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.
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!
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!) 🙂
May 26 is World Dracula Day. This is the day that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was published in 1897. There are so many brilliant characters in Dracula who, although they do not appear very often, are nonetheless unforgettable. The three vampire women who live in Castle Dracula are such creatures.
The three female vampires are never individually named in Dracula but are collectively called the “weird sisters” or “sisters”. It is Jonathan who calls them the “weird sisters”, a name that links them to the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They are known as the “Brides of Dracula” in popular culture but that name was never used in the novel. Intriguingly, it is the name “sister” that the female vampires themselves embrace.
After Mina is been bitten by Dracula and slowly starts to turn into a vampire, she travels to Transylvania, where she meets the three female vampires. They recognise her vampiric nature and welcome her into the sisterhood with the words “Come, sister. Come to us. Come! Come!” Another form of sisterhood is the relationship between Mina and Lucy in which Mina describes Lucy as a sister. The nuns that take care of Jonathan when he escapes from Castle Dracula are another important form of collective “sisters” that highlight the importance of sisterhoods in Dracula.
While the vampire sisters are never named, they are certainly described in graphic detail by Jonathan who meets the beguiling vampire trio at Castle Dracula.
“In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner.”
“Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires.”
“All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips.”
“I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips.”
While Johnathan is both seduced and repulsed by the vampire sisters, they only see one thing in him – blood!
“He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.”
To celebrate the sisters’ desire for bloody vampire kisses I thought I would make them a Vampire’s Kiss Cocktail.
A Vampire’s Kiss is a delicious drink made with Chambord, vodka and cranberry juice. Chambord is a French liqueur flavoured with red and black raspberries. The colour of the red and black raspberries made me think of the two dark haired sisters and the vodka made me think of the pale sister. The red cranberry juice adds to the bloody colour of the cocktail and is a perfect reflection of the bloody lips and bloody desires of the vampire sisters. While cranberry juice is traditional, I used pomegranate juice as pomegranates are linked to Demeter, Persephone and Hades. There are many references to this myth in Dracula, especially in the name the Demeter, the ship that brings the Count to England.
To make sure we don’t disappoint the vampire sisters by running out of liquid kisses, the amounts below are easy to scale or up or down so you can make a small cocktail for one or a pitcher for a crowd!
Ingredients 1 part Chambord 2 parts vodka 2 parts pomegranate juice
Instructions Pour the Chambord and vodka into a chilled glass or jug. Top with pomegranate juice.
This year I thought I would commemorate Bram Stoker’s April 20th Deathiversary by exploring Quincey P. Morris, an important but often overlooked character in Dracula.
Quincey P. Morris is a young, rich American from Texas. He’s a larrikin who carries a bowie knife. He has travelled and had many adventures and is a bit rough and ready. He loves using American slang when he is with friends but is also a gentleman with impeccable manners. Quincey is close friends with both Arthur Holmwood and Dr Seward. All three are in love with Lucy Westenra and all three propose to her. Although Lucy chooses Arthur, Dr Seward and Quincey remain loyal and devoted friends to both Arthur and Lucy. When Lucy is bitten by Dracula, Arthur, Dr Seward and Quincey join forces with Abraham Van Helsing to try and save her life. Sadly they fail and Lucy becomes one of the undead and is eventually staked by Arthur.
When Mina Harker becomes the next target of Dracula, Arthur, Dr Seward, Quincey and Abraham Van Helsing join forces with Mina and her husband Jonathan Harker, to do battle with Dracula for the life and soul of Mina. After mighty struggles and an arduous journey to Transylvania, Mina watches as Jonathan and Quincey fight a band of gypsies protecting the fleeing Dracula. As they fight their way towards Dracula’s crate, Quincey is stabbed by one of the gypsies. Undeterred, Quincey makes it to Jonathan’s side and together they pry open Dracula’s crate. A horrified Mina watches as Jonathan slits Dracula’s throat and Quincey stabs Dracula in the heart with his bowie knife. Dracula’s body crumbles and disappears before their eyes. A dying Quincey watches as the symbol of Mina’s corruption, a wafer burn scar on her forehead, vanishes. He dies a happy man knowing that Mina’s soul is restored.
On the anniversary of Quincey’s death, Mina gives birth to a son. Quincey Harker has a bundle of names that link all the vampire hunters together but they call him Quincey in honour of his ultimate sacrifice. Quincey P. Morris is in many ways the true hero of Dracula. As a big fan of Quincey, I’m happy that his name and spirit live on.
