten

for the rosemary pies
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried rosemary

for the pumpkin spice pies
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Divide the pumpkin into two bowls.
Mix the salt and rosemary into one portion of pumpkin and the sugar and spices into the other. 
Using a 6cm (2.25 inch) cookie cutter* cut pastry into 16 rounds.
Place half the pastry rounds on the prepared trays.
Place 2 teaspoons of pumpkin filling on each round.
Cut eyes and mouths out of remaining rounds.
Cover filling with these rounds.
Gently press the edges together to seal the pies.
Press edges together with a fork to create a decorative edge.
Brush tops with beaten egg. 
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until pastry becomes golden and is cooked on the bottom.
Place on a wire rack to cool.

*I used a pumpkin shaped cookie cutter

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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.

By The Light Of A Scorpion Moon

Halloween falls between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. As an Autumn festival, many Australian Pagans and Witches celebrate Halloween on the 30th of April. I’m a bit of a traditionalist so I celebrate Halloween on the 30th of April AND the 31st of October. One Halloween a year is never enough!

April 30th is also Walpurgis Night – a night when spirits walk the Earth and witches are thought to fly through the night skies on their way to various celebrations. Bram Stoker hauntingly invokes the spirit of Walpurgis Night in Dracula’s Guest, his short but compelling prequel to the novel Dracula. This quote by Stoker always sends a delightful chill down my spine:  

“Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.”

Bram Stoker was born in the sign of Scorpio so it’s not surprising he wrote so beautifully of hidden secrets and creatures of the night.

To add more magic, mystery and a touch of Stoker to April 30 activities in Australia, a Full Moon in Scorpio will be shining upon our festivities.

After an evening of celebrating Halloween, Walpurgis Night and a Scorpion Full Moon, I can think of no better way to end my evening than with a bowl of soul warming soup. Pumpkins and apples are traditional Halloween fare and I never say no to a good drop of alcohol, either in a glass or in my soup!

Pumpkin & Apple Cider Soup

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Ingredients
1kg butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into cubes 
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup apple cider
cream for serving

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
Place the pumpkin into a baking pan.
Add the oil, rosemary and salt.
Toss until combined.
Bake for 30 minutes or until cooked.
While the pumpkin is baking, prepare the soup.
Heat the butter in a large saucepan.
Add the celery and cook until soft but not browned.
Stir in the apples.
Pour in the stock and apple cider.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat to a simmer.
Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until the apple is cooked.
Add the roasted pumpkin to the soup.
Blend the soup with a stick blender until smooth.
Pour into bowls and serve with a splash of cream.

A Halloween Baker’s Dozen

For my Halloween pumpkin donuts I adapted a recipe for cinnamon cake donuts to include pumpkin puree. By adding pumpkin puree and increasing the amount of flour, I knew that my original recipe for 12 donuts would now make more. What to do with the extra batter? I hate just throwing things out so I thought of piping extra donuts onto baking paper and seeing what happened. Then it hit me – I could do a baker’s dozen. Not a conventional baker’s dozen but a quirky version that would produce 12 pumpkin donuts and one large pumpkin cupcake!

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The term a “baker’s dozen” is commonly used in reference to a group of 13. As the name suggests, the origin of this term comes from the world of baking. Bread has alway been an important product and since ancient times there have been some bakers who have tried to cheat their customers. Consequently there were heavy punishments for those who were caught. In a bid to avoid accidentally selling underweight goods, bakers would often add an extra loaf or loaves free of charge. A baker’s dozen specifically relates to the buying of 12 items that are the same and receiving an extra 13th one for free.

What does the number 13 have to do with Halloween? Well Halloween is celebrated on October 31 which is 13 reversed! Most appropriately, both days are related to the Death tarot card which is number 13. If you celebrate Halloween in the southern hemisphere the date is the 30th of April so it’s not linked to either Friday the 13th or the Death card. However, the number 3 is linked to the concept of Birth, Life, Death so there’s still a deathly link to both Halloweens. And I’m happy about that as I celebrate both of them!

