The Arts

A Phantom Voice At The Opera

I haven’t read many Shakespeare plays, but of the ones I have read, Macbeth is my favourite. I love the way Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s lives change after Macbeth meets the three witches and hears their prophecies. The play is filled with so many fabulous speeches and unforgettable moments. Naturally the scenes that bewitch me the most are those with the three witches.

“When shall we three meet again?” ask the witches.
“Whenever Macbeth comes to town!” is my answer.

So when Verdi’s opera Macbeth came to Melbourne recently, I couldn’t wait to get there and meet the three witches again. 🙂

The opera was staged at the historic Her Majesty’s Theatre. Before the show started an announcement was made that Helena Dix, the lead soprano playing Lady Macbeth, had severe sinusitis and couldn’t sing. However, in the grand tradition of the show must go on, she was going to act the role and another soprano would sing her part offstage. While the crowd groaned in disappointment, I was excited. A disembodied voice at the opera? How very Macbeth!

The curtain rose for the first act and I was pleasantly surprised to see not three witches but thirty! The fascinating coven of witches were hypnotic as they sang, spun and wove their way through the scene. Hearing them sing their lines in Italian was appropriately eerie. My eyes occasionally darted to the monitors with English translations, but, not wanting to miss too much of the action happening on stage, I relied on my knowledge of the play to get me through the language barrier.

As much as I love the witches, I was getting excited about Lady Macbeth’s entrance. I couldn’t wait to see a soprano lip-syncing. I was even more excited when I realised I could see the woman singing the role from my seat. My eyes jumped from the miming opera singer on stage to the singing soprano just offstage. In the end, voice or no voice, the power and brilliance of the artist playing Lady Macbeth enthralled me. I soon forgot about lip-syncing as the divine opera performer took me through the tragic journey that is Lady Macbeth’s life. By the time the play ended I was bewitched, not only by the witches, but by the unforgettable performance of an opera singer without a voice.

Ironically, not long after seeing Macbeth I was struck with a severe cold, sinusitis and laryngitis. It made me wonder if the superstitions surrounding Macbeth may have been visited upon me! Unfortunately, it’s something that happens to me occasionally so I wasn’t too worried. When I was young and suffering from a cold or sore throat, my parents would make me a cup of tea with honey, lemon and a good splash of whisky. This drink is similar to a Hot Toddy which is usually made with hot water instead of tea. As a tribute to the witches in Macbeth, I’m making my toddy with Strega Liqueur (witches liqueur) named in honour of the Benevento Witches!

Strega Toddy

Ingredients
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup hot water
30ml (1 oz) Strega
15ml (1/2 oz) whiskey
1 slice of lemon

Instructions
Place the honey in a heatproof glass or mug.
Add the water and stir until the honey is dissolved.
Pour in the Strega and whiskey.
Top with a slice of lemon.
Sip slowly and enjoy its magical properties. 🙂

You can check out my post about another stage production of Macbeth in Shakespeare Under The Stars.

Liquid Kisses

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.”

The Dracula Tarot

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.”

The Dracula Tarot

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!

Vampire’s Kiss

Vampire’s Kiss

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.

Death By Crumble

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.

The Dracula Tarot

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.

The Dracula Tarot

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. 🙂

Quincey’s Crumble

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.

Stone Soup Song

I recently enjoyed a concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre by Vardos, a three-piece band that performs traditional folk music inspired by their travels through Eastern Europe. The concert I attended was “The Balkan Cookbook” which explored the culinary identity of Eastern Europe through song. During the hour long performance we were taken on a mouthwatering journey through a traditional Eastern European menu. While my body responded to the vibrant music, my mind began concocting recipes for the food and dishes being celebrated. 

The starters began with a song about bacon, followed by a basil song and then one about bread. My stomach rumbled as I pictured a toasted bacon and basil sandwich! The soup course was next followed by mains, side salads, sweets and Turkish coffee. While I do love coffee and a Balkan sweet, it was the soup course that really fired my imagination – especially the tale of the stone soup.

Before launching into song, we were treated to tales about Balkan soups. It may be surprising to learn that Balkan soup courses can sometimes feature fruit soups, which are slightly sweet, usually served hot, but can also be served cold. I’m a big fan of fruit soups and have previously posted recipes for Cherry Soup and Blueberry Soup. The other soup discussed was stone soup – yes stone soup! 

Stone soup is a European folktale about hungry travellers who visit a village. Carrying only a large cooking pot, they ask the villagers if they will share some food with them. The villagers say no. The travellers go to the stream, fill their pot with water, drop a large stone in it and then place it over a fire. One curious villager asks the travellers what they are making. The travellers say it is a tasty “stone soup” which they are happy to share but it could be improved with the addition of a few more ingredients. The curious villager, wanting to try the soup, says they have carrots which they are happy to share with the travellers. One by one the rest of the villagers bring ingredients to add to the soup until the pot really does contain a flavourful soup. The inedible stone is removed and the travellers and the villagers all share the soup. Although the travellers have tricked the villagers, they have taught them the value of sharing and the importance of coming together as a community.

