New Twists on Old Traditions

Purim Hamantaschen Gluten Free Elderberry Syrup Traditional Biscuit Recipe

Happy Purim to you! The sun has gone down and the festival can officially begin, but actually we have spent the afternoon frolicking in a celebration that my husband has declared is a Renegade Purim.

We held a “Purim Picnic Party” in a local park and took a huge basket of costumes, a suitcase full of instruments and rattles, and invited a bunch of kids to come and dress up and make noise with us. There are very few photos of the fun we had because we were having too much fun.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Experience Jewish Celebration Children Holiday Kids

I gather that this is a key purpose of the festival: making merry and having a great time. The other key purpose seems to be making and eating Hamantaschen, which are fruit-filled biscuits shaped to look like the ears of the villain of the Purim story.

And just as I went a bit left-of-centre with the mode of celebration, I also struggled to stick with the traditional recipes that were given to me for the biscuits. I ended up making two batches and started them off the same way; by using equal parts room-temperature butter and cream cheese, to create a lovely texture for the biscuit base.

Purim Hamantashen Gluten Free Traditional Jewish Cookie Biscuit Recipe

To one bowl I added plain flour and to the other I added dessicated coconut and LSA mix (which is made from Linseed, Soy and Almond meal). I combined them both well until I had a firm dough, which I put into the fridge for half an hour.

While the dough became stiff, I combined dates, sultanas, prunes and dried apricots with hot water on the stovetop until it was syrupy. This became the filling for my first batch of biscuits.

Purim Hamantash Gluten Free Elderberry Jam Traditional Cookie Biscuit Recipe

I decided to fill my gluten-free batch with the sticky jam that I made a few months ago with the elderberries from the tree in our backyard. I hadn’t strained the berries so it wasn’t suitable for cordial and it didn’t seem quite right for spreading on toast (it was a very simple recipe with just the berries, sugar and lemon, a bit like this).

Purim Hamantaschen Gluten Free Elderberry Jam Syrup Traditional Cookie Recipe

It turns out that it takes practice to take the step from elegant pastry rounds to excellent Hamantaschen triangles. I never really mastered it and then I ran out of time to get to our picnic. My attempts at gluten-free biscuits looked like puddles when I pulled them out of the oven, so I abandoned them on the stove stop and rushed out the door.

How incredible and wonderful, then, that two other attendees had gone to the trouble to make and bring their own, including another gluten-free version (seen at left in the picture below; the recipe sounds a bit like this one from Friendly Little Kitchen).

Mine are the ones at bottom right that are not triangles at all.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Jewish Hamantaschen Healthy Sugar Free Celebration Children Kids

We told noisy stories, held a noisy parade and played noisy games. Then nobody wanted to come home.

Purim Cultural Jewish Celebration Costume Tradition Cookie Biscuit Recipe

When I finally arrived back in the kitchen, I looked again at those gluten-free puddles and they had come good upon cooling. They were a little bit rustic, perhaps, but recognisable triangles (see the photo at the very top of this post).

And to be fair, all my Hamantaschen — of whatever shape — were actually really delicious.

So I think we were happy to be renegades with our celebration of Purim. Our festivities were a bit “unorthodox” to say the least, and our biscuits were non-traditional.

But this was a fantastic opportunity to connect with other families in our area, in a really fun way that held meaning for us.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Experience Jewish Celebration Children Many Cha Cha

Beetroots in Ukrainian

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipes Book

It’s a very welcome side-effect of writing this blog that my friends and family often suggest activities with an international flavour and on occasion proffer gifts that might inject some culture into our lives.

I was particularly delighted by this choice of birthday present from my very close friend, Karma: a book called “Mamushka; Recipes from Ukraine and Beyond” by Olia Hercules. Apart from what I might have gleaned from reading the amusing novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, I didn’t know much about Ukraine at all. Plus, Mamushka is full of fascinating recipes and ingredients that look delicious and unfamiliar (in an enticing way).

One ingredient that I am familiar with, and which I chose to use as my first attempt at some Ukrainian cuisine, is beetroot. We have grown it in the past –the beauties in the pictures are some we grew in Tasmania– but I bought some plump beets from our local farmers market for my foray into the former Soviet Union.

Ukrainian Beetroot Beet Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipes

It turns out that beetroot is a particularly nutritious vegetable, which I’m thrilled to learn because it is a very popular one in our household. I grew up on tinned stuff, which is fine but basically tastes of vinegar. Now we like it fresh, and roasted until it caramelises. We eat so much that we laugh about our pink wee. (Don’t forget I have four-year-old boys…).

