Books

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

IMG_4849

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.

Advertisements

A World Of Baking

As I was standing in line at the post office, I happened to see a book for sale called Bake: Beautiful baking recipes from around the world by Paragon Books. The heavy hardback was reasonably priced so I bought it. I couldn’t wait to get home and check out the recipes! The book contains so many bakes that I want to try but I just had to make one of the entries in the USA & Canada section – Spring Onion Cornbread! I was very happy with the result. The bread was moist, delicious and very flavoursome. It was great warm but also good the next day sliced with a bit of butter.

Spring Onion Cornbread

img_3233

Ingredients
1 cup fine cornmeal
1 cup plain flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground celery seed
1 teaspoon sea salt
55g (2oz) parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 eggs, beaten
1 + 2/3 cups milk
55g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
3 spring onions, chopped

Instructions
Preheat oven to 190C / 375F.
Line a baking pan with baking paper (approximately 28cm x 20cm).
Sift the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, celery seed and salt into a bowl.
Stir in 40g (1.5oz) of the parmesan cheese.
In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, milk and butter.
Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined.
Add the spring onions and mix until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until firm and golden.
Cut into squares.
Best eaten warm.

Love spring onions? Check out my recipe for Spring Onion Pancakes 🙂
Love cornmeal? Check out my recipes for Hush Puppies, Panda Cam Cuppycakes and Mamaliga 🙂

A Game Of Love And Death

There are eight seasonal festivals that many witches and Pagans celebrate. Three of them are really well known – Yule, Easter and Halloween. Yule and Easter fall around the Summer Solstice and the Spring Equinox. They have been overlaid by a veneer of Christianity and so are celebrated in many different ways across the globe. Halloween falls between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. It too has been overlaid by many cultural veneers but has stubbornly remained Pagan. From its ghoulish iconography to its impish games, there is no mistaking that Halloween is a time for remembering, honouring and fearing the dead.

Last week I discussed the issue of flipping northern hemisphere festivals to fit with southern hemisphere seasons. For a moment I fell into step with my witchy compatriots. Beltane, a fertility festival with a special emphasis on love and unions, was calling. For the first time since I became a solitary witch I was considering celebrating Beltane on October 31st. But a few things happened that flipped me back to Halloween.

As I was perusing the shelves at my local craft beer shop I saw a can of beer that really called to me – a saison named Persephone! When I saw the name, and the Grecian inspired artwork, I just had to have it. The beer is flavoured with balsamic, grapefruit, pink pepper and, not surprisingly, pomegranate. But what really interested me was that saison is French for season. I didn’t know that. The label told the story of Persephone’s journey and how her love of pomegranates bound her to the Underworld and to a seasonal dance of Love and Death with her husband Hades. I can think of no better drink than a saison for Persephone.

img_2954

I chose to drink my Persephone saison while finishing a book recommended to me by my friend and cupcake conspirator Anne Belov. Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love and Death is an extraordinary tale featuring the anthropomorphic characters of Love and Death. Each chooses a human player that will represent them in a game. The human players don’t know they have been chosen. Love and Death then manipulate the lives of their players to see if they will choose each other or go their separate ways. Choose Love and the game ends, choose Death and you end! One of the intriguing questions in the book is if we didn’t have Death, would we Love as deeply? Does knowing that Death is our final destination inspire us to Love more fully? Another fascinating aspect is the relationship between Love and Death. Are they enemies or are they two halves of the same coin? You’ll have to read the book to find out 🙂

This October 31st I will be celebrating Halloween. I can’t resist the siren call of the Halloweeny paraphernalia surrounding me! But I won’t be forgetting Beltane. Although I have symbolically chosen to celebrate a festival of Death over a celebration of Love, I will also be thinking of my fellow witches down under who will be leaping over bonfires to promote fertility and dancing around a maypole in November. As for me, this Halloween I will begin a new round of my own seasonal game of Love and Death.

