Esoteric

Food For Death

Bram Stoker died 106 years ago on April 20th, 1912. Many of us will never forget this great writer nor the amazing works and characters he created.

My recipe for this year’s deathiversary is inspired by a traditional dish called funeral potatoes, an American comfort food casserole that is often brought to gatherings held after funerals. There are many variations but the key ingredients are potatoes, cheese, onion, sour cream, a canned cream based soup and a crunchy topping. It is easy to prepare, travels well and is easily reheated.

My funeral potatoes are a very different dish and are inspired by Dracula’s immortal line “I Never Drink … Wine.” Although these words never appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel, they were uttered by the equally unforgettable Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning’s 1931 movie Dracula. Baked in red wine and olive oil and flavoured with rosemary, the herb of remembrance, these versatile potatoes can be eaten hot from the oven or cold from the refrigerator. I find the flavour of the wine is more pronounced when they are eaten at room temperature.

Served with sour cream you’ll want to make them for all occasions – not just funerals!    

Funeral Potatoes with Red Wine & Rosemary

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Ingredients
1kg potatoes
1 cup red wine – split in two
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
sprigs of fresh rosemary
sour cream for serving

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F.
Peel then chop the potatoes in half and then in quarters.
Place in a baking tray in a single layer.
Pour over 1/2 cup of red wine, reserving the other 1/4 cup for later.
Pour over the oil.
Add the dried rosemary and salt.
Toss together until combined.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and flip them over.
Pour over the remaining 1/2 cup of wine.
Return to the oven and bake for another 15 – 20 minutes or until they are cooked to your liking.
Drain on paper towels and allow to cool.
Place in an airtight container and add some sprigs of fresh rosemary.
Refrigerate until needed.
Allow them to come to room temperature before serving.
Serve with sour cream.

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Act 1 – Shakespeare Around The Globe

This Sunday is both Easter Sunday and April Fools’ day and I know which one I am most excited about!

April Fools’ Day for me is a day to celebrate the spirit of the tarot Fool. The Fool is the first card in the major arcana and it is the Fool who journeys through the tarot and learns the lessons of the cards. The Fool is so important it is the only major arcana card to be represented in modern playing card decks. In these decks the Fool plays the role of the Joker.

Fool

fool card from the dracula tarot

The Fool symbolises new beginnings, adventures and journeys – that’s why I have adopted April Fools’ Day as my personal New Year’s Day. On April Fools’ Day I take time to look back on the year that has passed and make plans for the year ahead. What is most exciting for me is that my plans for this coming year are intertwined with the journeys I made this past year.

Last year I travelled to America and fulfilled a childhood dream of visiting Salem, Massachusetts. I also got to meet in person a friend I have known online for many years. Plus I visited the island where an Atlantic puffin I sponsor spends their summer. A few weeks ago I travelled to America again to attend a giant panda fan convention in San Diego, something I have wanted to do for many years. I ended this trip with a visit to San Fransisco where my partner Paul and I celebrated 30 years of not being married by walking on the Golden Gate Bridge 🙂 Both trips have been enriching and will provide me with inspiration – and recipes – for this year’s blog posts. They may also have given me material for a book or two!

What does this have to do with Shakespeare? Well Shakespeare was no stranger to the power and importance of Fools. Many of his most memorable characters were witty and clever Fools. Plus, it was two Shakespeare inspired establishments that provided me with comfort and nourishment in San Diego. That’s right – Shakespeare’s influence extends around the globe!

One of the things I love to do before I travel is research places to eat. Two of the places I picked in San Diego were the Shakespeare Pub & Grille and Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea. I couldn’t wait to visit them.

The Shakespeare Pub & Grille was established in 1990 by British expats. It is modelled on a traditional British pub in English Tudor style. The food is classic British comfort food and the bar stocks beers from around the world. We ordered a couple of beers and their signature dish – Fish & Chips. We were treated to crisp and crunchy pieces of beer battered cod with peas and chips (fries) served with tartare sauce and malt vinegar. It was delicious. After such a tasty meal we had to try their desserts. Paul chose Sticky Toffee Pudding – a steamed light sponge cake covered in a sweet and sticky toffee sauce. He couldn’t decide between custard and ice cream so he had both. I chose something I have never tried before but have always wanted to – Spotted Dick! This amusingly named dessert is a steamed suet pudding containing dried fruit and is traditionally served with custard. YUM 🙂 Each bite melted in my mouth and I was rewarded with the scent and taste of a soft, warm and spicy fruit cake. The custard was smooth and creamy and complemented the pudding perfectly. We were ready to go back to the hotel and have a nap but we had one more culinary stop to make.

