sun-dried tomatoes

Red Panda Equinox

This year International Red Panda Day (IRPD) will be celebrated on Saturday, September 21st. IRPD was created by the Red Panda Network (RPN) and is celebrated every year on the third Saturday in September. RPN was created to promote the red panda and to find ways to fight for their survival, which is endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is part of this awareness campaign and is celebrated by zoos and individuals around the world with special events and red panda themed fun. Some zoos celebrate on different days, so check with your local zoo to see if they are doing anything and on what day. This year is the tenth celebration of IRPD.

70538221_1178587998995727_2330240012592873472_n

 

Depending on where you live, you also have an opportunity to celebrate either the Spring or Autumn Equinox. 

I’ll be celebrating the Spring or Vernal Equinox, which is a night of balance in which day and night are relatively equal. After the Spring Equinox the day wins ascendancy as longer nights are overtaken by longer days. The coming Spring brings a riot of colour, bird song and warmer weather. The return of bright hot days reminds me of the stunning colours of the red panda. The red panda boasts a striking mix of black, hot red, burning brown and bright white fur which are a great symbol for an Australian Spring and emerging Summer. Happily they are also the colours of Autumn. So whichever part of the world you are in, you can celebrate both red pandas and the Equinox!

70313528_690500471463870_7410112998548701184_n

 

Some fun facts about red pandas:

  • Red pandas were discovered 50 years before giant pandas.
  • The name “panda” was given to the red panda first and then later to the black and white panda. The word “panda” may be derived from a Nepalese word meaning “bamboo eater.”
  • Red pandas are sometimes referred to as the “lesser panda” in relation to the giant panda but there is a movement afoot – or apaw – that is calling for them to be called “the first panda” in acknowledgement that they were discovered and named first.
  • Red Pandas were once thought to be related to giant pandas but they are actually in a family of their own called Ailuridae. 
  • A nickname for the red panda is “firefox” which inspired the Firefox web browser to use them as their name and symbol.
  • They are solitary except during breeding season.
  • Red pandas are crepuscular meaning they are active in the early morning and late afternoon and are arboreal meaning they spend most of their time in trees.
  • Although they are classified as a carnivore, red pandas mainly eat bamboo, though they will occasionally eat fruit, berries, eggs, insects and small animals. Like the giant panda, red pandas have an extra thumb used for grabbing bamboo.
  • Red pandas have retractable claws like a cat and the soles of their paws are covered in fur.
  • They have “tear track” markings on their face which may protect their eyes from the sun.
  • When it gets really cold, red pandas can use their bushy tail as a blanket.
  • Red pandas are one of only a few animals that can climb down a tree head first.

69961204_2704503089833151_3347887338914054144_n
Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus
The colours of this sunny hummus remind me of red pandas!

hummus

 

Ingredients
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 + 1/2 cups rinsed and drained canned chickpeas
1/4 cup olive oil, more may be needed
1/4 cup drained sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
sea salt to taste
extra olive oil for serving
paprika for serving

Instructions
Process the garlic, tahini and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Add the chickpeas and oil and process until smooth.
Add the sun-dried tomatoes and process until just combined. (You may need to add more oil to reach your desired consistency.)
Season with salt to taste.
To serve, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with paprika.

To symbolise the balance reflected in the Equinox, I sprinkle paprika only over half of the hummus.

A Twist in the Pie

The first day of February in the Southern Hemisphere is Lammas, an ancient harvest festival that marks the mid-point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. Even though hotter days are still to come, Lammas marks the beginning of Autumn. Traditionally, breads baked from new crops were made as offerings to the gods. Back when I celebrated Lammas in a coven, I would always offer to make the bread for our ritual. I loved coming up with ideas and shapes for the loaves. As the ritual came to a close and we made our offerings of bread and wine, I felt blessed that I could provide for my coven and the Pagan deities I once believed in. I miss these simple rituals, and the Pagan deities I am slowing coming to believe in again.

To celebrate the first of the solar Pagan sabbats for 2016, I thought I would return to my roots and make a Lammas bread. I decided to try my hand at a French Sun Pie called a Tarte Soleil. A Tarte Soleil is a filled pastry that is twisted to represent the rays of the sun. They look complicated but they are actually easy to make – especially if you use store-bought puff pastry 🙂 All you need is patience, a steady hand and great ingredients. In fact, deciding what to fill my pie with was my biggest struggle.

As I was feeling nostalgic about past friends and covenors, I filled my first Tarte Soleil with peanut butter and strawberry jam – a tribute to all the wonderful American friends I’ve made. It was quite delicious and a lovely blend of sweet and salty. Emboldened by my success, I decided make another one. I really wanted to use sun-dried tomatoes to represent the sun but I can’t eat tomatoes so I didn’t want to make a lovely tart I couldn’t eat. That’s when I came up with an idea, I would make a feta and black olive filling and put sun-dried tomatoes in the inner circle only. That way I could at least eat the sun rays. Happily it was a tasty success and something I would be proud to bring to a Lammas gathering.

IMG_1649

Tarte Soleil

Ingredients
2 sheets frozen ready rolled puff pastry
1 tablespoon finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/3 cup Danish feta cheese
1/3 cup whole Kalamata olives, pitted and finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
sea salt flakes for sprinkling

Instructions
Take pastry sheets out of the freezer to thaw according to the packet.
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Cut pastry into two 23cm (9inch) rounds.
Place one round on the baking tray.
Lightly mark a 7 – 8cm (3inch) sized circle in the centre, being careful not to cut right through the pastry.
Place sun-dried tomatoes in the small circle.
Crumble a small amount of feta cheese over the sun-dried tomatoes.
Crumble remaining feta over the rest of the round, leaving a small margin around the outer edge.
Top the feta with olives.
Top with the second pastry round.
Press the edges together to seal.
Place a 7 – 8cm (3inch) sized glass face down in the centre of the circle, being careful not to cut right through the pastry.
With a sharp knife, cut the pastry into four sections, starting at the edge of the glass and working outward. Cut each section into half and then cut into half again. You will now have sixteen sections which will form the rays of the sun.
Remove the glass.
Gently twist each section, starting at the centre and working outward. You can twist one-to-two times, but be careful not to break them.
Brush pastry with beaten egg.
Sprinkle with sea salt.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until brown.
Allow to cool slightly before gently sliding it off the baking paper and onto a serving plate. If the tart sticks, gently prise loose with a spatula.
Can be eaten warm or cold.

If you want to try the peanut butter and strawberry jam version simply follow the instructions above but replace the filling with a 1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter and 1/4 cup strawberry jam.