Coeur a la Creme

img_3032-copy

Love and Death unite in this decadent heart of cream bathed in pomegranate juice and scattered with fragrant pomegranate seeds.

Ingredients
125g mascarpone
125g ricotta cheese
300ml double cream
1/3 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pomegranate, juice and seeds

Method
Beat mascarpone and ricotta with an electric mixer until smooth.
Add cream, sugar and vanilla and mix lightly.
Line coeur a la creme moulds* with muslin that has been moistened with water and wrung out. Make sure there is enough overhang to cover the top of the mixture. Pour mixture into moulds and cover the top with muslin. Place on a cooling rack over a baking tray and leave in fridge to drain overnight.
Unmould onto serving dishes and decorate with fresh pomegranate juice and seeds.
To prepare pomegranate, cut the fruit in half and squeeze into a bowl. Separate the juice and seeds. Pour as much juice and scatter as many seeds over the coeur a la creme as you like.

*Coeur a la creme moulds are heart shaped ceramic moulds with holes for drainage. They are difficult to get so there are a number of ways to achieve the desired heart shape without them: 
1) You can buy a heart shaped silicone cake pan or mini cake pans and make holes in the bottom with a skewer.
2) You can leave the mixture in a muslin bag to drain overnight then place in a heart shaped mould or moulds before serving.
The important thing is that the cream mixture is allowed to drain overnight before shaping.

A Trio Of Celebrations

This Saturday 30th of April is a very special night. There are three celebrations happening. Two are annual events – Walpurgis Night and Beltane/Halloween. The other is Orthodox Easter Eve. As Easter is a Moveable Feast, it is not always celebrated on April 30th. The fact that it falls on this special night this year makes for a very powerful Saturday eve! As I will be celebrating Halloween, I thought I would explore Walpurgis Night as it has always had a Halloween feel for me.

IMG_2369

Walpurgis Night is also known as Witches’ Night. It is the night when witches are thought to fly to the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz mountain range and the highest peak in Northern Germany. There they will light a great bonfire and celebrate the coming Spring with singing, dancing and feasting. Sounds good to me! What also sounds good to me is the name Walpurgis. It has such a witchy feel to it. And it would have to, seeing as it is the name of a witchy holiday, wouldn’t it? Well, not really. Walpurgis Night is not so much witchy as it is holy.

Walpurgis Night is named after Saint Walpurga, a female, English missionary. She was born in Devonshire in 710 and spent her early years in an abbey where she was educated by the nuns. She wrote a biography about her brother and also wrote in Latin about his travels through Palestine. She is often called Germany and England’s first female writer. She was an exceptionally educated women for the times. She died on February 25th, 777 or 779 and was canonised on the 1st of May, 870. So why is she connected to a witches holiday? I’m not really sure but I can make a couple of guesses.

What is interesting about Saint Walpurga is that her offical Catholic feast day is celebrated on the day of her death, February 25th but her more popular celebration is on the day of her canonisation, May 1st. Was celebrating Walpurgis Night on the eve of her canonisation a ploy by Christians to take over the pagan holiday of Beltane? It’s not like that wasn’t done before with Xmas and Easter. It seems to make sense, as Witches’ Night and Beltane have many things in common, not the least which are their welcoming of the coming Spring. But why not chose one of the many Saints who is actually celebrated on May 1st, rather than Saint Walpurga? Again, I’m not sure. Perhaps they wanted a female Saint to represent the Goddess of Spring. But it wouldn’t be the first time a powerful and educated woman was associated with witches!

IMG_2374

Another reason I love Walpurgis Night is Dracula. Yes, Dracula has a connection to Witches’ Night 🙂 Dracula’s Guest, the prequel to the novel Dracula, is set on Walpurgis Night. It is on this night that Jonathan encounters a female vampire – the Countess Dolingen of Gratz. He survives the encounter, thanks to Dracula, who wants Jonathan all to himself! I could never forget this haunting description:

“Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.”

This brilliant prequel is the inspiration for the High Priestess card in my Dracula Tarot deck.