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Next door to the Shakespeare Pub is Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea which is run by a British family. We had hoped to have a cream tea in their patio tearoom but we were too full from lunch. Instead we decided to check out the store and see what they had on offer. Not surprisingly the shelves were stocked with British produce. Missing my nightly tea and shortbreads, I was happy to find a box of Earl Grey teabags and a packet of Scottish shortbreads. I also found an interestingly shaped spoon which the staff told me was a Black and Tan spoon used for pouring layered cocktails. As a fan of layered cocktails, I had to have it. In the fridge I saw a jar of clotted cream which I was so tempted to buy but valiantly resisted. When I went to pay I noticed they were selling scones to take home. I looked at Paul and he knew exactly what I was thinking – Cream Tea for Dinner! We grabbed scones, a jar of strawberry jam – and the jar of clotted cream 🙂 That evening we sat on the balcony of our hotel room and enjoyed our cream tea. We even had enough scones, jam and cream left for a cream tea breakfast the next morning.

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While there may not have been too much “Shakespeare” in this story I shall make up for that in Act 2, which tells a tale of my Shakespearean adventures in Melbourne. It will be closely followed by Act 3 – a recipe inspired by these tales.

If you are need of more adventure this Easter weekend there is a Full Moon to celebrate. And for those of us in Melbourne, Australia, due to time zone differences, this will be a Blue Full Moon!

Dracula’s Journey

Devil

I’m excited to announce some wonderful news about the Dracula Tarot. Like Dracula himself, the Dracula Tarot has crossed the oceans to find a new home. What does that mean? It means the Dracula Tarot deck is now also available for sale in America! So if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for someone else, you’ll find them at Next Millennium Mystical Books and Gifts in Omaha, Nebraska. Don’t worry, a few copies stayed at home in Australia so if you’re on this side of town you can still order a few tarot decks from my website. The Dracula Tarot book is available online at Amazon. 🙂

What better way to celebrate than with these devilish nibbles followed by a few drinks!

Devilled Eggs
 
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Ingredients
6 eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
black pepper
paprika

Method
Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water.
Cover and bring to a boil.
Once boiling, turn off the heat and allow the eggs to cook for 15 minutes.
Remove from saucepan and allow to rest for 2 minutes before peeling.
Refrigerate until cold then cut in half lengthways.
Scoop out the yolk, place in a bowl and mash.
Mix in the mayonnaise and mustard.
Spoon or pipe mixture back into the eggs.
Sprinkle with pepper and paprika.

A Dark Beginning

The 8th of November will be Bram Stoker’s 170th birthday!

Count of Goblets

The Dracula Tarot

Famous for writing the gothic novel Dracula, Bram Stoker had an interesting start in life. Bram spent the first seven years of his childhood suffering from a mystery illness which left him mostly bedridden. During his long illness, Stoker spent much of of his time alone or being entertained by his mother Charlotte who loved to tell him stories, some of them quite scary. Stoker himself said that the time he spent bedridden as a child deeply influenced his future writing.

When I think of the young Bram and his illness, I think of Lucy Westenra and her battle with Dracula. I also think of Count Dracula himself, alone with his thoughts in his isolated castle far away in Transylvania. I wonder if Dracula would ever have been written if Stoker had not had such a challenging start to his life.

I sometimes imagine what the young Bram Stoker would have been fed during his ailment. I have many foods I go to for comfort and convalescence but one of favourites is porridge. I love rice porridges like congee, cornmeal porridges like mamaliga and classic oatmeal porridges.

Oats were an important crop in Ireland so Bram probably had a few porridges in his day. There are many ways I like to eat oatmeal, but when I’m thinking of Bram Stoker and vampires I like to serve my porridge with a good drizzle of black as night molasses and a dollop of cream 🙂

Steel-Cut Oats

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Ingredients
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup steel-cut oats*
molasses for drizzling
cream for dolloping

Instructions
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a saucepan.
Add the oats.
Stirring occasionally, cover and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes or until they achieve your desired level of chewiness.
Turn off the heat and allow to rest for 2 minutes.
Place oatmeal in a bowl.
Drizzle with molasses.
Add a good dollop of cream
Cover and refrigerate any leftover porridge. You can reheat it or have it cold.

*Steel-cut oats are known by a few names such as Irish oats, pinhead oats or coarse oatmeal.

