xmas

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.

Kitty Claws Is Coming To Town!

Did you survive Krampus night? Well don’t rest easy, because there is another scary xmas monster coming your way! I am happy to introduce you to Jólakötturinn – Iceland’s Yule Cat. Steeped in the mythology of countries that have long, cold, dark and deadly winters, rises the giant black cat of xmas. Jólakötturinn is monstrously huge, has glowing eyes, whiskers as sharp as nails and razor sharp claws. As if cats weren’t scary enough, Jólakötturinn takes feline fear to a new level.

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Jólakötturinn prowls the night of xmas eve, looking in windows for a Yule offering. But what offering could subdue such a terrifying beast? If you’re thinking food you’d be wrong. Your soul? Luckily nothing so dramatic. This fashionista feline desires an offering of new clothes. Bizarrely, the clothes are not necessarily for the cat – I mean cats aren’t known for their love of being dressed up! No, the new clothes are for you and your children. If there are no new clothes to be seen, the feisty Jólakötturinn may take all your gifts, eat all your food, eat you or take away your children and eat them. What better incentive do you need for new xmas threads!

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In some ways the scary kitty myth brilliantly mirrors our capitalist and consumerist approach to xmas with its emphasis on buying new clothes. Some say the myth of Jólakötturinn was used by farmers to frighten workers into finishing processing all the sheared wool before xmas so that new clothes could be made. Others say that the threat of a visit by Jólakötturinn was used to encourage people to work hard all year so they could have the money to buy new clothes for xmas.

It’s not clear when Jólakötturinn joined the cast of Icelandic monsters but the creepy cat’s popularity surged when Icelandic bard Jóhannes úr Kötlum wrote a poem about Jólakötturinn. Interestingly, the poem suggests that we should make sure that the needy, particularly poor children, are given a special piece of clothing at xmas. The basic theme in the poem is that if those who have give to those who don’t, Jólakötturinn will be thwarted. It is actually a beautiful xmas message clothed in a scary cat tale!

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I enjoyed reading about Jólakötturinn but the Yule Cat really came alive to me when I heard Icelandic singer Björk’s version of Jóhannes úr Kötlum’s poem. My favourite link is one that features animation with a written English translation of the poem and Bjork’s haunting voice singing the poem in Icelandic. So before I share my catty recipe for xmas, sit back and enjoy this powerful myth in images and song: Jólakötturinn – The Yule Cat.

We know the Yule Cat wants new clothes rather than food, but I can’t resist trying to tempt the scary kitty with a black bottom cupcake – a chocolate cupcake with a cheesecake filling. Will Jólakötturinn be the cat that got the cream? If creamy cheese isn’t enough, there’s also catnip! Catnip is part of the mint family so you can use any mint you like for this recipe. Chia is also part of the mint family but I’m not sure if cats would be tempted by chia seeds 🙂

Creamy Catnip Cupcakes

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Ingredients
for the cheesecake filling
8 ounces (225g) cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature

for the chocolate cupcakes
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint essence, or to taste

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
Make the cream cheese filling by beating the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and egg and beat until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
Make the chocolate cupcakes by sifting the flour, baking powder, cocoa, salt and sugar into a jug. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the water, oil, cider vinegar, vanilla extract and peppermint essence.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients until smooth.
Evenly pour the batter between the 12 paper cases.
Spoon the cream cheese mixture evenly into the center of each cupcake.
Bake for 10 – 25 minutes or until the cupcakes feel springy and the cream cheese filling has set. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Scary Xmas!

There are many reasons why the holiday season can be scary – family gatherings being one 🙂 But did you know that there is a dark side to the tradition of gift-giving? If good children are rewarded with gifts, what happens to naughty children? Enter one of the many scary creatures of xmas – Krampus!

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Krampus is half goat, half devil. He is hairy, has cloven hooves, goat horns, a long pointed tongue and fangs. His horned form appears to be a blend of ancient horned goat deities like Pan and traditional images of the devil. The name Krampus is derived from a German word for claw. I first saw Krampus in the television series Grim. He made a real impression on me 🙂

Krampus is the dark half of Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas. Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas reward good children by giving them gifts, while Krampus punishes bad children by giving them coal and sometimes beating them with the bundle of birch sticks he carries. In his scariest moments, Krampus carries a sack which he stuffs with naughty children. The fate of the children varies – but the outcome is always grim.

Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of the Feast of Saint Nicholas. It is on this night that Krampus appears, ready to punish naughty children. Sometimes he is accompanied by Saint Nicholas, reflecting they are two halves of one gift-giving whole. So ask yourself this on Krampus Night – “Have I been naughty or nice?” The consequences of the answer have never been so scary!

