imbolc

The Coffin List

No, this isn’t some macabre list of dead people, or people on my hit list. Nor is it a review of coffins. The coffin list is my name for a bucket list. I don’t like buckets – they remind me of work – but I do like coffins 🙂 To celebrate Imbolc, the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, I thought I would do some early spring cleaning and explore my coffin list.

I always hated having a list of things to do before I die, so I never made a coffin list. But when I had a few health scares in my mid thirties, I took time to look at my life and see if there was anything I really wanted to do. Only one thing came to mind – visit Romania. A diet of vampire mythology from a young age meant I was entranced by Transylvania – the land beyond the forest. I realised I would actually be sad if I never visited. So, for my fortieth birthday, I made the trip to Romania. You can read about this memorable trip in “An Archetypal Homeland” and “In the Footsteps of Jonathan Harker“.

Emboldened by having put a nail in the coffin of my first and only coffin list dream, I thought I would add Whitby to the list. Whitby is an English seaside town in Yorkshire and a major inspiration for Bram Stoker when he was writing his novel “Dracula.” I planned to go there for my fiftieth birthday as part two of my Dracula adventure. That birthday has come and gone and sadly I didn’t get to Whitby, but it’s still on my list!

Happily I did mange to hammer three very important nails into my coffin list recently. This July my partner and I took a journey to the USA to visit a dear friend on Whidbey Island, celebrate July the 4th in Salem the Witch City and visit puffins in Maine. As a bonus, we also got to meet a baby sloth in Boston.

Over the next fews weeks I’ll be sharing this exciting trip with you including recipes inspired from my travels.

For now I would like to share an earlier recipe of mine for Coffin Bread. I think it is most appropriate for a Coffin List post 🙂

Coffin Bread

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Ingredients
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

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

Method
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Make the soup 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.
Make the coffin bread while the soup is simmering.
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.
Pour the soup into the bread basket.
Drizzle with pomegranate molasses.
Serve the bread lid and croutons on the side.

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Following The Sun

Monday August 1st is Imbolc in the southern hemisphere. It is the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Traditionally it is the first day of spring. Even though winter is still in full swing, the promise of the sun returning is awakened on Imbolc.

To celebrate the return of the sun I thought I would explore a solar symbol – the sunflower. Sunflowers are of the genus Helianthus, named after Helios, the Greek God of the Sun. While they are growing, young sunflower buds track the movement of the sun from east to west. This is called heliotropism. Once they bloom, sunflowers generally face east – the direction of the rising sun. For me sunflowers symbolise a beautiful solar dance and are a symbol for the impending return of the summer sun.

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Sunflowers are also an important food crop. Sunflower seeds and sunflower oil can be used in many ways in cooking. I was tempted to make sunflower muesli bars but then I thought I would make one of my favourite desserts – baklava.

Sunflower Seed Baklava
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Ingredients
for the filling
1 cup hulled sunflowers seeds
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

for the pastry
125g unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
375g packet of filo pastry

for the syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Method
Place the sunflower seeds, pine nuts and walnuts into a food processor or blender. Process until finely chopped.
Add the sugar and cinnamon and mix until just combined.
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Generously brush the bottom and sides of a baking tray with melted butter.
Unroll the filo onto a chopping board. Cut the whole stack to fit your baking dish.
To prevent the pastry drying out, cover the filo sheets with a damp tea towel.
Working with one sheet at a time, place in the baking tray and brush with butter.
Repeat until roughly half of the sheets of filo have been buttered.
Spread the filling evenly over the top.
Place one sheet at a time over the top and brush with butter until they have all been used.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the pastry layers into square or diamond shapes.
Bake for 50 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crisp.
While the pastry is baking, make the syrup by placing the sugar, water, cinnamon and lemon juice in a small saucepan.
Bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Set aside to cool.
When the baklava is baked, pour the cool syrup over the top of the hot baklava.
Allow to soak for at least 5 hours.

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A Very Magical Weekend

I knew it was Imbolc weekend but I forgot it was also a Blue Moon.
To find out more about Imbolc and see my recipe for Grenadine Mulled Wine click here. To find out more about Blue Moons, read on 🙂

There are actually three different types of Blue Moons which I call Calendar Blue Moons,
Astrological Blue Moons and Seasonal Blue Moons.

A Calendar Blue Moon is when a second Full Moon occurs in the same calendar month. 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.

An Astrological Blue Moon is when a second Full Moon happens in the same Astrological Sign. Much like a calendar month, Astrological months are approximately four weeks in length. Astrological months begin and end around the 20th of each month. If an Astrological sign begins and ends with a Full Moon, the second Full Moon is a Blue Moon. This was the type of Blue Moon I was taught about in both my vampiric and witchy education and is the one I celebrate.

A Seasonal Blue Moon is when there is a fourth Full Moon in a seasonal cycle. I had never heard of this interpretation before and only discovered it whilst doing research for this blog. It is a bit more complex to work out. Basically there are four seasonal cycles in a year measured from Solstice to Equinox. Each cycle lasts three months and has three Full Moons. Occasionally there is a fourth Full Moon, but, surprisingly, it is the third Full Moon and not the fourth that is a Blue Moon!

