Author: Vicky V

About Vicky V

Writer specialising in vampirism, tarot, witchcraft and cookery - so far! Amateur photographer specialising in food & drink, still life, architectural, gothic and nature photography.

When Shall We Three Meet Again

May 26 is World Dracula Day which celebrates the day that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was published. Dracula was published in 1897 making this year the 125th anniversary!

The Dracula Tarot

Dracula is an epistolary novel as it is written as a series of documents. The narrative beautifully unfolds through letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, ship logs, telegrams and phonograph recordings. Dracula therefore has an exhaustive list of the places, times and dates that events occur. To celebrate World Dracula Day, I decided to see if there was an entry for May 26 – and happily there was!

Telegram from Arthur Holmwood to Quincey P. Morris.
“26 May.
“Count me in every time. I bear messages which will make both your ears tingle.
“ART.”

Doesn’t that sound intriguing? Here is the previous correspondence which explains what invitation Arthur is accepting.

Letter, Quincey P. Morris to Hon. Arthur Holmwood.
“25 May.
“My dear Art,—
“We’ve told yarns by the camp-fire in the prairies; and dressed one another’s wounds after trying a landing at the Marquesas; and drunk healths on the shore of Titicaca. There are more yarns to be told, and other wounds to be healed, and another health to be drunk. Won’t you let this be at my camp-fire to-morrow night? I have no hesitation in asking you, as I know a certain lady is engaged to a certain dinner-party, and that you are free. There will only be one other, our old pal at the Korea, Jack Seward. He’s coming, too, and we both want to mingle our weeps over the wine-cup, and to drink a health with all our hearts to the happiest man in all the wide world, who has won the noblest heart that God has made and the best worth winning. We promise you a hearty welcome, and a loving greeting, and a health as true as your own right hand. We shall both swear to leave you at home if you drink too deep to a certain pair of eyes. Come!
“Yours, as ever and always,“Quincey P. Morris.”

I can just picture Quincey, Dr Seward and Arthur sitting around a campfire discussing Arthur’s “ear tingling” news. Arthur can’t wait to tell them that he is engaged to Lucy Westenra. What Arthur doesn’t know is that his proposal to Lucy on 24 May is the third she received that day. Dr Seward was the first to propose followed shortly after by Quincey. Both men are refused and they realise that Arthur is the man Lucy loves. This get-together is to congratulate Arthur for winning Lucy’s heart. Arthur is never told about the proposals and never realises how deep Dr Seward’s and Quincey’s love for Lucy is. There is also another secret that Quincey and Dr Seward keep from Arthur involving an “intimate” episode with Lucy. If you don’t already know, you’ll have to read the book to find out!

Happy World Dracula Day!

The Dracula Tarot

The Halloween “Pom” Queen

Sunday the 30th of April is southern hemisphere Halloween! There are so many ways to celebrate this most auspicious of nights. This year I’ll be celebrating the seasonal coronation of Persephone as she once again embraces her role as the Queen of the Underworld.

Persephone spends Spring and Summer in the land of the living and Autumn and Winter in the land of the dead. During the Autumn Equinox, Persephone makes her descent into the Underworld. On Halloween, we celebrate the seasonal coronation of Persephone as she regains her crown and guides us through the remaining dark half of the year.

To celebrate Persephone’s Halloween Coronation, I’m making hot chocolate. Chocolate is linked to death – and not just by the dessert Death By Chocolate! Cacao has been used in celebrations and rituals symbolising both death and rebirth for millennia. You can even buy Ceremonial Grade Cacao if you’re really keen. I’m adding mint and pomegranate to my hot chocolate which also have links to death and rebirth, so they are perfect ingredients for a Halloween drink dedicated to Persephone.

Mint is a key herb herb used in funerary rites, and also an ingredient in kykeon, a fermented barley drink used in the Eleusinian Mysteries dedicated to Demeter and Persephone. Interestingly, Minthe is the name of a nymph who was the lover of Hades. Minthe said some unflattering things about Persephone and was trampled on by either Persephone, or her mother Demeter. The herb mint sprang from the earth where Minthe was squashed. That’s a pretty powerful allegory for death and rebirth!