To honour Krampus Night I thought I would do a cheeky pasta dish – Gnudi with Puttanesca Sauce. Gnudi are nude or naked ravioli. Basically they are a ravioli filling without the pasta. I have chosen goats cheese for the gnudi to reflect the goat origins of Krampus. I chose to serve them with a puttanesca sauce as the name is derived from an Italian word for whore or prostitute. I couldn’t resist topping my naked gnudi with a tart sauce. Serve with breadsticks, just in case some naughty children come for a visit and need a light beating 🙂

Gnudi with Puttanesca Sauce

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Ingredients

for the gnudi
150g soft goat cheese, room temperature
2 eggs
good pinch of sea salt
100g hard goat cheese, finely grated
1/4 cup plain flour, more or less may be needed
extra flour for dusting

for the puttanesca sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic gloves, finely minced
6 vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
6 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
1 + 1/2 tablespoons small capers, drained
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Instructions
In a large mixing bowl mix together the soft goats cheese, eggs and salt.
Using a wire whisk, beat until smooth.
Using a wooden spoon stir through the hard goat cheese.
Add a tablespoon of flour at a time and mix through until you have a soft and light dough.
Shape into walnut sized balls.
Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
Add onion and saute until soft and lightly caramelised.
Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients.
Stir until combined, then simmer gently while you cook the gnudi.
Preheat oven to 190C / 375F.
Bring a large saucepan of generously salted water to boil.
Remove gnudi from fridge and roll in extra flour until lightly dusted.
Drop in batches into boiling water.
As they cook they will rise to the surface. Once risen, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them in a large oven proof dish or individual ramekins.
Pour the puttanesca sauce gently over the gnudi and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

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.

Full Moons & Full Drinks

Moon

Dracula Tarot Moon Card
Created by Vicky Vladic
Illustrated by Anna Gerraty

December’s full moon falls on xmas day, which is a very rare event. The last one was in 1977 and the next one will be in 2034. In honour of the full moon and the shining bright star that is a part of the xmas story, I created a very special drink – a glow in the dark gin and tonic. The inclusion of apple is tasty, but the star hidden inside makes it a perfect solstice and xmas addition 🙂

Quinine, found in tonic water, glows under UV light so, if you have a blacklight you can shine it on this drink for a glowing surprise.

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Gin & Tonic By Day

 

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Gin & Tonic By Blacklight

Glow In The Dark Gin And Tonic
For each glass you will need:
100ml frozen tonic water
100ml frozen apple juice
50ml gin
apple slice cut crosswise to show the star shape

Method
Freeze the tonic water in large cubes.
Freeze the apple juice in large cubes.
Place the ice cubes into a large glass.
Pour in the gin.
Add the apple slice and wait for the cubes to melt.

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.

The Legend of La Befana

Want to add a bit of Witchiness to your Christmas festivities but you don’t want to stray too far from the traditional Christian message?

Well fear not! You can have both Jesus and a Witch in your nativity scene thanks to the Legend of La Befana.

I came across the Italian Legend of La Befana when I was doing research on the history of Santa Claus. As soon as I realised there was room for a broom riding, chimney visiting,
gift-giving Witch in Christmas stories I was hooked. But who is La Befana and how did she
become part of Christmas?

As with any folkloric tale there are many versions and variations but basically Befana is an old Witch who loves to clean and bake. The Magi (the Three Wise Men) come to her home and ask her for directions to Bethlehem as they are on their way to visit the baby Jesus. Unfortunately Befana can’t help them. In some versions the Magi stay the night and find her to be a wonderful host. The Magi invite Befana to come to Bethlehem with them but she refuses as she has a lot of housework to do. Not long after they leave she regrets her decision and packs up some gifts for the baby Jesus. She takes her broom as both a form of transportation and to clean the manger for the mother. She is after all a Witch renowned for her cooking and her cleaning! Following the Star, she sets off to find the Magi but she never finds them.

Each year on Epiphany Eve, or Twelfth Night, Befana flies on her broomstick visiting the homes of children via the chimney. Some say she is still looking for the baby Jesus, others that she sees Jesus reflected in every child. She leaves behind gifts and sweets for children who have been good, or lumps of coal for children who have been bad. Sometimes she leaves black coloured candy made from black sugar instead of coal. Although Befana is portrayed as scruffy and covered in soot, she always cleans up after herself with her trusty broom! She is also very grateful for any refreshments you may leave out for her.

I was drawn to the Legend of La Befana, and not just because it features a witch 🙂 There is something so wickedly pleasurable about a woman who has better things to do with her time than visit the home of a baby male saviour. It’s the first time I haven’t questioned the role of woman as housekeeper!

So if you do put up a Nativity scene this year, why not add a flying Witch in honour of La
Befana?

Befana’s Frozen Black Coal Candy
(adapted from Amber Shea Crawley’s recipe for “Salted Tahini Caramels” in Practically Raw Desserts)

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Ingredients
1/2 cup black tahini
1/4 cup sesame flour
1/4 cup honey
black sea salt flakes

Instructions
Line a freezer safe container with plastic wrap or baking paper. (The size container will depend on how thick you want your candy.)
Mix together the black tahini, sesame flour and honey until combined.
Pour into prepared container.
Sprinkle with black salt.
Cover and freeze.
Once frozen, slice into desired sized portions with a sharp knife.
Eat straight from the freezer!

If you can’t find black tahini use regular tahini and add food colouring if desired.
If you can’t find sesame flour you can use coconut flour instead.

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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