Soup For The Soulless

Bela Lugosi was born on October 20th, 1882 in Lugos, Hungary. Bela was most famous for his portrayals of the vampire Count Dracula. As an Hungarian actor famous for playing a Romanian prince, it seems appropriate that his birthplace is now called Lugoj and is in Romania.

In honour of Bela’s Hungarian heritage I wanted to make a traditional Hungarian dish for his 135th birthday. I also wanted it to be blood red. Classic paprika dishes like goulash are an option but I wanted something sweet and liquid. That’s when I discovered meggyleves, a sweet(ish) soup made from fresh sour cherries. The name is a combination of the Hungarian words “meggy” meaning sour cherries and “leves” meaning soup.

To make meggyleves, unpitted sour cherries are simmered in spices before adding sour cream. The soup is then chilled and served cold. I was looking forward to making this soup but our greengrocer didn’t have any fresh cherries as they are out of season. When I got home I started thinking of ways of “resurrecting” the recipe. I had a jar of sour cherries, and although the recipes don’t recommend canned cherries, I thought I would give it a try.

Rather than simmering the already soft cherries I decided I would simmer just the juice in the spices before adding the sour cream. The one thing I was really disappointed with was that the flavour of the cherry stones would be missing. Then I remembered that one of my favourite spices is mahleb which is made from ground cherry stones. I added a dash of mahleb and hoped for the best. The soup is pink rather than blood red but I enjoyed the flavour and could taste the mahleb. I would definitely make it again and am looking forward to making it with fresh cherries when they are back in season.

Resurrected Sour Cherry Soup

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Ingredients
600g (21oz) jar pitted morello cherries
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon flour
1/4 teaspoon ground mahleb (optional but recommended!)
cream for serving

Instructions
Strain the cherry juice into a saucepan and place the cherries into a bowl.
Heat the cherry juice, water, cinnamon and cloves in a small saucepan.
Bring to a gentle boil.
Cover and simmer for 5 minutes on low heat.
Remove from heat.
Mix together the sour cream, flour and mahleb in a bowl.
Stir a little warm soup into the sour cream mix.
Pour back into the soup and stir until combined.
Cover and allow to cool before straining over the cherries.
Refrigerate until cold.
Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of cream.

The Coffin List

No, this isn’t some macabre list of dead people, or people on my hit list. Nor is it a review of coffins. The coffin list is my name for a bucket list. I don’t like buckets – they remind me of work – but I do like coffins 🙂 To celebrate Imbolc, the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, I thought I would do some early spring cleaning and explore my coffin list.

I always hated having a list of things to do before I die, so I never made a coffin list. But when I had a few health scares in my mid thirties, I took time to look at my life and see if there was anything I really wanted to do. Only one thing came to mind – visit Romania. A diet of vampire mythology from a young age meant I was entranced by Transylvania – the land beyond the forest. I realised I would actually be sad if I never visited. So, for my fortieth birthday, I made the trip to Romania. You can read about this memorable trip in “An Archetypal Homeland” and “In the Footsteps of Jonathan Harker“.

Emboldened by having put a nail in the coffin of my first and only coffin list dream, I thought I would add Whitby to the list. Whitby is an English seaside town in Yorkshire and a major inspiration for Bram Stoker when he was writing his novel “Dracula.” I planned to go there for my fiftieth birthday as part two of my Dracula adventure. That birthday has come and gone and sadly I didn’t get to Whitby, but it’s still on my list!

Happily I did mange to hammer three very important nails into my coffin list recently. This July my partner and I took a journey to the USA to visit a dear friend on Whidbey Island, celebrate July the 4th in Salem the Witch City and visit puffins in Maine. As a bonus, we also got to meet a baby sloth in Boston.

Over the next fews weeks I’ll be sharing this exciting trip with you including recipes inspired from my travels.

For now I would like to share an earlier recipe of mine for Coffin Bread. I think it is most appropriate for a Coffin List post 🙂

Coffin Bread

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Ingredients
for the soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons plain flour
3 cups chicken stock
450g cauliflower florets
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
pomegranate molasses for drizzling

for the coffin bread
1 small rectangular loaf of bread (approximately L 15cm, W 10cm, H 10cm)
olive oil

for the garlic croutons
leftover bread pieces from the coffin bread
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch of sea salt