Pomegranate is a red fruit filled with seeds that oozes blood red juice when opened. Not surprisingly they are a fruit abundant in symbology. During her first trip to the Underworld, Persephone eats some pomegranate seeds which tie her forever to the realm of the dead. For each seed she has eaten, she must spend a month in the Underworld. There is no consensus on how many seeds she ate. As her journey represents a seasonal cycle of light and darkness, six seems to be an appropriate number. Pomegranate seeds bring Persephone back to the Underworld and on Halloween she reclaims her throne as Queen of the Dead. It is this for reason I call her my Halloween Pom (Pomegranate) Queen.

Mint Hot Chocolate with Pomegranate Whipped Cream

Ingredients (1 serving)
for the whipped cream
1/2 cup cream
1 tablespoon powdered (icing) sugar
1 teaspoon fresh pomegranate juice
pomegranate seeds for decorating
mint leaves for decorating

for the hot chocolate
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
20g finely chopped dark chocolate buds
2 tablespoons (or to taste) peppermint cordial

Instructions
Whisk the cream until slightly thickened.
Add the powdered sugar and whisk until soft peaks form.
Stir in the pomegranate juice until fluffy and combined. Set aside while you make the hot chocolate.
Heat the milk until hot, but not boiling.
Whisk in the cocoa powder until combined.
Add the chocolate and whisk until melted and combined.
Add the peppermint cordial and whisk until combined.
Pour into a heat-proof mug.
Top with whipped cream.
Decorate with mint leaves and pomegranate seeds.

Stately Ghosts

April 20th is Bram Stoker’s Death Day. This year marks the 110th year since the Dracula author passed away. To honour the memory of one of my favourite writers, I went on another Lantern Ghost Tour.

The Eynesbury Homestead Dinner and Ghost Tour usually takes place once a month on a Friday night. I had originally booked a tour for Friday the 13th in August 2021, but sadly had to postpone it. I rescheduled it for April 15th which was close to Bram Stoker’s deathiversary and also Good Friday. I loved doing a ghost tour on a day dedicated to death, blood and resurrection. The fact that it was also a full moon added to the magic!

With the moon lighting our way, our guide took us for a walk through the property, pointing out places of historical and ghostly significance. The stories were gruesome as our guide told of those who’d died so long ago, and the stories of the ghosts who remain. The abandoned meat room, with meat hooks that sometimes swing on their own, was pretty creepy. The outdoors fully explored, it was time to go inside.

As we entered the first room – the former sitting room, I was drawn to one section in particular. I wasn’t surprised when the guide told us that’s where they placed the coffin for a wake or vigil. The deceased would be displayed in the family home for a few days to make sure they were truly dead. In a time when it was difficult to ascertain death, a wake was literally giving the deceased time to wake up before burial.

I loved the stories our guide told us as they really brought to life the house and the family who built it. Sadly, most of the house has now been transformed into a restaurant at the cost of some of its historical charm – a mixture of Victorian and Georgian styles reflecting its late 19th century origins. The exception was the snooker room, which was decorated with original furnishings and even wall paper. It brought out the historical feel, including a full sized snooker table so heavy that it had sunk into the floor and had to be reinforced! Overall though, the fact that the house is displayed as a restaurant, and not a stately home takes away some of its spirit, but it’s still worth visiting.

There is a collection of antique dolls but, devastatingly, they were not on display. Apparently they have been banished to the cellar for being too creepy. We couldn’t go in the cellar, but I did take photos, hoping to see the creepy dolls. Sadly they were out of view so I didn’t get to see them.

To console myself I went home and played with my not so creepy Dracula dolls.

April Fool’s Day Capers

To celebrate April Fool’s Day I’d like to pay tribute to one of my favourite pranks. On April Fool’s Day 1957, the BBC’s current affairs program Panorama aired a story about a family in Switzerland harvesting spaghetti from their spaghetti tree. The family were celebrating a bumper harvest due to a mild winter and the almost total eradication of the spaghetti beetle.

photo from wikipedia

Apparently, spaghetti was not well known in the UK at that time so many were fooled by the story. Some viewers contacted the BBC asking for advice on how they could grow their own spaghetti trees! Wouldn’t it be awesome if there really were spaghetti trees?