To pay tribute to Stoker’s fascinating yet underrated character, I was considering making a Texas Funeral Cake. This way I could honour Quincey’s Texan heritage, and also enjoy a chocolate sheet cake topped with chocolate frosting and pecans. But as I thought of Quincey, I couldn’t help thinking of quinces. The name play being too tantalising for me, I started working out how I could add quince jam or paste to a Texas Funeral Cake. As I pondered whether to add quince to the cake batter, the cooked cake, or add it to the frosting, the thought hit me that as Dracula dies he crumbles. My mind then went straight to a Quince Crumble!
The joy of using fresh quinces is that, as they cook, an amazing alchemical process takes place and the white flesh slowly transforms to a reddish pink colour. Watching the quince change colour naturally makes me think of blood, which is so appropriate for a recipe honouring the deaths of the author of, and a character in, a vampire novel! I’m sure Bram will enjoy my playful take on Quincey’s role in Dracula’s crumbly end. 🙂
Ingredients 750g quinces, peeled, cored and quartered 1/4 cup caster sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 + 1/4 cups plain flour 175g unsalted butter, diced and chilled 4 tablespoons brown sugar 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Instructions Place the quince in a medium sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the caster sugar, vanilla extract and enough water to just cover the fruit. Bring to the boil then simmer for 3 – 4 hours or until the quince have turned a pinkish red. Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F. Add the flour and chilled butter to a medium sized bowl. Using your fingertips, rub the mixture together until you form large crumbs. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and mix through until combined. Spoon the quince into a baking dish, leaving behind any excess liquid. Sprinkle the crumble topping over the fruit. Bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes or until the crumble is golden brown. Serve with cream, ice cream or custard.
March 16 is Panda Day. It is a day to celebrate our beloved giant pandas, though for some of us that’s everyday! 🙂 Panda Day is also a day to reflect on the important work being done to save these precious creatures from extinction.
To celebrate Panda Day, I thought I would explore the giant panda card in the World Animal Dreaming Oracle by Scott Alexander King. I bought this deck as I knew it had a red panda card which I’m hoping to explore on International Red Panda Day. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the deck also had a giant panda card. I was a little disturbed to discover this card was called Sorrow. However, to understand this card, you have to know the legend of how the giant panda came to have black and white fur.
There are a few variations of the legend, but my favourite version tells the story of a young shepherdess who protects a giant panda cub being attacked by a leopard. The brave shepherdess saves the panda, but during the struggle she is killed by the leopard. The cub returns safely to the other giant pandas, who in this legend are as white as snow. When they hear about the death of the shepherdess they are heartbroken. As a sign of respect for her sacrifice, the pandas attend her funeral. As was the custom, the pandas cover their arms in black ash. As they weep, they rub their eyes with their paws, wiping away their tears and staining their fur with black ash. To block out the sound of crying, they cover their ears with their paws, staining their ears with black ash. To deal with their grief, they hug each other, spreading the ash from their arms to their legs. To remember the shepherdess and her sacrifice, the pandas decide to never wash the ash from their fur. They have kept their black and white markings to this day.
So now you know why Sorrow is a fitting theme for the giant panda in the World Animal Dreaming Oracle. Thankfully the giant panda card has a lovely meaning. According to Scott, the giant panda reminds us of our compassion, empathy and sensitivity to the suffering of others. The giant panda also teaches us to be careful of not burning ourselves out with the weight of our concerns and responsibilities. We can care for the world, but not at the expense of our own emotional state. The giant panda is here to support us, especially when we value ourselves as much as we value others. I think this is a beautiful interpretation of our beloved pandas.
For this Panda Day, I’ll be celebrating the legend of how the panda became the black and white beauty of the bear world, by enjoying a nice slice of white cheese rolled in black ash. In true panda style I’ll also be enjoying a cup of bamboo leaf tea.
A few years ago I went on my first Lantern Ghost Tour of a Haunted House. You can read about that adventure at the Altona Homestead, complete with child ghosts and wandering dolls, in A Ghost Of A Fear. A few days ago I went on my second Lantern Ghost Tour of a Haunted House, this time at the Point Cook Homestead.
The Point Cook Homestead is a place that my partner and I have visited many times. We’d enjoy a nice cream tea in the cafe and then wander through the main house, admiring the heritage home. We would then walk the grounds, touch base with the farm animals and take a short walk to the nearby beach. Sadly the homestead has been closed to the public for some time now. Happily it’s open again, but only in the evenings and only for an organised ghost tour!
