May 26 is World Dracula Day which celebrates the day that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was published. Dracula was published in 1897 making this year the 125th anniversary!
Dracula is an epistolary novel as it is written as a series of documents. The narrative beautifully unfolds through letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, ship logs, telegrams and phonograph recordings. Dracula therefore has an exhaustive list of the places, times and dates that events occur. To celebrate World Dracula Day, I decided to see if there was an entry for May 26 – and happily there was!
Telegram from Arthur Holmwood to Quincey P. Morris. “26 May. “Count me in every time. I bear messages which will make both your ears tingle. “ART.”
Doesn’t that sound intriguing? Here is the previous correspondence which explains what invitation Arthur is accepting.
Letter, Quincey P. Morris to Hon. Arthur Holmwood. “25 May. “My dear Art,— “We’ve told yarns by the camp-fire in the prairies; and dressed one another’s wounds after trying a landing at the Marquesas; and drunk healths on the shore of Titicaca. There are more yarns to be told, and other wounds to be healed, and another health to be drunk. Won’t you let this be at my camp-fire to-morrow night? I have no hesitation in asking you, as I know a certain lady is engaged to a certain dinner-party, and that you are free. There will only be one other, our old pal at the Korea, Jack Seward. He’s coming, too, and we both want to mingle our weeps over the wine-cup, and to drink a health with all our hearts to the happiest man in all the wide world, who has won the noblest heart that God has made and the best worth winning. We promise you a hearty welcome, and a loving greeting, and a health as true as your own right hand. We shall both swear to leave you at home if you drink too deep to a certain pair of eyes. Come! “Yours, as ever and always,“Quincey P. Morris.”
I can just picture Quincey, Dr Seward and Arthur sitting around a campfire discussing Arthur’s “ear tingling” news. Arthur can’t wait to tell them that he is engaged to Lucy Westenra. What Arthur doesn’t know is that his proposal to Lucy on 24 May is the third she received that day. Dr Seward was the first to propose followed shortly after by Quincey. Both men are refused and they realise that Arthur is the man Lucy loves. This get-together is to congratulate Arthur for winning Lucy’s heart. Arthur is never told about the proposals and never realises how deep Dr Seward’s and Quincey’s love for Lucy is. There is also another secret that Quincey and Dr Seward keep from Arthur involving an “intimate” episode with Lucy. If you don’t already know, you’ll have to read the book to find out!
The Summer Solstice is almost here and this year it falls on Wednesday the 22nd of December. On this day, the Sun reaches its zenith, its highest point in the sky. The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. After the Summer Solstice, the days start to get shorter as we wind our way toward Lammas.
The Summer Solstice in the southern hemisphere is mirrored by the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere. It also occurs near Xmas which in many ways is a Midwinter festival. To celebrate this hemispherical duality, I thought I would make a gingerbread cake which is perfect for the Winter Solstice. I’m also going to show you how to use this cake for a Summer Solstice treat!
The recipe I’m using is from A Gothic Cookbook by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino. A Gothic Cookbook is being crowdsourced through Unbound so hopefully it gets fully funded because I want a copy! The book is beautifully illustrated by Lee Henry and features recipes inspired by classic and contemporary Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Rosemary’s Baby, Frankenstein and one of my favourites – Dracula. You might assume I’d be making a recipe inspired by Dracula, but the gingerbread cake recipe is actually inspired by Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.
That Very Special Gingerbread I followed the recipe below without making any of my customary tweaks. I was briefly tempted to try a different icing, but I’m glad I didn’t. The lemon icing was tart and refreshing and complimented the deep treacle flavour of the cake beautifully. (You can use molasses or blackstrap molasses if you don’t have black treacle)
My partner and I tried our best to eat all the cake but it was looking like we would fail. I was planning to freeze the leftovers, but then realised I could use the leftover cake to make a quick and easy Summer Solstice treat – Gingerbread Ice Cream!
Gingerbread Ice Cream
Ingredients Roughly chopped pieces of gingerbread cake, including the bits with icing Good quality vanilla ice cream, softened slightly
Instructions Mix the cake and ice cream together in a bowl. Place in a container and freeze. That’s it! There are no measurements for the ingredients so you can make as much or as little as you want. You can also add as much cake to the ice cream as you like.
November 8th is Bram Stoker’s birthday. Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1847, Bram’s most famous work is his 1897 novel Dracula. It’s one of my favourite books, and not just because it has vampires.
One of the many things I love about Dracula is that is an epistolary novel, meaning it is written as a series of documents. In Dracula, the narrative unfolds through letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, ship logs, telegrams and even translated phonograph recordings. There is no main narrator in Dracula, as many of the characters use the medium of writing to tell their own stories. This allows us to form an intimate connection to them, and offers us insight into the characters they interact with. It also means there are multiple viewpoints and interlacing narratives. Part of the pleasure of reading Dracula is trying to piece together all the different narratives and their timeframes.
The first chapter of the novel is written like a travelogue, as Jonathan Harker writes about his journey from England to Castle Dracula. One of the things Jonathan describes in detail in his journal is the food he has eaten along the way. His descriptions of the exotic dishes, such as paprika hendl, mamaliga and impletata, fascinated me, while his description of robber steak made my mouth water – until I got to the last bit!
