winter solstice

Solstice Baked Potatoes

As the wheel spins towards another Midwinter in Melbourne, I am enjoying the cool weather and the need to wrap myself up in warm blankets and comfy dressing gowns. The sun is still warm during the day, but as it begins to set, the cold seeps in and the need to stop work, make a hot drink and retire to the couch sinks in.

On Wednesday June 21st, many of us will be celebrating the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. I’m not sure what I will be doing, but I am tempted to go to the Queen Victoria Night Market. This weekly winter market just happens to fall on the Winter Solstice. Although I’ve been many times before, I never get tired of it. I love the unusual stalls that pop up and make shopping a real treat. The food stalls are a real highlight! But what I love most is just being outdoors, surrounded by life, colour, sound and the smell of good food.

The food I enjoy most in winter is roast vegetables such as pumpkin, carrots and potatoes. The sweetness of the pumpkins and carrots goes beautifully with the crispness of well baked potatoes. Thinking of myself all wrapped up in blankets and gowns made me think of jacket potatoes – and taking them a step further – so I experimented with a recipe for potatoes baked in a salt crust. For me they are a perfect union between crispy roast potatoes and moist steamed potatoes.

Salt Crust Potatoes

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Ingredients
1kg cocktail potatoes
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 cup fine salt

Method
Preheat oven to 220C / 430F.
Wash and dry the potatoes.
Prick each potato several times with a fork.
Coat each potato with egg white.
Coat each potato completely with salt.
Bake for 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a skewer or fork.
Crack off the salt crust and serve with your favourite potato toppers.

A Reverse Twist In The Pie

In the southern hemisphere, the wheel is slowly spinning towards the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. Although the nights are going to get shorter after the solstice, we still haven’t finished our cold, dark winter. The days may be getting longer but they are also getting colder. It is one of my favourite times of the year.

Last Winter Solstice I posted a recipe for Old World Libum. This Winter Solstice I am revisiting my Lammas recipe for a Tarte Soleil. I loved the way the twisting of the pastry made the pie look like a sun. For this recipe, the twisting is reversed. I thought it was an appropriate symbol for a waning Sun before its Winter Solstice rebirth.

These twisted pies are not only visually stunning and great fun but you can play around with ingredients to come up with your own concoctions. My twisted pie below is inspired by the flavours of a Sicilian cannoli.

Ricotta and Marmalade Twist

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Ingredients
2 sheets frozen ready-rolled puff pastry
1/4 cup orange marmalade
3/4 cup ricotta
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon pine nuts
icing sugar for sprinkling

Method
Take pastry sheets out of the freezer to thaw.
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Cut pastry into two 23cm (9inch) rounds.
Carefully place one round on a baking tray.
Spread with marmalade, leaving a small margin around the outer edge.
Mix together the ricotta and vanilla extract. Spread over the marmalade.
Sprinkle the pine nuts over the ricotta.
Place the second pastry round over the first.
Press the outer edges together to seal.
If the pastry is getting too sticky to work with, refrigerate for 10 minutes or until it is easy to work with.
Cut a small disc from the centre.
With a sharp knife, cut the pastry into four sections, starting from the cut-out disc in the centre and working toward the outer edge, but not all the way through to the edge.
Cut each section into half and then cut in half again. You will have sixteen wedges.
Gently twist each wedge, starting at the centre and working outward. You can twist two to three times, but be careful not to break them.
Once twisted, bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until brown.
Sprinkle with icing sugar while hot.
Allow to cool slightly before removing from the baking paper. If it sticks, gently loosen it with a knife.
Serve warm or cold.

Old World Libum

It’s the longest night of the year in the Southern Hemisphere.
What better way to celebrate than with this ancient Roman cheese bread, baked on bay leaves and drizzled with warm honey.

Click here for my previous article on the Winter Solstice.

Keep reading for my Old World Libum recipe.

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Ingredients
16 fresh bay leaves
225g ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup plain flour
extra flour for dusting
1/4 cup honey
extra fresh bay leaves for serving (optional)

Method
Preheat oven to 220C / 430F.
Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Arrange the bay leaves into four wreaths on the baking paper.
Place the cheese into a bowl and beat until soft.
Add the egg and mix until combined.
Add the sifted flour a tablespoon at a time until a soft but sticky dough is formed.
With well floured hands, gently shape the dough into four rounds.
Place a round on each wreath.
Bake for 20-30 minutes or until firm and golden brown.
Score a cross shape into the cakes but do not cut all the way through.
Warm the honey and pour evenly over the cakes.
Arrange extra bay leaves into a wreath shape around the cakes before serving if desired.
Best eaten straight away although you can let the cakes soak in the honey for 30 minutes.