Priestess

The Countess Dolingen of Gratz

In honour of the pagan bonfires that will be burning in both the southern and northern hemispheres I would like to share a recipe for one of my favourites treats. It is known by many names such as honeycomb, hokey pokey, sea foam and puff candy but my favourite name for it is cinder toffee 🙂 Nothing conjures up the power and heat of a bonfire than the heady smell of almost burning sugar as it is slowly caramelises and darkens. And what could be more exciting than the alchemical change that happens when baking powder is added to that amber liquid!

Cinder Toffee

IMG_2185

Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 + 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

Method
Line a baking pan, approximately 25cmx30cm, with baking paper.
Place sugar, water, honey and golden syrup in a deep, heavy based saucepan.
Place the saucepan on low heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat to a gentle boil.
Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the mixture turns golden brown. Be careful not to burn the mixture as it can heat up very quickly.
To check if it is ready, drop a small amount of syrup into a cold glass of water. If the syrup becomes brittle it is ready.
Remove the pan from the heat. Add the bicarbonate of soda and whisk vigorously, being very careful as the mixture will bubble up.
Pour mixture quickly into the prepared pan.
Allow to cool before breaking into pieces.

Toasty Brew

When my friend and cuppycake collaborator Anne Belov recommended To Brew or Not to Brew, I couldn’t wait to read it. I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery, and one set in a craft brewpub seemed just my cup of tea – or really my cup of beer 🙂 Throw in a stray cat called Hops and I’m hooked. It was a great read. When the murderer was revealed I was surprised, as although they were on my list, so was most of the town! This is the first book in the Brewing Trouble Mystery series and I can’t wait for the next instalment.

IMG_1519

To Brew or Not to Brew is part of the Cozy Mystery genre. Cozy mysteries usually feature amateur detectives and are often set in small towns or villages. Think of the TV series Murder She Wrote and you’ll get the general idea. While I’ve always loved reading and watching mysteries, there is a particular sub genre of cozy mysteries that has really got me interested – Culinary Cozy Mysteries!

Culinary cozy mysteries often feature amateur detectives who work in or run cafes, bars, food stores or restaurants. The TV show Pie in the Sky is a great example. The titles are often witty puns such as The Long Quiche Goodbye from the Cheese Shop Mysteries or Caught Bread Handed from the Bakeshop Mysteries. This is a very popular and prolific genre but I have found a way of narrowing down the field – pick the ones that include recipes! That’s right, some of these series include recipes that you can use at home. Thankfully To Brew or Not to Brew is one of these 🙂

I’ve just started my Culinary Cozy Mystery journey and already there are a couple of more series that are on my list. I don’t know if I’m more excited about the mysteries or the recipes! Inspired by To Brew or Not to Brew, I had to make my own “brewed” recipe. I have already made Beer and Bacon Cuppycakes so I thought I would make a tried and true classic – Welsh Rabbit. Traditionally beer is used in this recipe but I wanted to try something a bit different, so I used stout.

Stout Welsh Rabbit

IMG_2043

Ingredients
250g strong cheddar cheese, grated
2 teaspoons flour
15g butter
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 egg yolks, beaten
50ml stout
4 thick slices of bread

Method
In a small saucepan add the cheese, flour, butter, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Mix well then add the egg yolks and stout. Stir slowly until smooth. Do not allow to boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Toast the bread on one side and lightly brown the other side.
Place toast on baking tray with lightly browned side facing up. Pour cheese mixture over toast.
Grill until brown and bubbling.

For another interesting variation substitute apple cider for stout.

A Wonderful Life?

I don’t really like the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. I mean it’s a great film but I really feel sorry for George. There were so many things he wanted to do, like travel and build things, but he repeatedly puts his life on hold for the benefit of others. While noble, the hedonist in me always asks – what does he get for his sacrifice? Well he gets family, community and the knowledge that he has saved many, many lives. But the one life he doesn’t really get to live is his own. Well that is my brief take on this xmas classic that was based on a short story that was made into a xmas card. The story behind It’s A Wonderful Life is as fascinating as the film.