Stone soup begins with a trick so I thought it was the perfect tale to inspire an April Fool’s Day recipe. I chose a mussel soup as it contains mussel shells which reminded me of the stone. Just remember that the shells, like the stone, are inedible so discard them once you have scooped out the tasty mussels. 🙂

Mussel Soup

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 medium red chilli, deseeded* and finely sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1kg tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 cup fish stock
sea salt to taste
pepper to taste
1kg mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup basil, roughly chopped

Instructions
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add onion and cook until translucent.
Add garlic and chilli and cook for 1 minute.
Add tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
Add wine and cook for 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes.
Add lemon juice, zest and stock.
Stir until combined.
Increase heat to high and bring the stock to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered for 10 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add mussels to stock.
Cover and steam, shaking the pan occasionally, for 3-5 minutes or until the mussels are opened.
Discard any unopened mussels.
Stir through the parsley and basil before serving.

*for a spicier soup, you can leave the seeds in.

Bram Stoker’s Farewell To The Year Of The Rat

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

Happy Year of the Ox!

A Gem Of An Author

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.

Gem Scones

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.

A Haunting Beltane

It has taken a long time for Australians to embrace Halloween and there are still many Aussies who loathe what they believe is an American holiday. Those of us who understand the history of Halloween, or Samhain, know that the tendrils of this ghostly and haunting night are rooted in the deep, dark past of many cultures. A night when the veils between the world of the living and the dead are thin, and the dead may walk amongst us again, is an ancient belief as old as time. It’s my favourite night of the year but, unfortunately for me, Halloween is six months away!

In the upside down world of the southern hemisphere, many Australian Pagans have chosen to celebrate seasonal festivals during the appropriate season. As Halloween is an autumnal festival, we celebrate it in April. But don’t worry, I won’t be missing out. I’ll be honouring Beltane, the spring festival that is the companion to Halloween. While Halloween focusses on death, Beltane celebrates life, fertility and regeneration. Life down under has started to wake. Plants are blooming, magpies are swooping and snakes are becoming (a lot) more active. Yet, amidst this noisy and colourful cacophony of life, I still see dead things, as the spectre of Halloween has finally arrived in Australia. I can think of no better way to celebrate life than with Halloween iconography and ghoulish children trick-or-treating.

Only one thing can make this night even better and that’s a drink featuring a Pagan favourite – mead. I added cloudy apple to the drink in tribute to The Wicker Man, my favourite Beltane/May Day film. The dash of ginger is a nod to the end of the film which does get very heated. 😉 With lines like “killing me won’t bring back your apples!” The Wicker Man is a great film suited to both Halloween and Beltane.

Wicker Man Mead

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Ingredients
1 teaspoon ginger cordial
1/4 cup cloudy apple juice
1 cup spiced mead
soda water
slices of cucumber
slices of lime

Instructions
Add the ginger cordial, apple juice and mead to a glass.
Pour in as much soda water as you like.
Top with cucumber and lime slices.

This makes enough for one drink but you can scale up the amounts to make a punch for a large crowd or if you are particularly thirsty. 🙂

An Exhibition Of Goths

The last place I expected to go for a goth day out was the central Victorian city of Bendigo, but when the Bendigo Art Gallery recently hosted “Gothic Beauty: Victorian notions of love, loss and spirituality,” I just had to visit.

52457293_2584287018267833_4948073230054195200_nWhat I saw before entering the gallery

52259338_397025557526694_3372196222449221632_nInside the gallery

52565941_401506363942531_6875166536839987200_nMourning gown

52029256_637932653303500_7171009377451638784_nMourning dress

52063607_636349493490365_6418926093859815424_nI’ll take both dresses!

52402744_303702840294143_8551492800749764608_nChild’s mourning dress

51616977_324859851473867_8181186407025344512_nHorse-drawn hearse

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It was a great exhibit and well worth the drive.

Lammas Down Under

February 1st is Lammas or Lughnasadh in the Southern Hemisphere. In the pagan calendar it marks the halfway point between the Midsummer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It is the first of the harvest festivals and the first autumn festival of the year. It is a time of thanksgiving and sacrifice. The name Lammas is derived from an Old English term for “loaf mass” while Lughnasadh is derived from the name of the Celtic God Lugh.