We chose the latest time available, which was a 10.15pm tour. We sat in our car shortly before the tour was due to start and waited for the gate to open, welcoming us into a home we had previously only seen by day. Like a funeral procession, all the cars drove slowly down the driveway until we reached our destination. We parked under towering trees and waited for our guides.
Our guides arrived and warned us to walk only on the path. Memories of fairy tale warnings of what can happen when you stray from the path swirled in my mind. What was waiting for us in the darkened grounds? Nothing but orb spiders spinning their webs. While a mouthful of spider would be pretty terrifying, I was thinking of much scarier things!
Our first stop was the stables which were once renowned for their racehorses. I wasn’t too interested in this part of the estate but dutifully wandered through with the tour. All I really wanted to do was go into the main house. I couldn’t wait to see what it looked like at night!
Filled with memories of the antique splendour contained within, I eagerly entered the home. I stood and stared, horrified. It was virtually empty. Most of the furniture was gone. There was no piano, gramophone or old sewing machine. The antique dolls, scary yet compelling, were no longer there. The beautiful heritage home had lost all its spirit and its spirits. I couldn’t imagine ghosts wanting to be here. The house was dead, haunted only by the memories of what once was.
Our guides brought out dowsing rods to commune with the ghosts they say still haunt the homestead. They are mostly child ghosts. A young girl ghost “played” with the dowsing rods as a connection to the spirit world was made. I wasn’t scared. I was sad. I really wish they had left a few dolls there for the ghost children to play with.
Undeterred I’ve booked a few more ghost tours this year including another stately home and a morgue. I’m getting a little scared thinking about the morgue.
This week we say farewell to the Year of the Yang Metal Rat and welcome to the Year of the Yin Metal Ox.
To celebrate the incoming Year of the Ox, I want to briefly explore the lesser known animal attributes we are born with in our Chinese Zodiac year. While most of us know about our year of birth animal, there is also a month of birth animal, day of birth animal and hour of birth animal.
Year of Birth Animal Your year of birth animal is your Outer Animal. It is the most important influence and represents what you show to the world. This animal corresponds to the sun sign in Western astrology.
Month of Birth Animal Your month of birth animal is your Inner Animal. It symbolises the parts of you that you keep to yourself and rarely share with others.
Day of Birth Animal Your day of birth animal is your True Animal. It symbolises what you will become. As there are only seven days but twelve animals, some days have more than one animal guardian. So depending on what day you were born, you may have one, two or three animals to explore.
Hour of Birth Animal Your hour of birth animal is your Secret Animal. It represents who you really are. Your hour animal corresponds to the ascendent in Western astrology.
Bram and the Year of the Rat As part of my farewell to the Year of the Rat, I wanted to explore the animal menagerie of Bram Stoker, my favourite author. Stoker died on Saturday, 20th April 1912 in the Year of the Water Rat. Considering the body of work Bram left behind, and because the outgoing year is a Rat year, I’m going to briefly explore the animal influences of Bram’s death year (as distinct from the traditional birth year). In particular, I’m going to see how they are reflected in his most celebrated work – Dracula. I think Bram would like that.
Bram’s Death Year Animal Bram died in 1912 in the Year of the Rat making his Outer Animal the Rat. When I started looking for rat action in Dracula, I was sure I would find these critters making mischief on the Demeter, the ship that brings Dracula to England. Then I remembered the scenes I was thinking of were actually from Dracula movies and not from the book. In fact the movies have had a lot of fun with Stoker’s rats, which highlights their importance as an Outer Animal.
The Demeter may be free of rats in Dracula, but happily the rest of the novel isn’t! Rats are one of the animals that Dracula uses to do his bidding. When the vampire hunters ransack one of his homes, he sends an army of rats to attack them. And who can forget Renfield’s creepy desire for the lives of rats? When Renfield is reluctant to invite Dracula into the asylum, Dracula summons an army of rats to tempt him. Renfield’s crazed line “Rats, rats, rats!” is immortalised in horror history. But it’s not just Dracula that showcases rats. Bram also wrote two chilling short stories that feature rats – The Judge’s House and The Burial of the Rats.