Equally fascinating is It’s A Wunderful Life, the story of San Diego’s giant panda cub Mr Wu, as told through the talented eyes of Anne Belov, creator of The Panda Chronicles. Mr Wu laments the birth of so many panda cubs in America as they are taking attention away from his cute self. When he wonders what the world would be like without these new panda cubs, the angelic Bee the Bear shows him what the world would be like if no new pandas were born – including Mr Wu! Whats follows is an extraordinary tale of cat domination, shady petting zoos and beer drinking pandas. A world without baby pandas is grim indeed. You can find It’s A Wunderful Life at the Panda Chronicles or you can read about Mr Wu’s many adventures, including my personal favourite The Wizard Of Wu, in The Panda Chronicles Book 4: The Book of Wu.

As many of you know, Anne Belov and I are working together on The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook: Favourite Recipes of the Panda Kindergarten – a cupcake (or cuppycake) cookbook based on The Panda Chronicles.

Inspired by the thought of beer drinking pandas I have also created this very special beer cuppycake topped with a butter and cream cheese frosting and decorated with candied bacon. And this is the cartoon that inspired me!

001-wulife100res

Beer Cuppycakes
After a hard day eating bamboo, some pandas like to put their paws up and relax with a refreshing beer cuppycake.

IMG_1253

This recipe makes enough batter for 24 mini cuppycakes and 2 full sized cuppycakes. You can make them all full sized but I’m not sure how many they make 🙂

IMG_1259

Ingredients
for the beer cuppycakes:
1 + 1/2 cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 cup pale ale
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the candied bacon
3 shortcut bacon rashers
2 teaspoons brown sugar (approximately)

for the buttercream frosting
3/4 cups (170g) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cups (170g) unsalted butter, softened
1 + 1/2 cups powdered (icing) sugar, sifted

Instructions
To make the mini beer cuppycakes, preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 24-hole muffin pan with 24 paper cases and a 12-hole muffin pan with 2 paper cases.
In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes or until combined.
Add the egg and beat until combined.
Add the beer and vanilla and beat until combined.
Gradually add the flour mix and, using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix until just combined.
Spoon the batter evenly into the 24 mini paper cases and the 2 larger paper cases.
Bake mini cuppycakes for 10 – 15 minutes and the 2 larger cuppycakes for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cuppycake comes out clean. (I like to bake the mini cuppycakes first and then the 2 larger ones.)
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cuppycakes are cooling make the candied bacon by preheating the oven to 200C / 400F.
Line a baking tray with with baking paper.
Place the bacon rashers on the baking tray and sprinkle brown sugar evenly over each rasher. Depending on the length of the bacon, you may need more or less sugar.
Bake for 5 minutes then flip the bacon over and drag through the sugary liquid so both sides of the bacon are covered in sticky sugar.
Bake for another 5 minutes. Repeat until the bacon is dark brown.
Allow to cool on a wire rack before cutting into small pieces.

While the bacon is cooling, make the buttercream frosting by creaming together the butter and cream cheese in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar and beat until frosting reaches a piping consistency. Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe onto cuppycakes.
Decorate with candied bacon.

A Halloween To Remember

From the film Dracula (1979)
Dracula and Lucy discuss the sound of howling wolves.

DRACULA:
Listen to them, the children of the night. What sad music they make.

LUCY:
Do you think it’s sad?

DRACULA:
So lonely, like weeping.

We named our first two dogs for a bat and a wolf – the animals Dracula turns into in the novel. We named our pack WolfChild – as they were our Children of the Night. A year later, near Halloween, two more WolfChildren joined the pack. They made beautiful music together. Then one of our wolves left the pack far too soon for his journey to the Underworld. This year he was followed by first by one, and then another of our wolves as they too journeyed into the Underworld. We are left with only one wolf, our original bat.