Ukraine Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Book

I didn’t start with Cold Beetroot Soup, although I gather it is a classic of the region. Instead I went with a very simple salad that combined intriguing flavours with the beets; balsamic and sour cream dressing with walnuts, prunes and a scattering of coriander.

Ukrainian Beetroot Walnut Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe

I served the salad with quinoa and it was dinner– very delicious and I found it really satisfying. Next time I would reduce the amount of balsamic and add more prunes because they were unexpectedly wonderful in this mix!

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Prunes

I have since done a little research into the culture of Ukraine (this blog gives some excellent insights) and I look forward to trying more recipes from this lovely book. Now, just to decide what clever “beet” pun to use for the title of this post…

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Beet

10 Ways to Travel at Home for Chinese New Year

Happy Lunar New Year  and 恭禧發財 to you! What a fantastic excuse to “travel at home” and enjoy some cultural treats from China, no matter where in the world you are located.

Of course the Lunar New Year celebrations are shared by many cultures (for example, the fellas in my family recently participated in a Vietnamese Tet Celebration— I am training them well!). But I adore China and I have brilliant memories of travelling there a few years ago. So here are my suggestions (quite non-traditional!) for how to imagine you’re in China and perhaps learn a bit about its incredible culture, heritage, history and impact.

1. Drink Tea. Chinese tea, of course– this blog is named after it! There are many resources online to help you choose a variety. Mine is Iron Goddess tea; astringent and cooling (I’ve written about it before here).

Chinese Lunar New Year Green Tea Vintage Doll Decor

2. Read about tea (and opium, and how it links to tea). The history of the relationship between “The East” and “The West” is caught up in tea and opium. The story is horrific and much more fascinating than any fiction; I think it’s important to have context to so much of our current world situation. To read about the world’s first– and probably worst– multinational company, see this article in the Guardian about the East India Company, whose story also reaches across to the beginnings of the American Revolution.

China Tea History Books Travel East India Company

3. Eat Chinese Food. That’s easily done, thanks very much, yum! I’m teaching my two how to use chopsticks with their fab toucan contraptions (it’s a game to them) and I will be attempting some proper Lunar New Year recipes from a fantastic family blog I’ve found called The Woks of Life. I’m also keen to make Tomato Egg Drop Soup which was my favourite when I was in China.

Chinese Luna New Year Geoff Lindsay Chow Down Noodles Kids Chopsticks

4. Read more books about China, its traditions, its more recent history (especially if you plan to travel there). The story of the Cultural Revolution is heartbreaking and the consequences can still be felt in China now. The influence of Chairman Mao and Communism is still evident, despite relaxed attitudes (and no, I don’t think Mao is ever appropriate as decor or fashion, I’m quite astounded at this retailer).

Memoirs are an invaluable way to understand the people of China; the incredible story of Wild Swans and Mao’s Last Dancer are well-known examples, or try Red Scarf Girl for a Cultural Revolution setting. If you are more interested in China as a world power, try these suggestions from Fortune of books to help explain its modern nuances.

Chinese Ma Jian Lunar New Year Books Proverbs Traditional Made in China

5. Watch Chinese movies or movies set in China. There are plenty of Communist propaganda films to help you toe the party line (here’s a famous one called Lei Feng), but I recommend every film by Zhang Yimou, or Kung Fu Hustle with the English overdub for belly laughs.

Chinese Tea Jasmine Films DVD Movies New Year Travel

6. Light some sparklers (the only “fireworks” we are allowed here), consider that gunpowder was invented in China and that gunpowder changed the world. Actually there’s a great film about a firecracker factory, called Red Firecracker Green Firecracker, that I could add to the list above.

Travel at Home China Gunpowder Fireworks History Sparklers

7. Go to a parade and observe fireworks at your local Chinatown if you have one; we’ll be doing that this coming weekend. It seems as though Lunar New Year has finally become mainstream: there are markets and events happening in the city all this week to mark the occasion.

Chinese Lunar New Year Many Cha Cha Lion Dragon Lantern Parade

8. If there is no Chinatown near you, create your own parade! We live in a small town and luckily we are known for marching around in costume, so nobody blinked an eye when we took our vintage lion head out walking to scare away last year’s bad luck.

Many Cha Cha Lunar New Year Kids Parade Lantern Chinese Dragon Mask Costume

9. Enjoy some Monkey Magic! Every year is year of the monkey with my two boys but I think it’s finally time I read the classic work, Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng’en on which so many fantastic Monkey adaptations are based. I would give anything to see this “opera” version by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz, even the promo video is exciting.

