Vampires

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.

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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.

A Birthday Surprise For Bram

Tuesday November 8 is Bram Stoker’s birthday. To celebrate, I have done a guest post over at Cordelia’s Mom Still. Cordelia’s blog is an eclectic mix of personal anecdotes, photos and other interesting things! Feel free to pop by and have a read 🙂 You can also pop round to Not Cordelia’s Mom if you want to see the world from a very different perspective!!

If you’re looking for a recipe, here’s last year’s birthday one for Bram – Irish Coffee Dessert.

 

Three of Goblets

 

I Never Drink … Wine

When Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi first uttered those immortal words in Tod Browning’s 1931 movie Dracula, he didn’t realise he would be giving birth to one of the most famous lines in vampire folklore. These words never appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel. They were unique to the film which is loosely based on the 1924 stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. It was this play that introduced us to an urbane, tuxedo wearing Count Dracula, much different to Stoker’s quite repulsive vampire. The romantic, cape wearing Count would become one of the most popular versions of the mercurial vampire in literature and cinema. His popularity does not appearing to be waning.

To celebrate Bela’s upcoming 134th birthday on Thursday October 20, I thought I would drink some wine in his honour 🙂 Sangria, a chilled Spanish red wine drink, is supposedly named after the Spanish word for blood – sangre – which reflects its dark red colour. I have chosen to meld a chilled Spanish sangria with a warm mulled wine. After all, if Dracula did drink wine he most certainly would want it served warm – like blood!

Hot Blooded Sangria

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Ingredients
1/2 cup blood orange juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
750ml bottle of red wine
1/3 cup brandy
1 blood orange, cut into pieces

Method
Place the juice and sugar in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Stir until combined.
Add the cloves and cinnamon sticks. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 – 10 minutes or until the mixture becomes syrupy.
Add the wine and brandy. Cover and simmer, without boiling, for 5 minutes.
Add the blood orange pieces to a heatproof jug.
Pour wine over the blood orange pieces.
Drink while warm.
Refrigerate any leftover wine and enjoy cold over ice.

Spanish Rioja is traditional but you can use any red wine you like. I used a Vampire Merlot from Transylvania 🙂
You can use any variety of oranges when blood oranges are out of season.

Pancakes for Bram

Wednesday the 20th of April is the 104th Deathiversary of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.

Every year I commemorate his birthday and death day.
Last year I went to the newly resurrected pancake restaurant appropriately named Stokers.
This year I decided to make my own pancakes in honour of Bram.

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Pancakes are filled with mythological and folkloric meanings. They are most commonly associated with Shrove Tuesday and Lent. Their circular shape associates them with the sun and they are often eaten at the end of winter to welcome the coming spring. They are symbols of the beginning and the end of life. I remember eating pancakes at funerals and I remember new mothers being given pancakes after childbirth. With their links to life, death and the sun, pancakes are the perfect food to honour an author whose greatest character was deeply connected to life, death and the sun.

The pancakes below are unusual as they are leavened with yeast. Yeasted pancakes are common in Eastern Europe, especially in Transylvania! They can be eaten with savoury or sweet fillings. I have chosen a classic combination of strawberry jam and cream, not only because I love the flavours, but because the colour combination has a vampiric feel for me – perfect for Mr Stoker.

Yeasted Pancakes

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Ingredients
2 cups flour
2 cups lukewarm milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried yeast
extra olive oil for frying

for serving
strawberry jam
cream

Instructions
Add the flour to a large bowl.
Slowly stir in the milk.
Add the egg, butter and oil and mix until they form a smooth pancake batter.
Add the salt and yeast and stir until combined.
Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm place for 1-3 hours or until doubled in size.
Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat.
Pour in approximately 1/4 cup of batter.
Cook for 3-4 minutes or until it starts to form bubbles.
Flip and cook for a further 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with jam and cream.

Cheers Mr Stoker!

Dracula author Bram Stoker was born on the 8th of November 168 years ago. I love remembering the birthday of a man who achieved symbolic immortality by creating an unforgettable immortal being – Count Dracula.

I wanted to create a recipe in his honour. Normally I would go for something more gothic, but I found myself wanting to pay tribute to his Irish heritage. I thought Irish Stew or Irish Soda Bread (or both!) would be great but it’s nearly summer here so hot stews and breads are a bit heavy. Maybe I will make them for his Deathiversary in April – hopefully it will cool down by then.

Thinking of the long, hot days ahead made me think of drinks and as a big coffee fan I thought of Irish Coffee. Early versions of Irish Coffee were simply hot black coffee with Irish whiskey and brown sugar stirred through, topped with thick cream. Later versions added a slug of Irish cream liqueur – yum! Naturally I wanted to add a twist. I played around with a dessert version of the classic drink and decided to make an Irish cream liqueur panna cotta, dotted with cubes of coffee jelly and topped with a whiskey cream.