When I think of my musical wolves I feel sad, lonely and constantly like weeping. The time will come when I, like Lucy, will not feel sad at the sound of howling wolves, but that time is not now. It is Halloween – a time for tricks and treats and honouring the dead.

Our dogs are buried in the backyard. Three little graves testifying to the fragility of life and the call of death. They are constant reminders of what we have lost and confronting reminders of what will happen to us all. But they are also comforting. When I look at their graves I remember their lives and their deaths. The pleasure and the sorrow. I remember them playing and running around the yard and I remember laying them in their graves and covering them with dirt. They are always with me and yet they will never be with me again.

Not long after Wolfy, our first wolf passed away, I saw a post on a pug forum about Shelter Pups, a dog charity in the USA that custom makes small stuffed dogs and cats based on your own photos. We knew straight away that we wanted one of Wolfy. Little Wolfy arrived on Halloween 2013. When our next two wolves, Wally and Furghy, passed away, we had little versions of them made. They are in our bedroom where we all slept, watching over us. We also had one made of our remaining wolf, Batty. But she won’t be introduced to the world until she passes away, which we hope will be a very, very long time away.

The Little WolfChildren

IMG_2142a  little wolfy

Wolfy Maynard WolfChild and his Tribute Doll

IMG_9220 copy little wally 1

Wally DennyCrane WolfChild and his Tribute Doll

IMG_3014 little furghy 1

Furghy Fergie WolfChild and her Tribute Doll

Death and food are intimately linked. In honour of the decreasing howls of my Children of the Night I am sharing a recipe for Hush Puppies. These feature corn which is an ancient symbol for birth, death and renewal – appropriate food for mourning and Halloween.

Hush Puppies
Some stories say these fried cornmeal treats were used to “hush puppies”.

IMG_0227

Ingredients
vegetable oil for deep frying
1 + 1/2 cups cornmeal
3/4 cups self-raising flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1/2 cup canned corn kernels, rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup buttermilk (more or less may be needed)
extra sea salt for sprinkling

Method
Heat oil in a large saucepan to 180C / 350F.
Mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, egg and oil. Add the spring onion, corn, salt and pepper. Mix until just combined.
Stir in half the buttermilk, adding enough buttermilk for a loose batter that is still thick enough to drop.
Drop tablespoons of the batter into the oil, making sure you don’t crowd the pan. Cook, turning them over halfway, for 3-4 minutes or until they are evenly coloured and cooked through.
Drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with salt to taste.

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

IMG_5082 copyc

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.

A Mountain Of Recipes

Some of my earliest and happiest memories from my childhood are of sitting with my mother reading cookbooks and cutting recipes out of magazines. I still love collecting and reading cookbooks and I am constantly trying to find the best way to organise the mounds of recipes from magazines I have accumulated over many years. With all the resources offered on the internet, I now have online recipe files that are bulging at the seams! I sometimes think I will be buried in recipes 🙂

But one of the not so pleasant memories is of mother’s mega-decluttering sessions where she would toss out stuff without you knowing. In one of these sessions she threw out all the cooking books! When I found out, I was devastated. There was one book that I had loved so much and it was gone. The Encyclopedia of European Cooking was published in 1962 – before I was even born. I remember devouring the recipes which were organised by country or region. The recipe that fired my vampiric imagination the most was the Finnish “Blood Pancakes!” Not surprisingly it also turned my stomach!! I mourned the loss of that cookbook and often thought about it when I was researching and creating recipes for my own cookbooks.

Then, decades later, I was reading an article on the history of food in the cooking section of one of our newspapers. It was written by the owner of a shop called Books For Cooks. My mouth dropped open – a bookstore with just cooking books in it!! I had to get there and fast. Luckily it wasn’t too far. The staff were so wonderful and I told them the story of my lost cookbook. Unfortunately I couldn’t remember the title. And to confuse the issue, I was convinced it was a world cuisine cookbook. The staff pointed me to the section where it could be and I slowly and carefully read the spines of the books but I didn’t find it.