Traditionally these cakes would be baked in a covered testo. You can cover each round with an ovenproof dish. They will be more steamed rather than baked and less browned. They are still delicious baked this way.

If you cannot find fresh bay leaves you can use dried ones.

Long Night’s Journey Into Day

Those of us in the Southern Hemisphere will be celebrating the Winter Solstice tonight – the longest night of the year. The long, cold, dark night gestates and finally gives birth to the reborn Sun. The old gives way to the new and the night gives way to the day. The days will now get longer and the nights shorter until the Summer Solstice. On that night the reverse happens as the Wheel turns and begins its solar, lunar and seasonal dance anew.

When I think of the Winter Solstice I think of what the longest night would mean to – well – to vampires 🙂 Night is when vampires come alive so the longest night must be their favourite. It certainly is one of mine. Years ago I saw a frightening movie, 30 Days of Night. In this film vampires take over an Alaskan town just as the sun sets and won’t rise again for 30 days – that is one long night! But just how important is it for vampires to avoid the Sun?

In The Dracula Tarot I explored the sun and vampires through the tarot Sun card. Below is a condensed piece that draws on my analysis of Dracula through both the Sun card and the Hermit card – both key cards for the Winter Solstice.

I seek not gaiety nor mirth, not the bright voluptuousness of much sunshine

I seek not gaiety nor mirth, not the bright voluptuousness of much sunshine

In many folkloric myths, the power of the vampire may be dulled during the day, but the sun does not kill them. Many early vampire stories have their vampires walking about during daylight hours, although they do prefer the night. This is particularly so with Stoker’s Dracula. Although it first appears as though the Count is vulnerable to sunlight, this is not the case. Dracula’s sun sensitivity is mainly evident in the first few chapters during Jonathan’s stay at the castle, but when in England, Dracula is seen in the daylight a number of times with no ill effects. Although restricted in sunlight, Dracula is certainly not as vulnerable to the sun as popular mythology would have us believe. Dracula can move about during the day, but like most vampires, he prefers the night. The power of the sun in Dracula appears to be linked to spirit, vitality and new life – much like the tarot Sun card.

In England, Dracula begins to personify the spirit of the tarot Sun. Dracula’s excitement at being in a thriving country is reflected in the number of daylight appearances he makes. Jonathan spies Dracula in daylight, following a woman who will no doubt be his feast. Dracula also visits the zoo, confronts the vampire hunters and books passage on a ship, all during daylight hours. Dracula’s forays into the sun coincide with the injection of new blood into his supernatural body. In England, Dracula is surrounded by people who are easily his prey. Glutted on an abundance of human blood, Dracula not only begins to look younger, but he is stronger and more able to tolerate the sun’s rays. Although Dracula is predominantly a night creature, he is nonetheless free to wander about during the day. Dracula’s trip to England reflects the tarot Sun card as the journey is filled with possibilities. For a brief moment in his life, Dracula experiences the pleasures of being in the world, hunting in freedom and walking in the sun.

It may seem strange to picture Dracula as a man about town in Victorian England, walking the streets in full sunlight. But don’t worry, Dracula, like most vampires, is still a creature of darkness. You can’t take the black cape and inner darkness away from Dracula, no matter how long he spends in the sun. The key to Dracula, as with most vampires, is that he loves to brood! Vampires’ long lives and self-reflecting natures link them to the tarot Hermit card.

I love the shade and the shadow, and would be alone with my thoughts when I may

I love the shade and the shadow, and would be alone with my thoughts when I may

The Hermit represents reflections on the past, present and future, and Dracula is no stranger to such musings. During his stay at Castle Dracula, Jonathan is privy to Dracula’s meditations on all these aspects of his life. The longevity of the undead vampire allows us a unique insight into a figure that has experienced the passage of centuries. Dracula has watched, experienced and reflected upon his growth from celebrated hero into shunned vampire.

When Dracula looks into the mirror, he casts no reflection. As a soulless creature he cannot reflect upon himself or see his vampiric changes. Dracula must seek such outer reflections in the faces of others. Sadly what is mostly reflected back to him is the hatred, fear and loathing of his true vampiric countenance – his unreflected mirror self.

So on this Long Night’s Journey into Day, what do you see when you look in the mirror?

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