I would like to thank fellow blogger Christine for getting my creative juices flowing with her post Fun on Friday the 13th. Her post reminded me of the link between Friday the 13th and Halloween and inspired me to make my pumpkin baker’s dozen 🙂

Pumpkin Donuts

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Special Equipment
12 hole non-stick mini donut pan
1 silicone jumbo sized muffin liner (you could use a similar sized ramekin or mug lined with baking paper)

Ingredients
For the donuts
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup (70g) unsalted butter, melted
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup caster sugar

For the cinnamon topping
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
1/3 cup (70g) unsalted butter, melted

Instructions
Preheat oven to 170C / 340F.
In a small bowl mix together the milk, egg, vanilla, pumpkin puree and melted butter, set aside.
In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Stir to combine.
Make a well in the centre.
Pour in the wet ingredients and, using a wooden spoon, mix until smooth.
Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle.
Pipe mixture into donut pan filling each donut to just below the halfway mark. (Keep the remaining batter for the cupcake.)
Bake donuts for 10 – 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.
Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes.
While donuts are cooling, mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Dunk donuts in melted butter then roll in cinnamon sugar mixture.
You can eat them warm or cold.

Pumpkin Cupcake

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Instructions
Once donuts are baked, increase oven temperature to 180C / 350F.
Pour remaining batter into muffin liner.
Bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Pumpkin Frosting
Ingredients
60g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
60g (1/4 cup) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon icing sugar

Instructions
Beat together the butter and cream cheese.
Beat in the pumpkin until combined.
Stir in the sugar.
Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if desired.
Pipe onto cupcake.

If there is any left over frosting you can dollop some on the donuts or just eat it with a spoon.

A Silent Supper

It’s funny what things will make you miss someone close to you who has died. For me it’s usually something happy, something I want to share with that special person, but now I can’t. In The Austen Tea Room I wrote about someone close who had just passed away. What I didn’t say was that it was my mother. Her death was still too raw. The words couldn’t be said. Burying her on the morning of New Year’s Eve meant I was starting the new year without her. It’s shaping up as one hell of a great year. And it’s the first year I can’t share with my mum.

The wheel has spun its way back to Halloween in the Southern Hemisphere. With all the fun of trick-or-treaters and dressing up, sometimes we forget the true meaning of Halloween which is honouring the dead. This April 30th I will visit my mother’s grave and take some of her favourite foods to share with her. I’ll then be going to The Austen Tea Room for an afternoon High Tea. For the evening I thought I would do something very different – a Silent Supper – which is a meal that is eaten in silence to honour the dead.

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There are many ways to hold a Silent Supper. You can have a solitary meal or invite friends and family. It can be as simple as eating something in silent contemplation or you can go all out and do a formal ritual with a formal dinner included. Some even suggest cooking the food in silence too.

While there are no real rules or directions, there are a few things to think about when hosting a Silent Supper. A place should be set at the head of the table for the departed loved ones you are honouring. You can drape the seat in a white or black cloth. Before you bring out the food, light a candle and place it on the table near the setting for the departed. The meal should include some of their favourite foods. Starting the supper around midnight is a nice touch. While you eat your silent meal, think about those that have passed.

When I think about my mother I always think of Demeter and Persephone. The bond between mother and daughter is beautifully expressed by these two Goddesses. My mother and I saw ourselves in their myth. She was Demeter as mother – good, bad and smothering. I was the daughter Persephone who left Demeter’s realm as a young girl to find a place for myself in the Underworld with Hades. Over the years I returned often to visit my mum. We shared both good times and bad times.

As the years went by I knew that my mother’s time here was drawing to a close. Finally, with very little warning, my mum passed into the realm of Persephone and Hades. I hope she likes the Underworld as much as I do.

In remembrance of my mother I will be making coliva for Halloween. Coliva is a boiled wheat dish that is traditionally prepared for services that honour the dead. There are many things you can add to the coliva but I prefer a simple fruit and nut mix. I particularly like adding pomegranate seeds so that the symbols for Demeter (wheat) and Persephone (pomegranate) can be united again in this sacred dish.