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An Irish Coffee I ordered in Chengdu, China. 🙂

Working with gelatine is an adventure in itself. I use the leaves as sometimes the powder is difficult to combine and can become grainy. Leaves are great but they come in different strengths and you’re not always sure what strength they are. For jelly I usually follow the recommendations on the packet for the water/gelatine ratios. For panna cotta, I often use a bit less gelatine as I sometimes like my panna cotta creamier and less set. The panna cotta below is soft set so it contrasts well with the jelly. If you like your panna cotta set more firmly, just use more gelatine.

As this recipe is assembled on serving, you can add as much or as little coffee jelly and whiskey cream as you like. You can also choose whether you want the panna cottas to serve two, four or more people.

Irish Coffee Dessert

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Ingredients

for the panna cotta
4g of gelatine leaves
1 + 1/2 cups double cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Irish cream liqueur

for the coffee jelly
6g of gelatine leaves
1 cup freshly brewed coffee
1/4 cup sugar

for the whiskey cream
1 cup double cream
2 teaspoons icing sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Method
To make the panna cotta:
Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes to soften.
While gelatine is soaking heat the cream and sugar together in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer then remove from the heat.
Squeeze the gelatine leaves to remove any excess water then add them to the cream mixture. Whisk until the gelatine has dissolved. Stir in the Irish cream.
Pour panna cotta into a heatproof jug. Allow to cool to room temperature, stirring regularly with a whisk. Give a final stir then pour evenly into glasses or bowls. Leave some room on the top for the jelly and cream.
Cover and refrigerate overnight or until set.

To make the coffee jelly:
Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes to soften.
While gelatine is soaking heat the coffee and sugar together in a saucepan over medium-low heat until warm and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat.
Squeeze out any extra water from the gelatine leaves then add to the warm coffee. Whisk until the gelatine has dissolved.
Pour jelly into a square or rectangle container.
Allow to cool before covering and refrigerating until set. Cut into rough squares for serving.

To make the whiskey cream:
Using a wire whisk, beat together the cream and sugar until soft peaks form. Whisk in the whiskey until combined. Cover and refrigerate until cold.

To serve, dot the panna cottas with coffee jelly cubes and pipe or dollop on the whiskey cream.

A Bloody Birthday Drink

October 20th is Bela Lugosi’s birthday. He would be 133 years old if he lived. Considering he is one of the most famous actors who played Dracula, he may still be living – or undead!

As I continue to explore the five taste sensations through drinks, I couldn’t resist creating a Bloody Virgin Mary. Not only is it a drink most appropriate for a vampire, it is also a celebration of umami flavours. Umami is a Japanese word and is used to describe the unique flavour of savoury. Best examples of umami flavours can be found in aged foods such as cheese, cured foods, fermented foods, meats, sauces, seaweed and stocks.

Bloody Virgin Mary
A heady combination of savoury and salty flavours.

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Ingredients
1 + 1/2 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup beef stock
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 spring onions, finely chopped

Method
Place the tomato juice, beef stock, lemon juice, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce and spring onions in a blender. Blend until combined. Pour into a jug. The mixture will be frothy so chill in the refrigerator until settled before serving.

We’ll Always Have Stokers

While I presume Stokers isn’t named after my beloved Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, I still can’t help enjoying this quaint little eatery. Dark wood trestle-like tables and bench seating are complemented by dim lighting and eerie old time music. An ancient piano adds to the scenery as does the open fire in the centre of the room. In winter, this lit open fire warms both body and soul as staff gently stoke the fire; hence the name Stokers?

The food is delicious. Soup, salad and ice cream sundaes are on offer but the stars are the crepes. Two rolled and filled crepes are presented on a piping hot plate. Savoury fillings include bolognese, camembert with cranberry sauce and chicken mornay. Sweet fillings include traditional lemon and sugar, passionfruit and chocolate peach. A bevy of hot and cold drinks, including steaming hot Bonox, completes the menu. 

In fact, you can pop in just for a drink. I know I have spent many a long summer night in Stokers, escaping from oppressive 40 degree temperatures by sipping on their refreshing and cooling pineapple crush. And as the night wears on I find I can’t resist a crepe or two.

I wrote this review in 2006 for a food writing course. Stokers had become one of my favourite places to eat since first walking in there in the late 1980s. The name reeled me in and the fact it only opened at night stoked my vampiric fires. The decor and atmosphere were more old world than gothic but the freaky clock on the wall blew me away. When you first looked at it you knew something was wrong and then it would click – it was running anti-clockwise. After a late night of studying, indulging in crepes and drinking, that clock could do strange things to your mind.

It wasn’t until I trained as a Wiccan – or as I like to say – went to “Witch School” – that I learned that clocks went clockwise because they were modelled on Northern Hemisphere sundials and therefore travelled sunwise. If clocks were modelled on Southern Hemisphere sundials they would turn anticlockwise which for us is sunwise 🙂

Sadly Stokers closed a few years ago and my partner and I were devastated. Stokers was one of the first places we went to as a couple. Every year we would try and celebrate Bram Stoker’s Birthday and Deathiversary and Northern and Southern Hemisphere Halloween there. But like a vampire in a horror film, Stokers has risen again!!

