Witch’s wand

Witch’s wand

Aylin Öney Tan
Witch’s wand It is time for Halloween, which also happens to be the peak period of Scorpio’s. Of all the astrological signs, the Scorpio lady must be the one most associated with witches. Proud to be one, Scorpio’s are not the bit scary, unless you step onto them. The witches are adorable, too; it must be the envy to their self-determination and freedom, ready to ride on a broom and disappear to faraway lands any moment. I have this free flying spirit, traveling all the time, a habit often exhausting, but totally rewarding. Travel is the food of the soul; one that enlivens and illuminates the inner self.

Fall months are a bit tricky. September is still like summer; then just as the feel of autumn comes in October, it is suddenly November, almost winter, and all of a sudden you realize time is ticking and the end of the year is close. Autumn gets increasingly dreary as one gets older. Chill is in the air; it is not only the temperatures dropping, but also the frosty feeling that the inevitable end is getting nearer. This is time to ward off those haunting thoughts, cheer up and party or run for an escape. Actually this is exactly what Halloween is about!

Halloween truly represents the transition of the seasons; it marks the end of the year. It is about death and the wishful belief in rebirth. According to ancient Pagan beliefs, it was the day of the souls. The ancient Celtic festival Samhain was celebrated on Nov. 1, the first day of winter. The night before the celebrations, it was believed the dead would return to the world. It was All Souls’ Day and the night before All Hallows’ Eve, when people would light bonfires to ward off roaming ghosts. Wavering between autumn and winter, life and death, Halloween is also about the disparity of plenty and paucity. It is about the fear that abundance will unavoidably turn into scarcity. It is almost obligatory to enjoy all the food and booze, while the stocks still last, and be merry to forget about the grimly ghosts.

Barmbrack, the filling cake studded with a bounty of currants and raisins, is in the center of the traditional Irish celebration. It was customary to hide something within the dough as a fortune-telling game, which would evoke hopes for the future. A small coin found in the cake would bring good fortune, a ring a good catch for a poor maiden.

Oddly similar, in the Ottoman calendar, the year was divided into two, winter starting at Nov. 8. In the Ottoman customs, the start of the Islamic calendar is celebrated with “Aşure,” a pudding representative of the plenty. In the olden times, it was customary to hide a dried fava bean in the pudding; the lucky one who found it would keep it in their purse all year long as a magnet for fortune. By coincidence, this year aşure day falls to November 2nd, next Sunday, barely missing the Halloween

It is all about the quest for hope. Tricks of life are hard to deal with, so we all need treats. Just like Halloween, Scorpio is about death and rebirth. Like the Phoenix, a true Scorpio can re-emerge from its own ashes. This Halloween, I feel rejuvenated and ready to sweep all the dirt and dust away with my magic broom. They say Mercure is stepping back, making way to new beginnings. Time to celebrate, my fellow Scorpios, have your magic wands ready, it is time for a treat!

Recipe of the Week: This recipe is a favorite of mine, known in my close circle as “Aylin’s Barmbrack.” It is an Irish teacake (báirín breac), traditionally baked for Halloween, which I adopted from Jane Pettigrew, author of lovely books on tea and teatime in the U.K. It is different from the traditional Halloween one; very versatile and keeps long; once made in bulk, it can magically survive the Halloween party, Thanksgiving dinner, and Christmas night, all in a row. To serve, slice it very thinly and enjoy with a spread of good quality cultured butter, or crème fraiche, or “kaymak,” or clotted cream.

Soak 450 g mixed dried fruits (finely chop the bigger ones) in 300 ml cold strong black tea and 150 g brown sugar. The secret is in the combination of fruits. I prefer to have at least one third on the less sugary, sourish and tart side; prunes, plum fruit leather; dried apricots, sour cherries, barberries (sold as zereşk in Turkey); another one third sweet fruits like raisins, sultanas, dates, candied assorted fruits, dried figs and mulberries; the rest with medium sweetness but with an aroma, tannins, or bitterness, like dried dark grapes, currants, candied citrus peel, candied fig. The choice of tea also makes a variation. Ceylon or Turkish tea is ideal, but special ones like the woody, smoky Lapsang Souchong, or spicy chai, will make a dramatic difference. Mix in the grated rind of 1 orange and 2-3 tsp mixed spice. Ready bought mixed spice is fine or you can use special Christmas mixes like Lebkuchen spice, or create a combination of your own by mixing cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, coriander, star anise etc. Cover the dried fruits-tea-sugar-spice combination with a cling film and leave overnight. The next day mix in 2 eggs, 250 g flour, 1 sachet baking powder and a pinch of salt (note that there is no butter or fat). Pour the cake batter into one big or two small non-stick or lined loaf tins.

Bake in a moderate oven (180C) for 1.5-1.75 hours, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
You can easily duplicate or triple the recipe to make several cakes. Wrapped tightly, it will last long. From time to time, feed the one you reserve for Christmas with booze, and you’ll be rewarded with the magical touch of the witch’s wand.

Bite of the week

Fork of the Week: The ultimate Halloween treat, a good quality candied apple on a stick, seductively red as the witches’ apples are hard to find. One good spot, which still sells hand-made candied apples, is Cafer Erol, the famous Turkish Delight and candy store. http://www.sekercicafererol.com/en/

Cork of the Week: A recent surprisingly good treat came from a relatively unknown new wine producer from Urla. Sonnet 23 by USCA is a darkly luscious blend of Syrah and Foça Karası, a revived indigenous grape of the Aegean. The wine truly celebrates the rebirth of a lovely grape, with an almost bluish bloody red tint, blending perfectly with good old Syrah, making it all the combination for Halloween.  www.usca.com.tr