Method
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Make the soup by melting the butter in a large saucepan.
Add the onion and cook until softened.
Mix in the flour and the chicken stock, stir until combined.
Add the cauliflower and salt.
Simmer for 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft and cooked.
Puree the soup then return to the saucepan.
Simmer gently until the bread and croutons are cooked.
Make the coffin bread while the soup is simmering.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut a lid off the top of the bread.
Cut out most of the bread inside, creating a basket to hold the filling.
Lightly brush outside and inside the bread and lid with olive oil.
Place bread basket on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden on the inside.
While bread basket is cooking make the croutons by tearing up the leftover pieces of bread and placing in a bowl with the garlic, olive oil and salt. Toss through and place on an oven tray with the bread lid. Bake in the oven with the bread basket until golden.
The lid and croutons may cook quicker than the basket so check and remove when ready.
When bread basket is cooked, place on a serving plate.
If the soup isn’t ready yet, switch off the oven but leave the bread in the oven to keep warm.
Pour the soup into the bread basket.
Drizzle with pomegranate molasses.
Serve the bread lid and croutons on the side.

The Witches Of Easter

Thinking about my broomstick, I decided to google “broomstick cookies” for a laugh. I wasn’t surprised to find Halloween type recipes where cookies or pretzels are shaped to look like brooms but I was surprised to find recipes for Swedish Broomstick Cookies. When I saw pictures of them they looked like curled, lacey tuile cookies. So why are they called broomstick cookies? Because the warm cookies are draped over the handle of a broomstick to achieve the slightly curled shape. I love the idea of shaping cookies on broomsticks 🙂 What I love even more is that the discovery of these cookies also led to another witchy discovery – the Swedish Witches of Easter!

Blåkulla is a place in Sweden where witches go to celebrate a Witches’ Sabbath. The destination can only be reached by a magical flight. Luckily witches have broomsticks! On the Eve of Maundy Thursday – the night of the Last Supper – Swedish witches grab their broomsticks and fly out of their chimneys to Blåkulla. They take a black cat and a copper coffee pot with them. I expected a cat but not a coffee pot. It warms my heart to know these witches take their coffee drinking seriously – just like me 🙂 They party for three nights with the Devil before returning home just in time for Easter Sunday.

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This idea of an Easter Witches’ Sabbath has led to an interesting tradition where young girls dress up as påskkärringar – Easter Witches. Similar to Halloween, the Easter Witches visit their neighbours with gifts of paintings, drawings and cards and are given sweets in return. Unlike Halloween, traditional påskkärringar like to dress in long, colourful skirts with shawls on their shoulders, scarves covering their heads and sporting rosy cheeks and freckles. Naturally they ride broomsticks and carry copper coffee pots – because you can’t forget about coffee!

I was going to make a batch of Swedish Broomstick Cookies in case some Easter Witches come visiting me before I fly off to Blåkulla. But, as I was sorting through a pile of recipes I had clipped from newspapers way back in 2011, I came across the perfect recipe for a witchy Easter cookie – Strazzate. These Italian chocolate and almond cookies are flavoured with Strega, a liqueur named after the Italian word for witch. I talked about Strega in my post Season Of The Witch and offered a recipe for a Strega Sunrise.

The label on a bottle of Strega features an old witch holding a broomstick. There are other witches dancing with half goat, half man creatures. These witches seem to be partaking in the same revelries as the Swedish Easter Witches so to me they are the perfect Easter Witch Cookie. They even contain coffee 🙂

Strazzate

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Ingredients
1 + 3/4 cups plain flour, sifted
1 tablespoon cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 + 3/4 cups ground almonds
2 tablespoons roughly chopped almonds
1 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped dark chocolate
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup Strega
1/3 cup warm black coffee

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line 4 baking trays with baking paper.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, ground almonds, chopped almonds, sugar, chocolate, olive oil and Strega, until combined.
Add the coffee and beat until you have a pliable dough.
Roll into balls – use approximately 1/2 a tablespoon of dough per ball.
Place on prepared baking trays and flatten slightly.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.
Allow to cool on wire racks before serving.

Recipe by Kate McGhie published in the Herald Sun newspaper April 19, 2011.
The original recipe suggested dusting the cookies with cocoa powder before serving. I didn’t do this but you can give it a try.
You can substitute Galliano for Strega but then you won’t have the witchy connection.

Food For Fools

I remember celebrating April Fool’s Day when I was a youngster at school. Every year we would try and trick each other before noon. As the years went by, the day meant less and less. But then I discovered tarot and the day was reawakened for me with a whole new meaning!

For me, April Fool’s Day is a day to celebrate the spirit of the tarot Fool. As the first card in the tarot deck, the Fool symbolises journeys, adventures and new beginnings. We don’t know if our endeavours will lead to success or failure but we surge cheerfully ahead, hopeful of a positive outcome. The Fool card is the perfect symbol for a new year. As someone who loves Autumn and Winter and looks to them as the times when I am most productive and eager to get out and about, celebrating April Fool’s Day as my personal new year makes sense to me. As someone who loves humour, starting my year on a day dedicated to mischief is just perfect.