“I dined on what they called “robber steak”—bits of bacon, onion, and beef, seasoned with red pepper, and strung on sticks and roasted over the fire, in the simple style of the London cat’s meat!”
Thankfully cat’s meat refers to meat classed as unfit for human consumption which was sold as meat for pets, and not actual cat meat. It was sold by street vendors known as cat’s meat men and women.
To celebrate Bram’s birthday I thought I would share my version of Robber Steak, or as I like to think of it, Robbed Steak, as I’ve robbed it of everything but the beef! Basically it’s my recipe for Beef Skewers. As I’m allergic to the chilli family, which includes paprika and red peppers, I’ve used cumin, cinnamon and white pepper as my spices. Feel free to replace them with paprika. I think Hungarian paprika would be most appropriate. 🙂
Beef Skewers aka Robbed Steak
Special Equipment: metal skewers or bamboo skewers (if using wooden skewers, pre-soak them for at least 30 minutes to prevent them from burning)
Ingredients 2 tablespoons milk 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 2 garlic cloves, crushed 1 tablespoon tomato paste 1 teaspoon cumin seeds 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon white pepper 1/2 teaspoon sea salt 500g beef, cut into 2cm cubes extra virgin olive oil
Ingredients Make the marinade by placing all the ingredients, except the meat, in a bowl and stir until combined. Add the meat, making sure it is fully coated in marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight if possible. Preheat the grill to high. Thread cubes of beef onto the skewers. Lightly brush with olive oil. Grill, turning occasionally, for 10-15 minutes or until cooked to your liking.
Halloween is my favourite time of the year – especially now that Australia has finally gotten into the spirit of things. Halloween candy and decorations compete for shelf space with xmas paraphernalia in stores, making it one of the rare times that I love to go shopping. As I go for walks around my neighbourhood, I’m rapt to see so many houses proudly showcasing ghoulish displays. The signs of Halloween are all around me, but so too are the signs of Beltane, the Spring festival that many southern hemisphere Pagans will be celebrating on October 31st.
On one of my morning walks, I was reminded that Spring is here when I saw an adorable tiger snake on the footpath. I watched, spellbound, and then took photos and video, from a very safe distance! I kept watch as the graceful creature slithered onto the road, making sure it made it safely across. The little snake found a nice place to rest and sun-bake while I continued on my walk. While a snake is a perfect symbol for Halloween, it’s also a perfect symbol for Beltane.
To celebrate northern hemisphere Halloween and southern hemisphere Beltane, I’d like to share a recipe that utilises apples, a fruit appropriate for both festivals. I found this recipe in a cozy mystery novel, appropriately called The Uninvited Corpse, from the Food Blogger Mystery series by Debra Sennefelder. All the recipes included in the book sounded divine, but it was the Cinnamon Apple Bread that had me heading to the kitchen.
The first time I made it I used a sweet red apple. The cake was very sweet and very delicious. The second time I used a green granny smith apple and it was perfect. To add a touch of Halloween to the recipe, I substituted pumpkin pie spice for the cinnamon. Pumpkin pie spice mix is a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and sometimes allspice. I’ve made a few pumpkin pie spice mixes, but my favourite combination is: 4 parts ground cinnamon 2 parts ground ginger 1 part ground cloves 1 part ground nutmeg
Spiced Apple Bread
Ingredients 1/2 cup brown sugar 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice 1 + 1/2 cups flour 1 + 1/4 teaspoon baking powder 125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened 2/3 cup white sugar 2 eggs 1 + 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1/2 cup milk 1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
Instructions Preheat oven to 180C / 350F. Line a loaf pan with baking paper. (I used a 22cmx12cm / 9x5inch pan). Mix together the brown sugar and spice. Set aside. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time until combined. Add the vanilla extract and mix until combined. Mix in half of the flour mix followed by half of the milk and mix until combined. Repeat with the other half. Pour half the mixture into prepared pan. Add half the apple and half the brown sugar. Press lightly into the batter. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Bake for 55-65 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to sit in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
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.
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.
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!
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. 🙂
While I’m hoping you’ll rush out and buy the book 🙂 I will share parts of the journey here. I’ll also include recipes that nearly made it into the book but just missed out like my Stout Pancakes (below). These are perfect for Winter in Australia. If you’d like pancake recipes that are more in tune with Summer – like Blueberry Pancakes or Carrot Cake Pancakes – you can find them in my book!
Bites and Pieces is currently available from Lulu. An ebook is on the way and it will be in other online stores soon 🙂
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons maple sugar*
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup stout**
butter for frying
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar into a large bowl. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and stout.
Add to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Heat a small amount of butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat.
Pour some batter into the pan. Remember that the bigger the pancakes, the harder they are to flip, so don’t make them too big.
Cook until bubbles start to form.
Flip and cook for a further 1 – 3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with your choice of toppings.
I like them with a good drizzle of pure maple syrup, golden syrup or honey.
*You can substitute brown sugar for the maple sugar. **Try different flavoured stouts like chocolate or coffee ones. I used a maple flavoured stout.