Chinese Lunar New Year Monkey Magic Journey to the West Remember Tibet

10. Remember Tibet.

Many Cha Cha Lantern Chinese Red Home Travel Decor Decoration

So Many Cherries Take You So Many Places

Cherries Cherry Recipes Traditional Travel at Home

It is cherry season and we are swamped with little, red flavour-bombs. Nobody here is complaining, although I do have to regularly check the carpet for spit out pips.

Cherry Tree Cherries Rosella Australian Bird

First, we discovered that one of the lovely blossom-trees that we can see from our sitting room window was bursting with cherries. It was the birds that alerted us, because the branches are a bit too high for easy picking.

Cherry Picking Children Learn Home Family Cherries Garden

Over a few days, we observed blackbirds and then rosellas having feathery feasts, and realised that if we waited another minute we would miss out, so we devised a system to gather some for ourselves.

Cherry Picking Season Summer Cherries Children Home Made

I climbed a ladder and bent a branch down to the children below, who happily grasped the tart fruit and collected them in a basket. There was no danger of the birds missing out; we simply couldn’t reach many.

Cherry Picking Slow Living Home Made Recipe Cherries Kids

Our cherries were not quite ripe and very sour so I bought a huge punnet from the green-grocer because we wanted to munch on the sweet stuff.

Cherry Recipes World Tree Picking Season

A few days later, family visiting from interstate chose to go cherry-picking as a day out together. This was a full-blown operation, involving buckets and scales. We laughed about how we would pay for the cherries; at first my little guys assumed the orchard-owners would count the cherries to determine the price.

Cherry Picking Vishnnyovka Children Farm Orchard Cherries 1

So now my kitchen is overflowing with these juicy treasures! I left the ones from our garden out to ripen for a few days and investigated some recipe ideas. Cherries feature in the traditional cuisine of many cultures, notably in Central and Eastern Europe, and there are lovely recipes online including some for the Romanian Cherry Brandy called Vişinată or a similar Russian version called Vishnnyovka. There are also great blog posts showing how to make Polish Cherry Cake or the famous German Black Forest Cake.

Chery Traditional Vishnnyovka Sugar Jar Home Made Recipe

Many of the recipes have ties to the holidays that happen at this time of year, even though our seasons do not coincide: that’s because often they require the addition of cherries that have been allowed to ferment or “pickle” in brandy or vodka for about six months before being used in Christmas or Chanukah recipes.

Home Made Cherry Visinata Vishniak Season Jar

Most of our cherries are disappearing as snacks but in addition to the sour home-grown ones that I am trying to ferment in a jar of sugar, I attempted my own version of a tart with a nutty-crumble topping. I happened to have walnuts in the shell from the farmers market, so I roughly ground those and added some for texture. I relied mostly on the cherries themselves for sweetness. Serve it with cream or maybe some quark, this tart is yummy and satisfying.

Cherry Crumble Pie Recipe Fresh Tart Whole Foods

Here is what I did:

 

Cherry Nut-Crumble Tart

 

500g cherries (about 2.5 cups), measured and then pitted

1 or 2 sheets of short crust pastry from the freezer

 

For the crumble topping:

1/2 cup freshly crushed walnuts

3/4 cup of almond and quinoa meal

1 cup of wholemeal flour

1/2 cup of brown sugar

150g butter, room temperature

1TB Golden syup or honey

 

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Stir the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the butter and honey, then combine until you have a crumbly mixture (I used my hands). Grease a tart pan and line it with the pastry. I needed the second sheet of pastry because one was not big enough. Spread the pitted cherries around the bottom of the pastry, then press the nutty crumble mixture in around and over the cherries, leaving some peeking through to look delicious. We used the rest of the second sheet of pastry to cut some heart decorations for the top of the tart. Bake for about 40 minutes. Serve with something creamy.

Cherry Pie Crumble Tart Seasonal Baking Recipe Wholemeal

Travel on the Page: “La Vie Est Belle” by Henrietta Heald

La Vie Est Belle Henrietta Heald Travel at Home

Books have the magical power to transport us almost anywhere and while it goes without saying that words are vehicles for the imagination, beautiful photographs can give our hearts a lift too. In particular, I adore cook books written about regional cuisines because they often contain more than just pictures of food on a plate.

Certainly, I should be learning a few culinary skills from these books, but I am most often guilty of just browsing and dreaming of eating in faraway places. A book that doesn’t focus entirely on the food, but explores various ways of experiencing another culture — including its cuisine — seems like a fantastic idea to me.