To celebrate this foodie prank I just had to make a big bowl of spaghetti. Naturally I couldn’t resist adding capers to my spaghetti. Not only do capers add a tasty burst of flavour to a dish, but a “caper” is also another name for an escapade, joke or prank.

Spaghetti with Capers

Ingredients
180g spaghetti
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
good squeeze of lemon juice
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

Instructions
Cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente.
Drain and return the spaghetti to the pot.
Add the olive oil and lemon juice.
Toss until combined and the spaghetti is glossy.
Place into bowls and scatter with capers and parmesan.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

A Time For Corn

Monday the 21st of March is the Autumn Equinox in the southern hemisphere. It’s the midpoint between Lammas and Halloween. The hours of day and night are relatively equal on the Equinox. Following the Equinox, the darkness starts to gain ascendancy as the day slowly retreats into the dark half of the year.

The Autumn Equinox marks the second summer harvest festival. It represents the harvesting of grains and produce that can be enjoyed now and also preserved for the winter. Corn is one of the most sacred symbols for Autumn and is revered for its versatility. It can be eaten fresh, or preserved by being frozen or canned. It can be dried to make popcorn or ground into cornmeal and corn flour. The leaves and husks can also be used to make Corn Dollies, Corn Husk Dolls and other crafts.

Popcorn is one of the many ways I enjoy corn. I love it piping hot with lots of butter and a good sprinkling of sea salt. I’ve always used individual kernels but I recently discovered popcorn on the cob. These dried corncobs can be placed in a paper bag and popped in the microwave. I didn’t actually own a microwave but I bought one just so I could try popcorn on the cob!

Thankfully the popcorn was worth the investment. 🙂

The Power Of A Panda

March 16th is Panda Day. It’s a day to celebrate giant pandas and to raise awareness about the struggles pandas face in the wild. Giant pandas are an “umbrella species” which means that the protections we place around wild pandas and their habitats, also protect other animals that share those vulnerable habitats with them. Drawing attention to the struggles of one species can also prompt us to look at other vulnerable animals and hopefully will inspire us to do something to protect the many species around the world that need our help.

Giant pandas are not only important for the planet, but for some of us they nourish our souls. In A Personality Of Pandas, I wrote about my personal connection to pandas and how they helped me through a very difficult time. After a horror couple of years that included a global pandemic, I recently needed to draw on the healing power of pandas again. The best way to do that was to visit the quirky black and white bears at Adelaide Zoo.

Adelaide Zoo is the only zoo in Australia that has giant pandas. Fu Ni (Lucky Girl) and Wang Wang (Net Net) arrived in November 2009. Adelaide is only a short flight, or an eight hour drive, from Melbourne so luckily I’ve been able to visit our resident pandas a few times. I was planning to visit them again two years ago, but the pandemic put our travel plans on hold. I didn’t think it would take so long to see them again but the wait was worth it.

Unfortunately Fu Ni didn’t make an appearance on the day we visited, but Wang Wang did. As soon as I saw his adorable face, and those black ears that look like they’ve been stuck on his head with a glue gun, I felt some some of my anger, pain and grief melt away. I happily watched Wang Wang sitting there eating his bamboo. He was so close I could hear him tearing the strips which he then shoved into his mouth. He seemed oblivious to the crowd until the woman next to me asked if she was blocking my view. Wang Wang stopped eating and stared at us, seeming eager to hear the answer himself. I was happy to let him know that no-one was blocking my view. Wang Wang gave me a long, hard stare and then went back to his feasting, Ieaving me with a lighter soul and a smile on my face.

Happy Panda Day!

A Day For Pancakes

This year we begin the month of March with Pancake Day!

Pancake Day, also know as Shrove Tuesday, is part of Easter observances so it doesn’t have a fixed date. It is followed by Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Shrove Tuesday is the last day to eat rich, sweet and fatty foods before a period of fasting begins. Thankfully I don’t celebrate Easter (so no fasting) but I do celebrate pancakes!

This year I am indulging in mini pancakes called pikelets. Pikelets are an Aussie and New Zealand treat and are enjoyed any time of the day. They can be eaten hot or cold and can be served with sweet or savoury toppings.

