Yearly Events

An Encounter With Red Pandas

International Red Panda Day (IRPD) is celebrated on the third Saturday in September which this year falls on Saturday the 17th. IRPD was created by the Red Panda Network (RPN) to highlight the issues endangered red pandas face in the wild such as habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is observed around the world with special events and red panda themed events. Some zoos celebrate on different days, so check with your local zoo to see if they are doing anything and on what day. If you’re lucky enough to have a zoo that does red panda encounters, IRPD would be a perfect day to treat yourself to one of these special experiences.

In preparation for IRPD, I visited Billabong Zoo to have an encounter with not one, but two red pandas! Rato and Tito, two elderly red panda sisters, were very keen to have breakfast, so when they saw me enter their enclosure with a bowl, they didn’t waste any time and quickly climbed down the tree for treats. They were very polite as they waited while I fed each of them tasty bits of fruit in turn.

During the encounter I made eye contact with the beautiful elder girls and my heart swelled at how gentle they were. As I looked into their stunning red panda faces millimetres from my from own, I felt a connection with these very special creatures. They seemed to know that I needed healing as it has been a very difficult couple of years. I was feeling rubbed raw emotionally and spiritually.

Being in the presence of two seemingly old and wise red panda ladies, I felt a huge burden lift from my shoulders. As I stared into their happy little faces, an overwhelming sense of calm and balance coursed through me. For the first time in a long time I felt happy, positive and ready to face the challenges ahead of me. The road forward is uncertain, but with the promise of more red panda encounters in the future, I’m ready to start journeying again.

(from the world animal dreaming oracle by Scott Alexander King)

Sweet Tea For A Bloody Countess

August 21st is Elizabeth Bathory’s deathiversary. It’s also National Sweet Tea Day. When I realised this, I couldn’t help picturing Elizabeth sipping a sweet tea. Seeing as two of her epithets are the “Blood Countess” and “Countess Dracula”, maybe it isn’t sweet tea she is sipping.

Countess Elizabeth Bathory (born 7 August 1560 – died 21 August 1614) was a Hungarian noblewoman who was accused of torturing and murdering young girls. Bathory was eventually tried and convicted as a serial killer. She was imprisoned in her castle until her death. There is ongoing debate as to whether Elizabeth Bathory was a blood thirsty murderer or the victim of a witch hunt.

As a wealthy and influential landowner, there were many reasons to discredit her and take her land and power. This has led to questioning how the evidence brought against Bathory was gathered. Some testified that they had not seen her commit crimes but had heard stories about her while the eyewitness accounts from Bathory’s servants were mostly gained through torture. The enduring tales of her drinking and bathing in the blood of virgins to retain her youth appear to have been written after her death. Whether guilty or innocent of these crimes, Elizabeth Bathory has lived on in folklore, especially in vampire mythology.

And now onto something sweeter than blood – Sweet Tea!
National Sweet Tea Day is a day to enjoy the pleasures of a refreshing glass of iced sweet tea. The difference between sweet tea and iced tea is that sweetener is added to the tea at the time of brewing. National Iced Tea Day is celebrated on June 10.

To celebrate National Sweet Tea Day, I’ll be enjoying a sweetened Earl Grey tea. To pay tribute to the contribution Elizabeth Bathory has made to vampire mythology, I’ll be adding a slice of blood orange. It won’t be chilled either as I believe that tea, like blood, should be served warm.

Happy Drinking!

Some Assembly Required

National Cream Tea Day is a British food day that is celebrated on the last Friday in June. This year it was celebrated on June 24th. I didn’t get to celebrate on Friday, but any day is a great day to celebrate the delight that is a cream tea!

National Cream Tea Day was created by two companies, one that specialises in cream – Rodda’s Clotted Cream and one that specialise in jams and preserves – Wilkin and Sons Tiptree. National Cream Tea Day is a fun day that encourages people to get together over a cream tea and raise money for charities. Both companies donate cream and jam for events through their joint organisation, The Cream Tea Society.

Apart from cream and jam, a cream tea needs scones to dollop the cream and jam onto, and lots of tea to wash them down with. The scone recipe I’ve chosen is not a classic British recipe but one from an Ikea cookbook called Hey Flavours! Children’s First Cookbook. Luckily you won’t need an Allen key to assemble these scones! If you’d like to know more about cream teas, and what order you should put the cream and jam on your scone, you can go to my previous post, The Battle Of The Cream Tea.