The Judge’s House is a supernatural tale about a student who dismisses the local superstitions about the home of a former hanging judge and decides to rent it. Although the house is infested with rats, he thinks he has found the perfect place. He comes to realise his mistake when he is visited by the Rat King! The Burial of the Rats is not a supernatural terror but rather a disturbing story of an Englishman visiting Paris who takes a stroll down the wild side of town, all under the watchful gaze of hungry rats. As the animal that represents an important influence in Bram’s work, the Rat seems pretty spot-on.
Bram’s Death Month Animal Bram died in the month of April, making his Inner Animal the Dragon. The presence of dragons in Dracula is not obvious, which makes the dragon a perfect Inner Animal. There are two interesting ways dragons make their presence known in Dracula.
The first dragon reference is in the name Dracula. Dracula’s father was called Dracul as he was a member of the Order of the Dragon. Dracula means “son of Dracul”, essentially Dracula is the son of the Dragon. In the novel, Dracula and Jonathan spend many evenings discussing Transylvanian history and Dracula’s lineage. During these talks Dracula never reveals what his name means. This makes sense, as it would then be obvious who and what he is. This also means that the reader would only know the dragon connection if they have prior knowledge of the Dracula legend, or if they research the name afterwards. Dracula (and Stoker) certainly keep this aspect of his Inner Animal very hidden.
The second dragon reference is in relation to lizards. Although the name dragon isn’t used, some lizards are also called dragons. When Jonathan sees Dracula climbing down the castle wall, face first, he describes Dracula as moving like a lizard. Significantly, it is this act that finally forces Jonathan to acknowledge that Dracula is a supernatural creature. Dracula has tried to hide his supernatural side from Jonathan, but thanks to his lizard walk, his Inner Animal has been revealed.
Bram’s Death Day Animals The day of Bram’s death is Saturday. Saturday is one of the days that has three animal guardians. Bram’s True Animals are the Ox, Tiger and Rooster. I must say I had fun trying to find references for oxen, tigers and roosters in Dracula.The ox is not mentioned in Dracula but cows are. Luckily the Chinese term for ox generally refers to cows, bulls and other members of the bovine family. Tigers are mentioned a few times as are roosters or cocks. These animal references are very significant when explored as True Animals. One of the key themes they highlight is that of the hunter becoming the hunted, which is exactly what Dracula becomes.
The Rooster The rooster makes an appearance in Dracula during Jonathan’s stay at Castle Dracula. The relationship between Jonathan and Dracula is marked by the crow of a cock heralding sunrise. Although Dracula can walk about during the day, he treats the call of the rooster seriously. Dracula often ends his discussions with Jonathan when he hears the cock crow. The rooster shows us that although Dracula is a powerful supernatural being, there are some natural laws that he must obey. It is these these laws that are his weakness and will be exploited by his enemies.
The Tiger A key reference to tigers is when the vampire hunters discuss the reasons why they should hunt down Dracula, even though he has left England. Van Helsing argues that Dracula is like a bloodthirsty tiger who will return again and again unless he is vanquished. The hunt is on!
The Ox The cow has a fascinating part to play in the hunting of Dracula. While Dracula tries to escape the vampire hunters, they use the bond he has forged with Mina to track him. In a trance, Mina connects with Dracula and, among other things, she hears cows lowing. With this information they realise that Dracula is travelling on a river. They eventually catch him and dispatch him. Or do they?
Bram’s Death Hour Animal I’m not sure if anyone knows what time Bram Stoker died, so his Secret Animal remains a secret. As a Scorpio, I think Bram will be very happy to take some of his secrets to his grave and beyond!
Unleash Your Inner Animals Want to find your own animal menagerie? Use the charts below to help you discover new animals in your zodiac. You could have the same animal in all aspects, or you could have a combination of animal influences to play with.
Year Animal The twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac follow a twelve year cycle. A new cycle began with the Year of Rat in 2020 and continues in 2021 with the Year of the Ox followed by the Year of the Tiger, Year of the Rabbit, Year of the Dragon, Year of the Snake, Year of the Horse, Year of the Sheep/Goat, Year of the Monkey, Year of the Rooster, Year of the Dog and finally the Year of the Pig. If you were born in the month of January or February you have to check to see if your animal is the one for the preceding year as the new year begins and the animal changes sometime in those two months.