Coliva

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Ingredients
1/2 cup wheat berries
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup vanilla sugar
1/2 a pomegranate, seeded
icing sugar for dusting
cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Rinse the wheat berries and place in a large saucepan.
Add the salt and enough water to cover the berries by about 5 centimetres.
Bring to the boil over medium heat.
Stir occasionally to ensure the berries do not stick to the bottom.
During the cooking process, check to make sure the water has not dropped to a level where the berries cannot float.
Cook for 1 – 2 hours or until the berries are tender but not mushy.
Drain and spread out onto baking paper to dry for a few hours.
When the berries are dry, place in a bowl and mix through the walnuts, sesame seeds, ground cinnamon, vanilla sugar and pomegranate seeds, keeping a few pomegranate seeds in reserve.
Transfer to a serving platter and form into a mound.
Sift icing sugar over the top and decorate with reserved pomegranate seeds.
Serve with a dollop of cream if desired.

A Game Of Love And Death

There are eight seasonal festivals that many witches and Pagans celebrate. Three of them are really well known – Yule, Easter and Halloween. Yule and Easter fall around the Summer Solstice and the Spring Equinox. They have been overlaid by a veneer of Christianity and so are celebrated in many different ways across the globe. Halloween falls between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. It too has been overlaid by many cultural veneers but has stubbornly remained Pagan. From its ghoulish iconography to its impish games, there is no mistaking that Halloween is a time for remembering, honouring and fearing the dead.

Last week I discussed the issue of flipping northern hemisphere festivals to fit with southern hemisphere seasons. For a moment I fell into step with my witchy compatriots. Beltane, a fertility festival with a special emphasis on love and unions, was calling. For the first time since I became a solitary witch I was considering celebrating Beltane on October 31st. But a few things happened that flipped me back to Halloween.

As I was perusing the shelves at my local craft beer shop I saw a can of beer that really called to me – a saison named Persephone! When I saw the name, and the Grecian inspired artwork, I just had to have it. The beer is flavoured with balsamic, grapefruit, pink pepper and, not surprisingly, pomegranate. But what really interested me was that saison is French for season. I didn’t know that. The label told the story of Persephone’s journey and how her love of pomegranates bound her to the Underworld and to a seasonal dance of Love and Death with her husband Hades. I can think of no better drink than a saison for Persephone.

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I chose to drink my Persephone saison while finishing a book recommended to me by my friend and cupcake conspirator Anne Belov. Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love and Death is an extraordinary tale featuring the anthropomorphic characters of Love and Death. Each chooses a human player that will represent them in a game. The human players don’t know they have been chosen. Love and Death then manipulate the lives of their players to see if they will choose each other or go their separate ways. Choose Love and the game ends, choose Death and you end! One of the intriguing questions in the book is if we didn’t have Death, would we Love as deeply? Does knowing that Death is our final destination inspire us to Love more fully? Another fascinating aspect is the relationship between Love and Death. Are they enemies or are they two halves of the same coin? You’ll have to read the book to find out 🙂

This October 31st I will be celebrating Halloween. I can’t resist the siren call of the Halloweeny paraphernalia surrounding me! But I won’t be forgetting Beltane. Although I have symbolically chosen to celebrate a festival of Death over a celebration of Love, I will also be thinking of my fellow witches down under who will be leaping over bonfires to promote fertility and dancing around a maypole in November. As for me, this Halloween I will begin a new round of my own seasonal game of Love and Death.

Coeur a la Creme

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Love and Death unite in this decadent heart of cream bathed in pomegranate juice and scattered with fragrant pomegranate seeds.

Ingredients
125g mascarpone
125g ricotta cheese
300ml double cream
1/3 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pomegranate, juice and seeds

Method
Beat mascarpone and ricotta with an electric mixer until smooth.
Add cream, sugar and vanilla and mix lightly.
Line coeur a la creme moulds* with muslin that has been moistened with water and wrung out. Make sure there is enough overhang to cover the top of the mixture. Pour mixture into moulds and cover the top with muslin. Place on a cooling rack over a baking tray and leave in fridge to drain overnight.
Unmould onto serving dishes and decorate with fresh pomegranate juice and seeds.
To prepare pomegranate, cut the fruit in half and squeeze into a bowl. Separate the juice and seeds. Pour as much juice and scatter as many seeds over the coeur a la creme as you like.