One of the ways I love celebrating April Fool’s Day is by thinking about recipes that trick you. Tricking the senses by serving a cold soup when everyone is expecting a hot one or serving a shot of alcohol which turns out to be a solidified jelly shot are some ideas. The names of some dishes can also be tricky, like Welsh Rabbit, which doesn’t have any rabbit in it. Visual tricks are great too and there are lots of examples of savouries made to look like sweets and sweets made to look like savouries. One of my favourite Foolish Foods is a Chocolate Salami which is a sweet made to look like a savoury. When you slice it, the chocolate, cookies and walnuts trick the eye into thinking you are seeing a salami. It’s both a fun visual and a delicious treat 🙂

Chocolate Salami

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Ingredients
100g unsalted butter
3/4 cup double cream
2 tablespoons sugar
100g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200g shortbread cookies, broken into various small and medium sized pieces
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped into various small and medium sized pieces
icing sugar for dusting
greaseproof paper

Instructions
Heat the butter and cream in a medium sized saucepan over low heat.
Stir in the sugar.
Add the chocolate pieces and stir until the chocolate melts.
Add the cocoa and vanilla. Beat with a wire whisk until combined. If the mixture looks like it has split, don’t worry. Keep whisking and it will come together as it cools.
Allow to cool for a few minutes. You have to allow it to cool long enough so that the cookies don’t turn to mush when added, but not too long or the chocolate will set.
Add the broken cookies and chopped walnuts to the chocolate mixture. Stir until combined.
Place in the fridge and allow to cool. Again, you don’t want to leave it too long or the chocolate will set and you won’t be able to roll it. I check the mix every 5 minutes. You want the mix to be pliable enough to roll but not too wet.
Place the chocolate mix onto a piece of greaseproof paper and roll into a large sausage.
Refrigerate overnight.
Unwrap and sprinkle generously with icing sugar.
You can present it tied with butcher’s string or partially wrapped in baking paper.
Cut into slices.
Refrigerate any leftovers.

Check out last year’s April Fool’s Day post for my tricky Doggie Treats recipe.

Wickedly Wicked

The first thing I think of for Saint Patrick’s Day is snakes! And then I think green 🙂 Therefore it seems appropriate to continue my witchy ways by sharing my past review of the musical Wicked. After all, green is an important colour in Wicked!

It was a potion that turned Elphaba green, so celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day and Wicked with a green beverage. There are plenty to choose from, but a particularly witchy one would be Absinthe. If you’re not a fan of Absinthe, you can try Midori. These two drinks are hilariously linked in the remake of Fright Night. Magician and dubious vampire expert Peter Vincent – brilliantly played by David Tennant – pours Midori into Absinthe bottles to maintain his cool persona. Midori is also the Japanese word for green.
Cheers!

vsomethingspeaks

I missed the musical Wicked when it first came to Melbourne so when it returned I made sure I went. I decided not to read the book the musical is based on so I had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised!

What a spectacular show! Everything about the production was brilliant. The colours, the lights, the sets, the steampunk iconography, the costumes, the characters, the acting, the songs, the story. I could go on but all I’ll say is if you get a chance, see it.

As blown away as I was by the spectacle, that small part of me that is an academic analyst was analysing everything I was seeing and hearing. Again, I wasn’t disappointed. Fourteen years ago I completed eight years of study – my topic – the image of the witch in film. I haven’t written much on witches since then. Happily, Wicked…

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Maleficent Obsession

Following on from my film review of The Love Witch, I thought I would share my earlier review of the movie Maleficent. This movie allows Maleficent to tell us her story – and what a story it is!

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I’m not surprised that witches rarely get to speak their own truths in popular culture. It seems when they do, they don’t have anything positive to say about men in power.

Following on from Wicked comes the movie Maleficent. Based on fairytales and the Disney Film Sleeping Beauty, the film is Maleficent’s version of what really happened in Sleeping Beauty.

There are so many ways of approaching and analysing this film. One easy way is to discuss it in three parts:

The Early Years

Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Retold

The Ending

It’s a classic narrative structure – beginning, middle and end. But what happens in these sections is not necessarily classic, nor expected.

The first part sets the scene. There are two worlds that live side by side. The Fairy World, called The Moors, which is magical, rich, peaceful and free of rulers. Over the river is the…

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