Month Animal December 7th to January 5th – Rat January 6th to February 3rd – Ox February 4th to March 5th – Tiger March 6th to April 4th – Rabbit April 5th to May 4th – Dragon May 5th to June 5th – Snake June 6th to July 6th – Horse July 7th to August 6th – Sheep/Goat August 7th to September 7th – Monkey September 8th to October 7th – Rooster October 8th to November 6th – Dog November 7th to December 6th – Pig
Day Animal Monday – Sheep Tuesday – Dragon Wednesday – Horse Thursday – Rat, Pig Friday – Rabbit, Snake, Dog Saturday – Ox, Tiger, Rooster Sunday – Monkey
Hour Animal 11pm to 12.59am – Rat 1am to 2.59am – Ox 3am to 4.59am – Tiger 5am to 6.59am – Rabbit 7am to 8.59am – Dragon 9am to 10.59am – Snake 11am to 12.59pm – Horse 1pm to 2.59pm – Sheep/Goat 3pm to 4.59pm – Monkey 5pm to 6.59pm – Rooster 7pm to 8.59pm – Dog 9pm to 10.59pm – Pig
November 8th is Bram Stoker’s birthday. As I thought about Bram and his special day, I was drawn to the concept of birthstones and the magical attributes of gems.
A birthstone is a gemstone that represents an aspect of a person’s birthday. When people choose a birthstone, they usually choose one associated with their birth month. However, you can also choose birthstones associated with the day you were born or your hour of birth. The birthstone I was most interested in exploring for Bram was the one associated with his star sign, which is Scorpio.
During my research I discovered there was no consensus about which gems represented Scorpio. I also discovered that many of the gems chosen for Scorpio just didn’t feel right to me. That changed when I read Astrology for Wellness: Star Sign Guides for Body, Mind & Spirit Vitality by Monte Farber and Amy Zerner. They chose Obsidian for Scorpio with Onyx, Ruby and Black Opal as added extras. For me, these gems sing with the essence of Scorpio. These dark and gothic gems inspired me to come up with my own choice for a birthstone for Bram Stoker that symbolises both Scorpio and the dark world of Stoker’s most famous creation, Dracula. The gemstone I have chosen is Jet, in particular, Whitby Jet.
Jet is an organic gemstone which is naturally formed from fossilised wood. It is such a beautiful and intense black colour that it inspired the terms “jet black” and “black as jet.” Jet is smooth, lightweight and can be polished to such a high lustre it can be used as a mirror.
Jet was used in Roman Britain to make jewellery such as hair pins, pendants, necklaces, bracelets and rings. The Romans also made amulets and talismans out of Jet as they believed it contained magical protective properties and could ward off the evil eye. Pliny the Elder believed that Jet could drive away snakes.
Whitby Jet became popular during the Victorian Era. The new railways brought tourists to Whitby which created a demand for Whitby Jet souvenirs. Whitby Jet was also showcased at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Whitby Jet jewellery became fashionable when Queen Victoria wore Whitby Jet jewellery as part of her mourning dress.
Not only is Whitby Jet associated with the Victorian Era and mourning, but Whitby is the place where Dracula first lands in England. As a Victorian author and creator of the world’s most famous vampire, Whitby Jet is the perfect birthstone for Bram Stoker.
With my mind on gems, I knew exactly what I would make for Bram’s birthday – gem scones. These delightful treats are not actually scones but light little cakes. Gem scones are traditionally baked in cast iron tins called gem irons but shallow patty pans are good substitutes. They are great served with butter, cream and your favourite jam or preserve. I’m using blackberry jam to reflect the black gemstones associated with Scorpio.
Ingredients 1 cup plain flour 1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder pinch of sea salt 2 tablespoons caster sugar 20g unsalted butter, melted 1 egg 1/2 cup milk
for serving butter jam cream
Instructions Preheat oven to 200C / 400F. Grease your gem iron or patty pan and heat in the oven. Mix together all the ingredients in a bowl until they form a slightly runny batter. Carefully remove muffin tin from the oven. Dollop batter into the holes, filling each about 3/4 full. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes or until springy to the touch. Serve warm or cold.
There are three interesting events coming up – National Bat Appreciation Day, Orthodox Easter and Bram Stoker’s Deathiversary.
April 17th is National Bat Appreciation Day, a day when we are asked to remember the important role bats play in our lives. Bats are insectivores, which means they eat insects which helps keep insect numbers down. This is especially critical with mosquitoes. Bats are also pollinators which means they move pollen from male to female flowers which helps bring about fertilisation, thereby providing a vital link in our food chain. There are heaps of other interesting facts about bats and April 17th is a great day to learn more about them.