*Coeur a la creme moulds are heart shaped ceramic moulds with holes for drainage. They are difficult to get so there are a number of ways to achieve the desired heart shape without them: 
1) You can buy a heart shaped silicone cake pan or mini cake pans and make holes in the bottom with a skewer.
2) You can leave the mixture in a muslin bag to drain overnight then place in a heart shaped mould or moulds before serving.
The important thing is that the cream mixture is allowed to drain overnight before shaping.

A Kimchi For All Seasons

As the wheel spins toward Halloween, I’m thinking about the Pagan festival I usually don’t celebrate – Beltane. It’s not that I don’t like Beltane, it’s just that it happens to fall on Halloween. In the topsy turvy world of the southern/northern hemispheres, Pagan holidays are reversed. As the classic festivals were celebrated in the northern hemisphere, those of us in the southern hemisphere can feel a bit out of place. Do we celebrate Yule in December or June? Halloween in October or April?

As the festivals are based on the seasons, it makes sense to simply reverse the holidays down under. I do this for seven out of the eight classic seasonal celebrations, but when it comes to Halloween, I celebrate it twice! It hasn’t bothered me before. As a vampire loving goth, I love celebrating this spooky holiday twice a year. But as I went for my usual walks down my local streets, I felt the draw of Beltane deep in my bones. While alternating between keeping my eyes up for swooping magpies and eyes down for passing snakes, I was inspired by all the animal life coming out to enjoy our Spring. So now I am in a quandary. Do I celebrate Halloween, Beltane or both next week? I’m not sure, but I am certainly getting signs that paying attention to seasons is very important! Which brings me to kimchi 🙂

Ever since I heard about Korea’s national dish I have wanted to try it. Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish, famous for its rich red colour and its spiciness. Unfortunately, one of the key spices is chilli, which I am allergic to. It was only after talking to a friend well versed in kimchi, that I discovered white kimchi, a type of kimchi that doesn’t have chilli. Armed with a copy of The Kimchi Cookbook: 60 Traditional and Modern Ways to Make and Eat Kimchi (Lauryn Chun), I began exploring the world of white kimchi.

Apart from the different types of vegetables that could be used, the different seasonings and the different types of fermentation processes, what I also learned was that there are different kimchi for different seasons. I considered making a Spring kimchi but was more drawn to the Autumn offerings. You just can’t take the Halloween out of me 🙂 So while I still don’t know what festival I will be celebrating next week I do know one thing – I’ll be contemplating my dilemma over a bowl of refreshing Autumnal kimchi.

Apple, Pear, and Cabbage Water Kimchi with Fennel in Clear Broth

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Ingredients
450g wombok (napa) cabbage
2 tablespoons sea salt
1 medium nashi pear
1 medium fuji apple
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons sugar
4 cups cold water
1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced

Instructions
Cut the cabbage in half.
Cut the core out of the cabbage then cut into 5cm pieces.
Wash the cabbage thoroughly.
Mix together the cabbage and salt in a large bowl. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Peel and core the pear and apple.
Cut into quarters or thick slices. I do a combination of the two.
In a food processor, puree together the onion, garlic and ginger.
Place the pureed mixture into a large bowl.
Add the sugar and water and stir well.
Add the cabbage with the brining mixture.
Add the pear, apple and fennel and mix together.
Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate.
Use within 1 month.

This is my first attempt at kimchi. It came out rather salty and I’m not sure if that’s how it is meant to taste. I’ve taken a small batch out and added extra water. I’ll see how that goes. I’ve also read that adding radish slices can cut down on the saltiness. However, the apples and pears work well with the saltiness. Am happy for any tips or advice on my kimchi journey 🙂

A Trio Of Celebrations

This Saturday 30th of April is a very special night. There are three celebrations happening. Two are annual events – Walpurgis Night and Beltane/Halloween. The other is Orthodox Easter Eve. As Easter is a Moveable Feast, it is not always celebrated on April 30th. The fact that it falls on this special night this year makes for a very powerful Saturday eve! As I will be celebrating Halloween, I thought I would explore Walpurgis Night as it has always had a Halloween feel for me.