A lovely book by Henrietta Heald, La Vie Est Belle, does just that. Filled with photographs of light-washed farms, Parisian pied-à-terres, and country “brocante” stalls, the book reinforces a Francophile’s dreams while providing recipes, stories and travel tips. With information about traditions and insights into French culture and habits, La Vie Est Belle is a travel-at-home experience to keep on your bookshelf.

The mouth-watering photograps of ‘tarte tatin’ in the pages inspired me to make a cheat’s version of this classic French dessert. (By the way, did you know that you can still stay or eat at the Hotel Tatin where the famous upside-down cake was accidentally created in the 1880s by the Tatin sisters?)

Tarte Tatin Apple Easy Cheats La Vie Est Belle Travel

I simply peeled and sliced some apples, then cooked them in a shallow pan with butter and brown sugar until the whole lot caramelised in the most delectable and fragrant way. I spooned this mixture into some pre-prepared (read: shop-bought) pastry that I had placed into small metal baking dishes then baked the tarts for about 20 minutes. Note: if you try this you should definitely learn from my mistake and line the dishes with baking paper; the whole thing becomes very sticky.

So easy and utterly delicious. Probably scandalous.

Tarte Tatin Apple Easy Recipe Many Cha Cha Travel at Home

The Best Mulled Wine in the World

Mulled Wine Winter Christmas Drink Spiced Simmer Warmer

In the “spirit” of investigative journalism I took it upon myself as a duty, during these recent cold nights we’ve been having, to learn about mulled wines around the world. The internet has been helpful, of course, but there’s nothing quite like experience, is there?

There are some very informative blog posts on the topic, such as this one sharing a family recipe for glühwein (Glow Wine! I love that) at “Dreaming of Winter” and this beautifully illustrated description of the Scandinavian version, Glögg (I also love that), which I haven’t tried but sounds altogether fruiter, spicier and more alcoholic. Yum.

In other places on the web, newspaper articles describe variants of mulled (heated) wine from around the world, while many cultures feature creative ways to heat and spice one’s alcohol, according to wikipedia. Some additions to the warm beverage that pique my professional interest include honey or maple syrup, amaretto or rum. As a journalist, I think it’s essential that I pursue these lines of enquiry quite seriously and I will.

Mulled Wine Gluhwein Ingredients Recipe Best Glogg Drink Winter

For now I would like to report upon two variations that I have put to the test in the last week. Firstly, a pre-prepared powder which I purchased from Guwurzhaus, one of my favourite sources of “travel at home” inspiration (it’s a sort of emporium of foody concoctions from everywhere; brilliant on the nose). Secondly, a thrown-in-the-pot collection of spices and things I had around the house: this amounted to sugar, black peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves and the rinds of orange, lemon and a Tahitian lime. Yes, I really had a Tahitian lime lying around: it’s the smaller and rounder of the two yellow fruit above (I’ll buy an ugly fruit if you give it an exotic name).

So which was superior, in my professional and scientific opinion? I really don’t know. They were both aromatic, warming and delightful.

Mulled Wine Red Gluhwein European Winter Warmer Drink Spice Recipe Best Glogg

As a result of my experiments, here are my tips to help you create The Best Mulled Wine in the World:

  • Choose a cheap wine that is not your favourite, but don’t stress about the varietal. I am very lucky to live in a wine-growing region and so I was able to source and experiment with a local Shiraz and a Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which were quite nice without the extra spice and really delicious with it.
  • Put a lid on your pot as you allow your chosen fruit and spice blends to infuse. This is a trap for newbies: I let a great deal of mine evaporate away before I realised!
  • Don’t take any notice of any recipe that suggests you boil the ingredients for an hour or two. Your wine simply needs to be warmed for a while to infuse the flavours. If you’d like to ensure the flavours are imparted let time, as much as heat, do the job and let it all sit overnight.
  • Be aware that alcohol is easily evaporated and if this is important to you, perhaps begin by infusing your fruits and spices into sugar and water and adding the bulk of the wine at the end, simply to warm it.
  • Experiment with different warm beverage flavours: I recently indulged in hot buttered rum and I once enjoyed some white wine heated with asian flavours. I would also love to try some beer and some non-alcoholic cider variations, all in the name of research of course.

Thus concludes my important cultural report about delicious winter beverages from around the world, and certainly I’ve taken one for the team in compiling it. But honestly, I think a topic such as this is too vital to conclude in haste. Further research is required and I’ll happily take on the task.

I’m also sure there are other researchers out there who have essential contributions to make to this field… Please do by commenting below (I’d love to hear about your best winter warmer drinks!)

Mulled Wine Gluhwein Glogg Red Winter Spiced