This year April 17th is also Orthodox Good Friday. This doesn’t happen every year so it’s a fun coincidence. Orthodox Easter Monday will be celebrated on April 20th which is also Dracula author Bram Stoker’s Deathiversary – another fun coincidence. Perhaps a more disturbing coincidence is that all three events have a blood connection.
While my favourite bat is the fluffy and cuddly Australian flying fox, I’ve always been fascinated by the cute and uncanny vampire bat. Vampire bats are connected to vampires, not only in name, but also by being blood suckers! There are other connections too as the vampire’s cape is reminiscent of bats wings and some vampires are depicted as sleeping upside down like bats rather than in coffins. Dracula can also turn into a bat when necessary. With all the competing Easter traditions such as bunnies and chocolate eggs, it is easy to forget that Easter is actually a celebration focussing on blood, death and rebirth.
To celebrate this trilogy of bloody connections I’ve made dyed red Easter eggs – with a twist! Colouring eggs red is meant to represent the blood of Christ which is shed on Good Friday. I’ve used red wine to colour my eggs as red wine is symbolic of blood in Christian rituals. (Knowing this connection it always amused me that Bela Lugosi’s Dracula never drank wine.) I’ve also added spices, which symbolise the spices that Jesus’ body was anointed with before burial. The eggshell represents the tomb and the egg signifies rebirth. An Easter tradition I grew up with was the egg cracking game where you try to crack the shell of your opponent’s boiled egg without cracking yours! Because I’m not a traditionalist, I had to break the rules by cracking shells and turning them into Chinese marbled eggs. But don’t worry, there are still some unbroken eggs to play with. 🙂
Red Wine Eggs
1 bottle red wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
Place the eggs, wine, sugar, cloves, star anise and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan, making sure the eggs are fully submerged in liquid.
Cover and bring to a boil.
Once boiling, turn off the heat and allow the eggs to cook for 15 minutes.
Remove half the eggs from the saucepan and allow to rest until cool enough to touch. Gently tap them with the back of a spoon to crack shells, making sure to keep the shell intact. The deeper the cracks, the more flavour will penetrate.
Place the eggs back in the wine with the remaining eggs.
Allow to cool then refrigerate and steep for a few hours or overnight.
Remove the eggs from the wine and allow to dry.
Peel the cracked eggs to show off their marbling.
Use the remaining eggs to play the cracking game.
March 8th is International Women’s Day. On March 6th, my favourite local craft beer bar, Hopheads is having a Women’s Day celebration. The event hopes to empower women by bringing together some of the best women brewers and women associated with brewing in the industry. These talented women will be available for a chat and of course there will be plenty of beer tasting! I can’t wait. 🙂
Thinking about women and beer always reminds me of a night I spent in Salem, Massachusetts a few years ago. I enjoyed many local beers in Salem, but it wasn’t until I got home that I learned of a possible connection between witches and brewing.
It is generally acknowledged that women all around the world have been brewing and selling beer since ancient times. This started to change in Medieval Europe when female brewsters, also known as alewives, were slowly pushed out of the industry. Some theories suggest that men, wanting to take over the profitable industry for themselves, began to associate the tools and activities of brewsters with witches and witchcraft.
A brewster needed a vessel in which to brew beer, such as a large pot or cauldron. A broom or decorated stick was often placed above the door to let people know that beer was ready for sale. When a brewster sold their drink at a local market, they would wear a tall hat so they would stand out in the crowds. Cats were often kept as pets to keep mice away from the grains. Put this all together and you have the classic image of a pointy hatted witch with broomstick, black cat and cauldron! While theories connecting brewing with witches are contentious, they do provide food (and drink!) for thought.
To celebrate the connection between beer, women and witches, and the reemergence of female brewers, I put my witchy hat on and brewed a tasty potion based on a classic “Witch Hunt” cocktail. I played around with the proportions in the recipe to make it Strega dominant (strega is witch in Italian) and replaced the optional lemonade with beer. I had lots of thoughts on a name for this cocktail but finally decided on The Beer Witch Returns.
The Beer Witch Returns
10ml Dry Vermouth
1 cup Saison (or beer of your choice)
Pour the strega into a tall glass.
Add the scotch followed by the vermouth.
Top with beer.
You can read more about my trip to Salem, and other parts of America, in my travelogue cookbook Bites and Pieces of America, which also includes my witchy brewster inspired recipe for a Dark Ale Spider! 🙂