Scones
I was drawn to these scones as they are made with yoghurt instead of milk, which sounds delicious! I’ve tested them thoroughly and they do also taste delicious.

Ingredients
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
50g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup yoghurt

for serving
jam
cream
tea

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
Add the butter and, using your fingers, rub it into the flour.
Add the yoghurt and mix into a dough.
Place dough onto a floured surface and flatten until approximately 2cm thick.
Use a glass or cookie cutter to cut into round shapes.
Place onto prepared tray and sprinkle with a little flour.
Bake for 10 – 12 minutes.

When Shall We Three Meet Again

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!

The Dracula Tarot

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!

Happy World Dracula Day!

The Dracula Tarot

Stately Ghosts

April 20th is Bram Stoker’s Death Day. This year marks the 110th year since the Dracula author passed away. To honour the memory of one of my favourite writers, I went on another Lantern Ghost Tour.

The Eynesbury Homestead Dinner and Ghost Tour usually takes place once a month on a Friday night. I had originally booked a tour for Friday the 13th in August 2021, but sadly had to postpone it. I rescheduled it for April 15th which was close to Bram Stoker’s deathiversary and also Good Friday. I loved doing a ghost tour on a day dedicated to death, blood and resurrection. The fact that it was also a full moon added to the magic!

With the moon lighting our way, our guide took us for a walk through the property, pointing out places of historical and ghostly significance. The stories were gruesome as our guide told of those who’d died so long ago, and the stories of the ghosts who remain. The abandoned meat room, with meat hooks that sometimes swing on their own, was pretty creepy. The outdoors fully explored, it was time to go inside.

As we entered the first room – the former sitting room, I was drawn to one section in particular. I wasn’t surprised when the guide told us that’s where they placed the coffin for a wake or vigil. The deceased would be displayed in the family home for a few days to make sure they were truly dead. In a time when it was difficult to ascertain death, a wake was literally giving the deceased time to wake up before burial.

I loved the stories our guide told us as they really brought to life the house and the family who built it. Sadly, most of the house has now been transformed into a restaurant at the cost of some of its historical charm – a mixture of Victorian and Georgian styles reflecting its late 19th century origins. The exception was the snooker room, which was decorated with original furnishings and even wall paper. It brought out the historical feel, including a full sized snooker table so heavy that it had sunk into the floor and had to be reinforced! Overall though, the fact that the house is displayed as a restaurant, and not a stately home takes away some of its spirit, but it’s still worth visiting.

There is a collection of antique dolls but, devastatingly, they were not on display. Apparently they have been banished to the cellar for being too creepy. We couldn’t go in the cellar, but I did take photos, hoping to see the creepy dolls. Sadly they were out of view so I didn’t get to see them.

To console myself I went home and played with my not so creepy Dracula dolls.

April Fool’s Day Capers

To celebrate April Fool’s Day I’d like to pay tribute to one of my favourite pranks. On April Fool’s Day 1957, the BBC’s current affairs program Panorama aired a story about a family in Switzerland harvesting spaghetti from their spaghetti tree. The family were celebrating a bumper harvest due to a mild winter and the almost total eradication of the spaghetti beetle.

photo from wikipedia

Apparently, spaghetti was not well known in the UK at that time so many were fooled by the story. Some viewers contacted the BBC asking for advice on how they could grow their own spaghetti trees! Wouldn’t it be awesome if there really were spaghetti trees?

To celebrate this foodie prank I just had to make a big bowl of spaghetti. Naturally I couldn’t resist adding capers to my spaghetti. Not only do capers add a tasty burst of flavour to a dish, but a “caper” is also another name for an escapade, joke or prank.

Spaghetti with Capers

Ingredients
180g spaghetti
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
good squeeze of lemon juice
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

Instructions
Cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente.
Drain and return the spaghetti to the pot.
Add the olive oil and lemon juice.
Toss until combined and the spaghetti is glossy.
Place into bowls and scatter with capers and parmesan.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

The Power Of A Panda

March 16th is Panda Day. It’s a day to celebrate giant pandas and to raise awareness about the struggles pandas face in the wild. Giant pandas are an “umbrella species” which means that the protections we place around wild pandas and their habitats, also protect other animals that share those vulnerable habitats with them. Drawing attention to the struggles of one species can also prompt us to look at other vulnerable animals and hopefully will inspire us to do something to protect the many species around the world that need our help.