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Trevor, one of my best friends, gave me a book of vouchers to use as he was going on holiday. Ironically, one of the places he will be visiting is Whitby – the place where Dracula  lands in England. I was supposed to be going on that trip for my 50th birthday but sadly that wasn’t to be. But all is not lost, not only has Trevor bought me a birthday present from Whitby, his book of vouchers has reunited me with a lost love. As I scanned the food vouchers there was one for Stokers Cafe! Stokers has relocated!! Was this Bram Stoker’s way of letting me know “his” cafe was resurrected? Was this a birthday present from Bram to me from beyond the grave? Probably not – but a vamp girl can dream 🙂

Have I gone to Stokers and used my voucher? Yes! It was with great excitement and happiness that Paul and I went out for dinner at the new Stokers. We weren’t sure what to expect but happily we weren’t disappointed. The new owners have kept some of the old world charm of the original Stokers but sadly the anticlockwise clock didn’t make it. There is a fireplace which will be warm and cosy in winter and the lighting is just dark enough to echo the original.

The menu changes were also intriguing. Some of the old favourites were there but the menu has been “revamped” to fit in with its new inner city location. They now have burgers and cold drip coffee. They also have Pancake Chips which are deep fried pieces of pancakes served with a dipping sauce. Naturally we had to try them. I couldn’t decide which sauce to choose. Wasabi Mayonnaise sounded great and so did the Black Pepper Mayonnaise and The Garlic Parsley Mayonnaise. In the end I couldn’t resist choosing the Vegemite Mayonnaise. I’m glad I did 🙂

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For dessert Paul chose the Pancake Suzette which was set alight on our table.

I chose the Hot Jam Donut Pancakes which lived up to their name. They even cut little holes in the pancakes to mimic donuts. Luckily they served the holes with the pancakes!

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By the end of the evening I was so happily full, I couldn’t fit in a coffee. Luckily they sell the cold drip coffee in little bottles that you can take home. I had mine the next day my favourite way – equal parts cold coffee and cold cream.

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I can’t wait to return to Stokers – maybe I’ll unwrap my present from Whitby over hot crepes and cold drip coffee. 🙂

Invitation To A Funeral

Dracula author Bram Stoker died 103 years ago on April 20th. Twice a year, on Bram’s birthday and death day, I think about the author and his infamous vampire creation Count Dracula; two of the greatest influences on my life. This deathiversary got me thinking about death and cookies, two other great influences on my life 🙂

Stoker lived most of his life in the Victorian era. One of the most obvious themes in the novel Dracula is the exploration of the strict and repressive Victorian attitudes toward sexuality. But Dracula is also an exploration of Victorian attitudes to death and mourning. After all, Queen Victoria is as famous for her strict codes of morality as for her role as the “widow of Windsor”.

After the death of her beloved husband, Queen Victoria wore nothing but black for the rest of her life. Mourning jewellery became fashionable, and jewellery containing the hair of dead loved ones was popular. Queen Victoria particularly favoured jewellery made from Whitby jet for her mourning dress. Is it a coincidence that Dracula first lands in Whitby when he travels to England or is it a nod to the Victorian Queen’s favourite mourning gemstone? I don’t know. What I do know is that during Queen Victoria’s reign, mourning became an art in itself. And that brings us to cookies!

Funeral cookies have a long history and are part of the customs related to eating food for the dead. Funeral cookies were essentially edible offerings that were handed out at funerals. They could be eaten at the funeral to honour the dead, eaten as snacks on the way home from the funeral or given as treats to those who couldn’t attend the funeral. They could also be kept as mementoes of the day.

In Victorian times, homemade cookies were replaced by bakeries who offered made to order products on short notice. The evolution of printing technology allowed bakers the opportunity to package cookies in creative ways. Cookies could be wrapped in ornate wrappings containing printed information such as the funeral notice for the deceased, biblical quotes or poems. The Funeral cookies could then be used as funeral invitations with all the funeral details printed on the wrapper. If you were particularly peckish, you could even snack on them on the way to the funeral!

I loved the quaint idea of a cookie wrapped in a funeral invitation so much that I decided to make my own version of traditional funeral cookies. My version is a shortbread style cookie flavoured with caraway seeds, which are a traditional spice in old-style cookies. I have added rosemary as it symbolises remembrance and is therefore associated with remembering and honouring the dead. I have also used a cookie stamp to give them an ornate appearance.

Funeral Cookies

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Ingredients
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cornflour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
180g unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped finely
extra cornflour for dusting biscuit stamp

Instructions
Mix together the flour, cornflour, salt and caraway seeds.
In a separate bowl cream together the butter, icing sugar and rosemary until smooth.
Add the flour mixture and beat until combined.
Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Roll dough mixture into balls.
Press into biscuit stamp lightly dusted with cornflour.
Place on prepared trays.
Continue until all mixture is used.
Place trays in refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 150C / 300F
Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
Allow to cool briefly before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.