I’ve tweaked a traditional pikelet recipe to make an overnight version that also has oats. You’ll need to start preparing these the night before, as the oats and milk need to soak overnight.

Overnight Oat Pikelets

Ingredients
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
butter for frying

Instructions
Mix the oatmeal and milk together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning remove the oat mix from the refrigerator.
Stir in the beaten egg until combined.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a small bowl.
Add to the oat mix and stir until combined. (You want a thick batter so add more milk or flour to get the right consistency).
Melt some butter in a frying pan.
Drop tablespoons of batter into the pan, allowing room for spreading.
Cook for 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and the bottom is lightly browned.
Turn them over with a spatula and cook for 30 – 60 seconds or until lightly brown on the bottom.
Remove from the pan.
Eat them hot or cold with sweet or savoury toppings.

Lammas And The Year Of The Water Tiger

February 1st is Lammas (or Lughnasadh) in the southern hemisphere and Imbolc in the northern hemisphere. This year these festivals coincide with Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival. As Chinese New Year begins on a New Moon, February 1st is shaping up to be a very powerful day.

Lammas is the halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It is the First Summer Harvest and, in Australia, the first Pagan festival for the year. Baking bread, crafting and enjoying the produce of the first harvests are traditional ways of celebrating this festival.

In the Chinese zodiac, every New Year is ruled by a different animal that rotates through a twelve year cycle. This year is the Year of the Tiger. The tiger is the king of all the beasts and is associated with strength, confidence and bravery. Like all the animals in the zodiac, the tiger not only rules a year, but also a month (February 4th to March 5th), day (Saturday), and hour (3am to 4.59am).

To celebrate both Lammas and the Year of Tiger, I wanted to make tiger bread. Tiger bread, also known as Dutch crunch, tijgerbrood or tijgerbol, is a Dutch bread with a mottled crust. The crust is made by coating half-proofed bread dough with a rice flour paste. The resulting crackle crust is supposed to resemble the patterns of a tiger. However, after a three year old girl wrote to Sainsbury’s saying the pattern looked more like a giraffe than a tiger, the supermarket chain changed the name to giraffe bread. You be the judge!

(Photo from Wikipedia)

January has been a very hectic, but fun, month so I didn’t have time to make tiger bread. So to celebrate both Lammas and the Year of Tiger, I made Tiger Stripe Cupcakes instead. There are lots of ways to decorate cupcakes to look like tigers, but I went for two-toned chocolate and orange cupcakes piped with black and orange coloured cream cheese frosting.

Tiger Stripe Cupcakes

Special Equipment (optional)*
Two piping bags

Ingredients
for the cupcakes
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
2 cups plain flour, sifted
3 teaspoons baking powder, sifted

for the chocolate cupcakes
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
black food colouring

for the orange cupcakes
1/2 teaspoon orange oil
orange food colouring

for the cream cheese frosting
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
125g (1/2 cup) cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered (icing) sugar

for the black cream cheese frosting
black food colouring

for the orange cream cheese frosting
orange food colouring

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a medium sized bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy.
Add the eggs one at a time and beat until light and fluffy.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Using a wooden spoon, fold in the flour and baking powder.
Divide the mixture into two half portions.
For the chocolate cupcakes, mix in the cocoa powder and enough black food colouring to achieve the desired black colour.
For the orange cupcakes, mix in the orange oil and enough orange food colouring to achieve the desired orange colour.
To create a stripe effect, dollop approximately half of the chocolate mix evenly into the bottom of the cupcake cases and wait until the mixture has spread to the sides of the cases.
Dollop approximately half of the orange mix evenly over the chocolate mix and wait until the mixture has spread to the sides.
Repeat with remaining chocolate mix and finish with the orange mix.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling, make the cream cheese frosting by creaming together the butter and cream cheese in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer.
Gradually beat in the powdered sugar.
Beat until frosting reaches a piping consistency.
Divide the mixture into two half portions.
For the black frosting, mix in enough black food colouring to achieve the desired black colour.
For the orange frosting, mix in enough orange food colouring to achieve the desired orange colour.
Spoon black frosting in one piping bag and the orange in the other.
Pipe alternating black and orange stripes onto cupcakes.

