oats

A Dark Beginning

The 8th of November will be Bram Stoker’s 170th birthday!

Count of Goblets

The Dracula Tarot

Famous for writing the gothic novel Dracula, Bram Stoker had an interesting start in life. Bram spent the first seven years of his childhood suffering from a mystery illness which left him mostly bedridden. During his long illness, Stoker spent much of of his time alone or being entertained by his mother Charlotte who loved to tell him stories, some of them quite scary. Stoker himself said that the time he spent bedridden as a child deeply influenced his future writing.

When I think of the young Bram and his illness, I think of Lucy Westenra and her battle with Dracula. I also think of Count Dracula himself, alone with his thoughts in his isolated castle far away in Transylvania. I wonder if Dracula would ever have been written if Stoker had not had such a challenging start to his life.

I sometimes imagine what the young Bram Stoker would have been fed during his ailment. I have many foods I go to for comfort and convalescence but one of favourites is porridge. I love rice porridges like congee, cornmeal porridges like mamaliga and classic oatmeal porridges.

Oats were an important crop in Ireland so Bram probably had a few porridges in his day. There are many ways I like to eat oatmeal, but when I’m thinking of Bram Stoker and vampires I like to serve my porridge with a good drizzle of black as night molasses and a dollop of cream 🙂

Steel-Cut Oats

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Ingredients
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup steel-cut oats*
molasses for drizzling
cream for dolloping

Instructions
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a saucepan.
Add the oats.
Stirring occasionally, cover and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes or until they achieve your desired level of chewiness.
Turn off the heat and allow to rest for 2 minutes.
Place oatmeal in a bowl.
Drizzle with molasses.
Add a good dollop of cream
Cover and refrigerate any leftover porridge. You can reheat it or have it cold.

*Steel-cut oats are known by a few names such as Irish oats, pinhead oats or coarse oatmeal.

A Cup Of Coffee Comfort

I spent International Coffee Day (October 1st) thinking about how important a warm cup of coffee can be at certain times. My partner and I had planned a short trip to South Australia hoping to visit Adelaide and Monarto zoos. It was our second trip to the zoos this year. We went early in the year to see the giant pandas and for this trip we had a few more encounters planned. We were expecting our giant and red panda encounters to be cancelled as it is mating season, what we weren’t expecting was to drive into the worst storms in South Australia in 50 years.

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Pandacino at Adelaide Zoo. That’s right, a cappuccino decorated to look like a giant panda!

We drove through torrential rain, losing complete visibility of the road for one terrifying moment because the rain was so heavy. All we could think of was getting to our hotel safely and having a hot coffee and a warm shower. But as we continued driving we could see, or maybe not see, that there were no lights. The entire state was experiencing a blackout! We arrived at our hotel in almost darkness and had to sign in via candlelight. It was romantic and gothic. Hungry and in desperate need of a comforting coffee we were told that there was no hot food and no hot drinks. I didn’t care about the food but I did care about the coffee! As I sat down to eat my ham and cheese sandwich I did the only thing I could – order a coffee liqueur 🙂 The power came on just as we got to our room so at least we could have warm showers. Even better, there was hot coffee for breakfast!

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My first coffee in Adelaide!

The rest of the trip was quite an adventure. The blackouts continued and all of our Adelaide zoo encounters were cancelled. Happily, we did get to hand feed rhinos at Monarto zoo. We even found a restaurant that had its own generator so we could have hot food, and most importantly, hot coffee 🙂

Next time I travel I think I’ll take some of this granola so I always have some coffee with me. Naturally it goes great with a hot coffee – when you can get one!

Coffee Granola

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Ingredients
1 + 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup cashews
2 teaspoons instant coffee
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg white

Method
Preheat oven to 150C / 300F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Mix together the oats, coconut, walnuts, cashews, coffee, salt, honey and oil in a large bowl until combined.
Whisk the egg white until frothy. Stir into the granola and mix until combined.
Spread mixture out onto prepared tray and bake for 50 – 55 minutes.
At the halfway point, remove the granola from the oven. Place a piece of baking paper over the granola and top with another baking tray. Carefully flip over so that the granola is now on the new tray, being careful not to break up the mixture too much.
Return to the oven and bake until granola is brown and dry to the touch.
Allow to cool completely before breaking up the granola into desired size clusters.
Store unused granola in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

You can try different combinations of nuts. I think macadamias, pistachios or brazil nuts would be great.

Evolving Oat Slice

When my friend Sue from New Zealand shared a recipe post on FB, I took one look at the Oaty Ginger Slice and knew I would be making it! The recipe is an adaption by Chelsea Winter, a past winner of MasterChef New Zealand, of a Jo Seagar recipe, a much loved New Zealand chef. Inspired by these talented women, I had to make my version of this classic treat 🙂

The oat base looked too good to mess with, so I followed the recipe exactly for that. While the ginger icing also looked delicious, I really wanted to make my stamp on the recipe so I went for a coffee icing. I replaced the golden syrup with maple syrup and the ground ginger with ground coffee. This is another great base for a recipe that you can add your own flavours and tweaks to 🙂

Coffee & Ginger Oat Slice

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Ingredients
for the oat slice
150g butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
3/4 cup plain flour, sifted
1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, sifted
1 + 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger, sifted
1 + 1/2 cups whole oats
3/4 cup desiccated coconut

for the coffee icing
150g butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon instant coffee
2 – 3 cups icing sugar, sifted

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 32cm x 22cm baking pan with baking paper.
Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir gently to combine. Once combined, remove from heat.
Stir in the flour, baking powder and ginger until combined.
Fold in the oats and coconut until combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, pressing into the sides.
Smooth the top with the back of a spoon.
Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until it reaches your preferred level of crunchiness*
Remove from the oven and leave in the pan while you make the icing.
Add the butter, maple syrup, coffee and 2 cups of icing sugar to a saucepan.
Stir over medium heat until melted.
If the mixture is too liquid and not coming together, slowly add more icing sugar, but no more than a cup. Stir until you have a smooth, pourable icing.
Pour warm icing over the warm slice.
Leave in the tin to cool then cut into slices.

* The longer you bake it the crunchier it gets but you don’t want it to be too crunchy to eat! You may have to bake a few to decide your optimum crunchiness.