Dejected, I went to the European section to look for Romanian or Macedonian cookbooks. As I slowly read the titles one stood out – my hand shook slightly as I grabbed the familiar looking book. Luckily there was a couch near by and I fell into it. Could this be the book? There was only one way to find out. I went to the index and looked up “Blood Pancakes.” I must say I cried a little when I saw the recipe was there. This was the book!! I never thought I would ever see it again and now I had in my hand. I ran to the counter, waving my credit card. I actually hadn’t even looked at the price! Luckily it was really reasonably priced and I hugged it all the way back to the car.

There are so many recipes I can’t wait to try and I’m hoping to share my European cooking adventures with you!

Below is my version of “Imam Bayeldi” or The Imam Swooned, a stuffed eggplant dish simmered in olive oil.  And why did the Imam swoon?

The popular story is that the Imam found the dish so divinely delicious when he tasted it that he nearly nearly fainted from pleasure.

Other versions suggests the Imam nearly fainted at how expensive the dish was to make or at how expensive the ingredients were.

A longer version has the Imam marrying the daughter of a wealthy olive oil merchant. Part of her dowry was 12 jars of the finest olive oil. The Imam asked her to prepare his favourite eggplant dish each evening which she did for twelve nights. On the thirteenth night she told the Imam they had no more olive oil for his eggplant dish. He was so shocked he fainted!

Why don’t you try it and decide for yourself why the Imam Swooned 🙂

Imam Bayeldi

IMG_2896c

Ingredients
2 medium eggplants
1 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green capsicum, seeded and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
sea salt and pepper to taste

Method
Preheat oven to 170C / 325F. 
Wash, dry and cut the stems off the eggplants.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Gently cook the eggplants for 10 minutes turning half way through. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the onions and capsicum to the oil and gently cook for 10 minutes.
Cut the eggplants in half lengthways and being careful not to split the skins, scoop out some of the flesh into a medium sized bowl.
Remove the cooked onions and capsicums from the oil with a slotted spoon and add to the eggplant flesh. Add the garlic, tomato, parsley, cinnamon, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
Fill the eggplant skins with the mixture.
Place eggplants in a small baking dish and pour over the remaining cooking oil.
Bake for 1 hour.
Serve at room temperature.

In the Footsteps of Jonathan Harker

Jonathan Harker’s adventure in Transylvania takes up the first four chapters out of twenty seven in the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. Yet this small part of the novel contains some of the most memorable scenes and lines from the book. When I went to Romania in 2005 I couldn’t wait to retrace Jonathan Harker’s journey from Bistrita to Castle Dracula. This was written shortly after I returned 🙂

In the footsteps of Jonathan Harker

Count Dracula had directed me to go to the Golden Krone Hotel

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

A hotel recommended by Dracula himself was definitely a place I wanted to visit. Luckily for me The Hotel Coroana de Aur, (The Golden Crown Hotel), which did not exist in Stoker’s time, has since been built in Bistrita to capitalise on the burgeoning popularity of Dracula tourism.Nine of Coins

As I arrive at The Hotel Coroana de Aur, I cannot help but feel that I am stepping into gothic literary history. At first the foyer of the hotel seems like any other until I spy the Dracula and Bram Stoker postcards, the hotel stationary which features Bram Stoker’s face and the store selling a variety of vampire paraphernalia. There is also a Jonathan Harker Salon.

As I step into my room I am disappointed to discover that they are standard hotel style, with barely a hint of the vampiric. But my disappointment is allayed the next day when I take breakfast in the Jonathan Harker Salon. Draped in the traditional vampire colours of black and red, and decorated with animal heads, flying bats and dripping candelabra the salon offers a feast for the eyes as well as the body. Devouring a sumptuous buffet breakfast, surrounded by such paraphernalia, is a real gothic treat. I am reluctant to leave the salon, but equally eager to continue my journey. Following in the footsteps of Jonathan Harker, my next destination is the famed Castle Dracula.