Back in my coven days we followed a Celtic calendar so we celebrated Lughnasadh. When I left the coven I tried to continue embracing this ritual but found it difficult. Using the name Lammas rather than Lughnasadh helped as I could focus on bread and the harvest rather than a male Celtic God. Unfortunately Lammas is celebrated in Australia during the hottest time of the year. Temperatures soar, days are hot and sticky and nights are warm and muggy. It’s hard to get into the spirit of a festival focussing on baked goods when you yourself are baking as long and hot as a Lammas loaf. So instead of baking bread, I thought I would concentrate on the thanksgiving part of Lammas and make a sandwich I had on a recent trip to the USA. 

One of the things I am really grateful for is being able to visit my dear friend Anne on Whidbey Island in Washington State. She was a great host and tour guide and took us to some fantastic places to eat. For our last meal on the island we had lunch at Pickles Deli. There was so much on offer so I took my time devising the perfect sandwich. For the fillings I chose turkey with cranberry sauce and mayonnaise. This combination always makes me think of a thanksgiving dinner. Feeling adventurous, I did something I have never done before, I chose lettuce leaves instead of bread as my wrapping. My bread-free sandwich was a light and fresh taste sensation!

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The great thing about this sandwich wrap is that you can make it with homemade ingredients or store-bought ones and you can also substitute chicken for the turkey. I’ve made it many ways and they have all been delicious.

You can read more about my travels and recipes from Whidbey Island and other parts of the USA in my book Bites and Pieces of America. 🙂

Birthday Gifts From Bram Stoker

Thursday the 8th of November is Bram Stoker’s 171st birthday. As I thought about Bram’s birthday, I began to reminisce about my own birthdays, in particular my 21st and 22nd birthdays. Both these days have a special connection to Bram and his famous character Dracula, or in this case, Nosferatu.

I didn’t have a party for my 21st birthday. Instead I visited my mum during the day and was delighted when she surprised me with a stunning birthday cake decorated with an image of Dracula. In the evening I celebrated with a couple of close friends who came to my place with platters of Middle Eastern snacks and chunks of Turkish bread. We ate ourselves into a stupor. We then eyed off my birthday cake. Dracula looked so cute that I didn’t want to eat him. I sliced around him that night but eventually I devoured all the cake including my iced Dracula.

After dinner we sat down to watch a newly released video of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. This 1922 black and white silent movie is a classic from the German Expressionist period. Nosferatu was an unauthorised adaptation of Stoker’s novel Dracula. Hoping to avoid paying royalties to Stoker’s widow, the makers changed locations and character names so that they were different to the novel. Notably Count Dracula became Count Orlok and the word vampire was replaced by Nosferatu. These changes weren’t enough to stop Stoker’s heirs from successfully suing. A court ruled that all copies of the film be destroyed. Luckily a few prints survived.  

More than half a century after Nosferatu was released and almost destroyed, I finally got to see the film for the first time. I was mesmerised. The cinematography was haunting, the soundtrack unnerving and I loved watching snippets of dialogue appear in quaint, written form. I found the ending beautifully tragic. Love lured the vampire to his death and a part of me felt sad when he died. For a vampire fan like me, this was a truly magical way to celebrate my special birthday.

A year later I invited a small group of friends to celebrate my 22nd birthday at the Valhalla Cinema in Richmond. They were screening Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre, a 1979 remake of Murnau’s film. There are two versions of the film. In one the actors speak English and in the other they speak German. There are other differences between the two films including different scenes and scenes shot with different camera angles. I had seen the English version many times but never the German one. Happily the Valhalla was screening the German version. 

Watching Herzog’s Nosferatu is like watching paintings come to life. It is a sumptuous and hypnotic visual treat accompanied by a bewitching soundtrack. What I love most is the twist at the end. You can view it as a sad or happy ending, depending on how you feel about vampires. I was so happy that I finally got to watch the German version and it was even more awesome that it was on my birthday. I couldn’t have wished for better birthday presents from Bram Stoker than being able to celebrate my birthdays with Nosferatu.

This year I will be celebrating Bram Stoker’s birthday with a special bottle of gin. I recently discovered that there is a gin distillery right here in Melbourne called Nosferatu. Their signature gin is not surprisingly made with blood oranges. I’m not sure what I will be concocting with this gin but I’m sure it will be bloody and sticky 🙂

Some interesting facts related to F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu:
– Count Orlok is destroyed by sunlight in the film whereas sunlight is harmless to Count Dracula in the novel.
– The Blue Oyster Cult wrote a song about the film called Nosferatu for their 1977 album Spectres.
– In Stephen King’s 1979 miniseries Salem’s Lot, the appearance of master vampire Kurt Barlow is inspired by Max Schreck’s Count Orlok.
– E. Elias Merhige’s 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire is a fictionalised account of the making of Murnau’s film. The surprise premise of the film is that the actor playing Count Orlok, is a real vampire.
– Most deliciously, the film is the inspiration for the Nosferatu Distillery and their Blood Orange Gin.

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