Giant pandas are not only important for the planet, but for some of us they nourish our souls. In A Personality Of Pandas, I wrote about my personal connection to pandas and how they helped me through a very difficult time. After a horror couple of years that included a global pandemic, I recently needed to draw on the healing power of pandas again. The best way to do that was to visit the quirky black and white bears at Adelaide Zoo.

Adelaide Zoo is the only zoo in Australia that has giant pandas. Fu Ni (Lucky Girl) and Wang Wang (Net Net) arrived in November 2009. Adelaide is only a short flight, or an eight hour drive, from Melbourne so luckily I’ve been able to visit our resident pandas a few times. I was planning to visit them again two years ago, but the pandemic put our travel plans on hold. I didn’t think it would take so long to see them again but the wait was worth it.

Unfortunately Fu Ni didn’t make an appearance on the day we visited, but Wang Wang did. As soon as I saw his adorable face, and those black ears that look like they’ve been stuck on his head with a glue gun, I felt some some of my anger, pain and grief melt away. I happily watched Wang Wang sitting there eating his bamboo. He was so close I could hear him tearing the strips which he then shoved into his mouth. He seemed oblivious to the crowd until the woman next to me asked if she was blocking my view. Wang Wang stopped eating and stared at us, seeming eager to hear the answer himself. I was happy to let him know that no-one was blocking my view. Wang Wang gave me a long, hard stare and then went back to his feasting, Ieaving me with a lighter soul and a smile on my face.

Happy Panda Day!

A Day For Pancakes

This year we begin the month of March with Pancake Day!

Pancake Day, also know as Shrove Tuesday, is part of Easter observances so it doesn’t have a fixed date. It is followed by Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Shrove Tuesday is the last day to eat rich, sweet and fatty foods before a period of fasting begins. Thankfully I don’t celebrate Easter (so no fasting) but I do celebrate pancakes!

This year I am indulging in mini pancakes called pikelets. Pikelets are an Aussie and New Zealand treat and are enjoyed any time of the day. They can be eaten hot or cold and can be served with sweet or savoury toppings.

I’ve tweaked a traditional pikelet recipe to make an overnight version that also has oats. You’ll need to start preparing these the night before, as the oats and milk need to soak overnight.

Overnight Oat Pikelets

Ingredients
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
butter for frying

Instructions
Mix the oatmeal and milk together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning remove the oat mix from the refrigerator.
Stir in the beaten egg until combined.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a small bowl.
Add to the oat mix and stir until combined. (You want a thick batter so add more milk or flour to get the right consistency).
Melt some butter in a frying pan.
Drop tablespoons of batter into the pan, allowing room for spreading.
Cook for 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and the bottom is lightly browned.
Turn them over with a spatula and cook for 30 – 60 seconds or until lightly brown on the bottom.
Remove from the pan.
Eat them hot or cold with sweet or savoury toppings.

Make It A Double!

Did you know that there are two days a year dedicated to honouring bartenders?

World Bartender Appreciation Day is an international celebration for bartenders and is held on the 24th of February, while Bartender Appreciation Day is a US national celebration held on the 1st Friday in December. Bartender Appreciation Day was founded by Sailor Jerry Rum in 2011. This year it will be celebrated on Friday the 3rd.

As the name suggests, Bartender Appreciation Day is a day to honour those who tend our drinks, and often our emotions. As someone who has spent a lot of time in bars, I’d like to say thank you to all those bartenders who mixed me awesome drinks, listened to my drunken stories, commiserated with me when I was sad, and celebrated my happy times.

A great way to celebrate a day dedicated to mixologists is to experiment with your favourite cocktail recipes. I like playing around with the ratio of ingredients, so I was happily surprised when I discovered reverse cocktails! To make one, you simply reverse the proportions of the main alcohol ingredients. For example, a Lone Tree Cocktail (one of my favourites) is 2 parts gin to 1 part sweet vermouth. To reverse it you’d do 1 part gin to 2 parts sweet vermouth. Reversing a cocktail can have a dramatic effect on the flavour, and sometimes on the alcohol content as well.

An extension of this concept is to play around with the ingredients themselves. So with the Lone Tree example you could do 1 part gin, 1 part sweet vermouth, 1 part dry vermouth. You could also use a blood orange gin to add an orange flavour. With all the different gins and vermouths available, your combinations could be endless!

Reverse Lone Tree Cocktail

Cheers!

Dining With Dracula

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.

The Dracula Tarot