The reason for this appears to be that the twelve Full Moons of the seasonal cycles have names and seasonal attributes such as the first Full Moon after the Solstice, the first Full Moon of the season and the first Full Moon before the Equinox. When a fourth Full Moon occurs in this cycle it throws off the order. I’m still not sure why it is the third and not the fourth Full Moon that is Blue. I’ll have to research that further.

To celebrate the Blue Moon I thought I would create a fun version of the retro cheese ball –
after all, isn’t the Moon made of cheese 🙂 There are no quantities, only ratios, so feel free to change it up how you like. Just make sure you use blue cheese and blue corn chips!

Blue Moon Cheese Ball

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Ingredients
2 parts cream cheese
1 part blue cheese
crushed blue maize corn chips

Instructions
Bring the cheeses to room temperature.
Mash together then form into balls. You can do one big ball or multiple bite sized balls. There are no set rules.
Roll in crushed corn chips.
Cover and refrigerate until set.
Serve with shots of blue agave Tequila.

Springing Into Action

Between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox falls Imbolc – the beginning of Spring. While there is debate about when to celebrate the first day of Spring, for many Pagans Imbolc is celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere on the first of August. There are still cold Winter days ahead, but the first signs of Spring are beginning to show. Imbolc is a time of celebrating the growing light and the return of life to Earth.

One of the best things to do to celebrate Spring is spring cleaning. One reason for a spring clean is that places that have long, cold Winters are often shut up during Winter and become stuffy and claustrophobic. This was especially true when heating consisted of coal or wood fires. But the ritual of spring cleaning has been around for a long time. Many cultures have spring cleaning rituals which consist of giving the house a top to bottom cleaning. These rituals are also symbolic of sweeping away built up negative energies and are an opportunity for us to explore our accumulated personal baggage. Spring is a time to throw open the physical and metaphorical windows and shine a light on all our dark, hidden corners!

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In Australia, August is the perfect time to spring clean our backyards in preparation for snake and bushfire season. While we don’t have long, cold winters our homes can still be stuffy so a good clean might be needed. Those of us with flatulent French Bulldogs really appreciate being able to crack open the windows and let in some fresh air! Spring is also a perfect time for de-cluttering. But the most important part of spring cleaning for me is personal introspection and spiritual de-cluttering. Our psyches can certainly benefit from a yearly re-evaluation and spring clean.

For me, Imbolc heralds the return of snakes and Persephone. Both snakes and Persephone are mythologically considered chthonic – that is they spend part of their yearly life underground or in the Underworld. While snakes never completely hibernate in Australia they are less active or visible during winter. As the weather warms snakes slowly awake from their slumber and begin their re-entrance into the upper world. As the weather warms and the season slowly turns from Winter to Spring, Persephone also begins her ascent from the Underworld.

Like snakes and Persephone I like to have a Winter hibernation where I take a break from the world and draw my energies into myself. Sadly I didn’t manage to have a break this year but I still managed some sort of hibernation and introspection. Armed with my trusty Tarot cards I have spent many late evenings in Winter watching the Sun go down and consulting my cards. I am so glad I did this as I recently needed all my personal development skills!

I was reminded of the importance of vigorous personal spring cleaning last weekend. At a family function I was saddened by the behaviour of some relatives who seemed to be re-living and acting out old family patterns – and not very enlightened or positive ones! I was taken back to not so pleasant childhood memories. For a moment I was thrown back into the Underworld and a darkness settled on my soul. Thankfully it didn’t last. But it did remind me that it is time for a spring clean! I think this year is going to be a BIG one!

I approach a spring clean in a systematic way. My approach is quite straightforward although going through each stage can be challenging.

First, I take some time to be away from my day to day activities.

I then take a long hard look at myself and ask the following questions:

  • Do I have any habitual ways of thinking that I don’t want to continue?
  • Have I gone back to any bad habits?
  • When I look at my own thinking and actions do they seem similar to ones that I don’t like in others?
  • Where am I fooling myself – what thoughts do I have that contradict my values?
  • Is there anything else that pops up that I should also clean out?

I then think about how I would like to be and I nurture the behaviours in myself that I like and respect.

At the end of all this “mulling” it seems only fair to relax with a nice mulled wine!

Grenadine Mulled Wine

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Delicious mulled wine with a Persephonian kick of pomegranate.

Ingredients

1 ruby red grapefruit
10 whole cloves
1/4 cup agave syrup
1/2 cup water
2 sticks cinnamon
1/4 cup grenadine
1 bottle of riesling or other white wine

Method

Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Stud the grapefruit with the cloves.
Place on a baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the grapefruit is soft.
While the grapefruit is baking place the agave syrup and water in a small saucepan on medium heat. Stir until combined. Add the cinnamon sticks and simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until the mixture becomes syrupy.
When ready, remove the grapefruit from the oven and place in a medium saucepan on low heat. Add the syrup, grenadine and wine. Cover and simmer, without boiling, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove grapefruit and cinnamon sticks.
Ladle into heatproof cups.

Any variety of grapefruit can be used in this recipe.
Grenadine is a syrup made from pomegranates.