*if you don’t have two piping bags just pipe one frosting first, leaving spaces to fill in with the other frosting and wash the bag between frostings. You can also leave the cakes unfrosted and serve a frosting on the side.

Happy Lunar New Year and Happy Lammas (or whatever Pagan Festival you are celebrating!) 🙂

Sister Mary Fluffy’s Spiked Cocoa

Sister Mary Fluffy is a character from The Panda Chronicles created by Anne Belov. She is a Panda Nun who some may say has developed a few bad habits. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with a nun who likes to live a spirited life.

When Sister Mary Fluffy arrives at the Panda House in DC, she is welcomed with a mug of hot cocoa which the Panda House serves with “marshymellows” (marshmallows). Can we really blame her for wanting to “freshen” her cocoa with something more uplifting? After all, she has travelled a long way to get there.

When I decided to create a spiked cocoa for Sister Mary Fluffy, I thought about how she would go about making one. Would Sister Mary Fluffy need a recipe? I don’t think so! I think the unconventional Panda Nun would simply make something with what is it at hand – or in her case – at paw. Here is Sister Mary Fluffy in her felted form, obviously full of good spirits!

Sister Mary Fluffy’s Spiked Cocoa with Extra Spiked Marshmallows

To make the spiked marshmallows, pour some sugar in a small bowl and set aside (I used Demerara sugar).
Skewer large marshmallows onto cocktail sticks (I used vanilla and raspberry).
Half fill a shot glass with your chosen spirit or spirits (I used whiskey for the vanilla and red vermouth for the raspberry marshmallows).
Dunk in a marshmallow, making sure it is covered in alcohol.
Allow to sit for a few minutes (don’t leave it too long as it may dissolve).
Remove marshmallow, gently shaking off any excess alcohol into the glass.
Roll in sugar.
Place upright in a glass.
Repeat with remaining marshmallows.
Set aside while you make the hot cocoa.

To make the hot cocoa, heat your favourite milk in a saucepan or microwave (I use full cream milk).
Whisk in your favourite cocoa powder (I use dark cocoa powder).
Add sweetener if desired, remembering that the marshmallows will add sweetness (I leave mine unsweetened).
Add a good splash of your favourite spirit or spirits (I used whisky for both types of marshmallows).
Top with as many marshmallows as you like.

Solstice Gingerbread

The Summer Solstice is almost here and this year it falls on Wednesday the 22nd of December. On this day, the Sun reaches its zenith, its highest point in the sky. The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. After the Summer Solstice, the days start to get shorter as we wind our way toward Lammas.

The Summer Solstice in the southern hemisphere is mirrored by the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere. It also occurs near Xmas which in many ways is a Midwinter festival. To celebrate this hemispherical duality, I thought I would make a gingerbread cake which is perfect for the Winter Solstice. I’m also going to show you how to use this cake for a Summer Solstice treat!

The recipe I’m using is from A Gothic Cookbook by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino. A Gothic Cookbook is being crowdsourced through Unbound so hopefully it gets fully funded because I want a copy! The book is beautifully illustrated by Lee Henry and features recipes inspired by classic and contemporary Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Rosemary’s Baby, Frankenstein and one of my favourites – Dracula. You might assume I’d be making a recipe inspired by Dracula, but the gingerbread cake recipe is actually inspired by Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

That Very Special Gingerbread
I followed the recipe below without making any of my customary tweaks. I was briefly tempted to try a different icing, but I’m glad I didn’t. The lemon icing was tart and refreshing and complimented the deep treacle flavour of the cake beautifully.
(You can use molasses or blackstrap molasses if you don’t have black treacle)

My partner and I tried our best to eat all the cake but it was looking like we would fail. I was planning to freeze the leftovers, but then realised I could use the leftover cake to make a quick and easy Summer Solstice treat – Gingerbread Ice Cream!

Gingerbread Ice Cream

Ingredients
Roughly chopped pieces of gingerbread cake, including the bits with icing
Good quality vanilla ice cream, softened slightly

Instructions
Mix the cake and ice cream together in a bowl.
Place in a container and freeze.
That’s it!
There are no measurements for the ingredients so you can make as much or as little as you want. You can also add as much cake to the ice cream as you like.

Happy Solstice!