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Walpurgis Night is also known as Witches’ Night. It is the night when witches are thought to fly to the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz mountain range and the highest peak in Northern Germany. There they will light a great bonfire and celebrate the coming Spring with singing, dancing and feasting. Sounds good to me! What also sounds good to me is the name Walpurgis. It has such a witchy feel to it. And it would have to, seeing as it is the name of a witchy holiday, wouldn’t it? Well, not really. Walpurgis Night is not so much witchy as it is holy.

Walpurgis Night is named after Saint Walpurga, a female, English missionary. She was born in Devonshire in 710 and spent her early years in an abbey where she was educated by the nuns. She wrote a biography about her brother and also wrote in Latin about his travels through Palestine. She is often called Germany and England’s first female writer. She was an exceptionally educated women for the times. She died on February 25th, 777 or 779 and was canonised on the 1st of May, 870. So why is she connected to a witches holiday? I’m not really sure but I can make a couple of guesses.

What is interesting about Saint Walpurga is that her offical Catholic feast day is celebrated on the day of her death, February 25th but her more popular celebration is on the day of her canonisation, May 1st. Was celebrating Walpurgis Night on the eve of her canonisation a ploy by Christians to take over the pagan holiday of Beltane? It’s not like that wasn’t done before with Xmas and Easter. It seems to make sense, as Witches’ Night and Beltane have many things in common, not the least which are their welcoming of the coming Spring. But why not chose one of the many Saints who is actually celebrated on May 1st, rather than Saint Walpurga? Again, I’m not sure. Perhaps they wanted a female Saint to represent the Goddess of Spring. But it wouldn’t be the first time a powerful and educated woman was associated with witches!

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Another reason I love Walpurgis Night is Dracula. Yes, Dracula has a connection to Witches’ Night 🙂 Dracula’s Guest, the prequel to the novel Dracula, is set on Walpurgis Night. It is on this night that Jonathan encounters a female vampire – the Countess Dolingen of Gratz. He survives the encounter, thanks to Dracula, who wants Jonathan all to himself! I could never forget this haunting description:

“Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.”

This brilliant prequel is the inspiration for the High Priestess card in my Dracula Tarot deck.

Priestess

The Countess Dolingen of Gratz

In honour of the pagan bonfires that will be burning in both the southern and northern hemispheres I would like to share a recipe for one of my favourites treats. It is known by many names such as honeycomb, hokey pokey, sea foam and puff candy but my favourite name for it is cinder toffee 🙂 Nothing conjures up the power and heat of a bonfire than the heady smell of almost burning sugar as it is slowly caramelises and darkens. And what could be more exciting than the alchemical change that happens when baking powder is added to that amber liquid!

Cinder Toffee

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Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 + 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

Method
Line a baking pan, approximately 25cmx30cm, with baking paper.
Place sugar, water, honey and golden syrup in a deep, heavy based saucepan.
Place the saucepan on low heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat to a gentle boil.
Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the mixture turns golden brown. Be careful not to burn the mixture as it can heat up very quickly.
To check if it is ready, drop a small amount of syrup into a cold glass of water. If the syrup becomes brittle it is ready.
Remove the pan from the heat. Add the bicarbonate of soda and whisk vigorously, being very careful as the mixture will bubble up.
Pour mixture quickly into the prepared pan.
Allow to cool before breaking into pieces.

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”.

IMG_0227

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.