The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

The road from Bistrita to Piatra Fantanele is the same road described by Stoker over a century ago. The long journey takes in the Borgo Pass, the place where Jonathan meets the horse drawn carriage of Count Dracula. After a long and fearful journey, Jonathan reaches the dreaded Castle Dracula. But I enjoy a relaxing car trip, not to a haunted castle, but to a modern hotel.

The HotTowerel Castel Dracula is another hotel created to take advantage of Dracula tourism. Built where Dracula’s Castle is described in the novel, the hotel is a curious construction. The strangely greyish purplish building is both gothic and comically vampiric. There is even a cemetery on the grounds. A small market on the hotel grounds stocks local souvenirs and Vlad Ţepeş and Dracula memorabilia. The hotel lobby also stocks an assortment of Dracula gifts.

After freshening up, the staff offer me a guided tour of Dracula’s Dungeon. I’m excited as I slowly walk down the stairs into the candlelit room. There is a coffin in the corner and I move forward to take a closer look. The staff have a surprise for me which I won’t reveal, but I screamed, loud and hard, but not before swallowing a few Aussie curse words. The staff are ecstatic at my response and after I catch my breath, we leave the dungeon for the next unsuspecting guest.

After dinner I return to my room which boasts beautiful views of the famous Carpathian Mountains. I sit and drink champagne, watching as darkness creeps along the mountain tops. It’s not hard to picture wolves, and other creatures, roaming free in the mountains. Finally I retire to sleep contented on a bed whose bedhead features the dragon motif of the Dracula family. I have enjoyed following in the footsteps of Jonathan Harker, but tomorrow my journey takes a different turn.

Good-bye, all!

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

In the novel, Jonathan jumps out a window of Castle Dracula and is eventually found physically and mentally traumatised in a hospital in Budapest, Hungary. I, not surprisingly, chose a different way to end my journey.

Four of CoinsHeading for Bucharest, the capital city, I spend my final night in Romania at The Count Dracula Club, a gothic club that truly caters to the vampirically inclined. Themed rooms and a downstairs dungeon are some of the treats that await the diner. I am lucky enough to be there the night of a Dracula show when the Count himself makes an appearance. Quoting from the novel in both Romanian and English the dashing Count cavorts around the restaurant, swishing his black cape and menacing the willing patrons. The menu contains Dracula themed dishes and vampire inspired cocktails are sipped between courses. I finish the meal with a glass of ţuică, the traditional plum brandy. My Jonathan Harker journey is almost at an end. Thankfully it is not with madness and despair that I end my trip but with an evening of food, wine and entertainment.

Three of Goblets

Like me, Jonathan Harker has a great love for food and drink. There are a number of passages in the novel where Jonathan describes the food and drink he is enjoying in Transylvania. He even writes the names of some of the dishes so he can get Mina to cook them when he gets home! When I returned from Romania I also brought home a love of Romanian food and a deep desire to know more about this cuisine. Below is my version of the classic Romania breakfast dish that both Jonathan and I ate and loved in Romania.

I had for breakfast more paprika, 

and a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was “mamaliga,”

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

Mamaliga

IMG_8572

 Romanian cornmeal porridge with honey and sesame baked feta.

Ingredients
for the feta
225g feta cheese
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

for the cornmeal
2 cups water
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup cornmeal
30g unsalted butter

Method
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F
Drain feta and dry with paper towel.
Slice feta in half.
Pour half the oil in the bottom of a baking dish.
Place feta side by side in the dish.
Drizzle with remaining olive oil and honey.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the feta is soft but not melted.
While feta is baking bring the water and milk to a low boil in a saucepan.
Add the salt and stir through.
Pour the cornmeal in a slow stream then turn the heat to low.
Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and thick, about 10-15 minutes.
Stir in the butter.
Place cornmeal in bowls and top with baked feta.

This makes two very generous serves.

Artwork for the Dracula Tarot by the wonderful Anna Gerraty

If you have any Romanian dishes you’d like to share with me please do 🙂