Remembering Halloween

As the Northern Hemisphere winds its way towards Halloween I cannot help but get caught up in all the excitement. As a Southern Hemisphere Witch I should be getting ready for Beltane, but I can’t. There’s just something about Halloween in October that feels so right for me – especially now that more Australians are celebrating!

flying witch - one of the houses near me has gone all out in decorations

flying witch – one of the houses near me has gone all out in decorations

When I was growing up I was one of the few Aussie kids that really loved Halloween. As a big fan of Bewitched, I looked forward to their Halloween specials. I always wished we celebrated it more here. There were some Aussies who held Halloween Parties but the spirit of the holiday just wasn’t there. You didn’t see streets filled with Trick or Treaters that I would see in the American shows.  And each year I lamented the lack of Halloween paraphernalia available in the stores. In the 80’s, a friend came back from a trip to England and surprised me by bringing back a whole heap of Halloween souvenirs for me! I was so happy 🙂

death by a thousand toothpicks - voodoo doll toothpick holder

death by a thousand toothpicks – voodoo doll toothpick holder

It’s been about 30 years since I received my coveted Halloween haul and happily things have changed. Now, when I walk into a store in October, I See Dead Things! Halloween decorations delight my eyes and Halloween candies make my mouth water. I know there will be Trick or Treaters coming to my door so I’ve stocked up on chocolate treats including an “emergency” pack of mini Turkish Delight Chocolates in case I run out. They’re really for me, as I don’t think many children actually like Turkish Delight, and I love them.

chocolate skeleton in Las Vegas, USA - where they really know how to celebrate Halloween!

chocolate skeleton in Las Vegas, USA – where they really know how to celebrate Halloween!

Some say that the acceptance and participation by Australians in Halloween festivities highlights the commercialisation of the holiday, others argue it symbolises the Americanisation of Australian culture, I just think about bloody time! While, the commercialisation of holidays to sell products is definitely a reason for Halloween gaining popularity, and Australia is also heavily influenced by American culture, it is important to remember that Halloween is not a traditionally American holiday but a Celtic one. Although America has made Halloween what it is today – and I thank them for that 🙂 It is ironic that a country so identified with Christianity has kept one of the most Pagan holidays alive and has spread its popularity throughout the world.

witchy cup and saucer - souvenir from Iceland

witchy cup and saucer – souvenir from Iceland

So when I think of Halloween becoming popular in Australia I don’t think of it as rampant commercialism, nor an Americanisation of our culture, but rather as a subtle re-Paganising of the world. Behind all the costumes and sweets is a memory of what this holiday is all about and who first started it – Pagans and Witches! We have been tortured and vilified throughout the centuries and our rituals and holidays appropriated by others. But Halloween is one holiday that has remained stubbornly Pagan.

So whatever you are doing this Halloween just remember that from the ashes of the fires we witches are returning, one cackle at a time!

witches convention? no just some broomsticks lined up at the panda reserve in Chengdu, China

witches convention? no just some broomsticks lined up at the panda reserve in Bifengxia, China

And now for a Halloween recipe 🙂

trick or treat?

trick or treat?

Coffin Bread

A variation on the aptly named Taiwanese street food filled with cauliflower soup, served with pomegranate molasses and garlic croutons.

Ingredients

for the coffin bread
1 small rectangular loaf of bread (approximately L 15cm, W 10cm, H 10cm)
olive oil

for the garlic croutons
leftover bread pieces from the coffin bread
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch of sea salt

for the soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons plain flour
3 cups chicken stock
450g cauliflower florets
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
pomegranate molasses for drizzling

Method

Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut a lid off the top of the bread.
Cut out most of the bread inside, creating a basket to hold the filling.
Lightly brush outside and inside the bread and lid with olive oil.
Place bread basket on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden on the inside.
While bread basket is cooking make the croutons by tearing up the leftover pieces of bread and placing in a bowl with the garlic, olive oil and salt. Toss through and place on an oven tray with the bread lid. Bake in the oven with the bread basket until golden.
The lid and croutons may cook quicker than the basket so check and remove when ready.
When bread basket is cooked, place on a serving plate. If the soup isn’t ready yet, switch off the oven but leave the bread in the oven to keep warm.
Make the soup while the bread is baking by melting the butter in a large saucepan.
Add the onion and cook until softened.
Mix in the flour and the chicken stock, stir until combined.
Add the cauliflower and salt.
Simmer for 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft and cooked.
Puree the soup then return to the saucepan.
Simmer gently until the bread and croutons are cooked.
Pour the soup into the bread basket.
Drizzle with pomegranate molasses.
Serve the bread lid and croutons on the side.