July 16th is World Snake Day! To celebrate this serpentine day, I want to explore one of my favourite childhood games – Snakes and Ladders.
Snakes and Ladders is a board game which features squares numbered 1 to100. Played by two or more players, each player rolls a dice in turn and travels along the numbered squares. Some of the squares have the bottom of ladders which help you move up (to the top of the ladder), while other squares feature the heads of snakes which send you back down (to the tail of the snake). The snakes and ladders vary in length, so you can rise and fall vast or small amounts depending on where you land. The first player to reach the final square is the winner!
Snakes and Ladders is the English version of an ancient Indian game. There are a number of names and variations of the Indian game such as Gyan Chauper, Leela, Mokshapat and Moksha Patam. The games were originally used to impart moral and karmic lessons to children. The ladders represent a virtue which allows you to rise while the snakes represent a vice which causes you to fall. In the Indian version there are more snakes than ladders, probably because it’s easier to fall victim to vice than to be virtuous. 🙂
When the game came to England, a few changes were made. The number of snakes was reduced so there were equal numbers of snakes and ladders. The karmic lessons of the original were also replaced with moral lessons relevant to the Victorian era of the time. Eventually the moral lessons were left out or replaced by cartoon pictures that had no real link to virtues or vices.
The American version is called Chutes and Ladders. In a move that would make Saint Patrick proud, Chutes and Ladders has driven all the snakes off the board and replaced them with chutes. Interestingly, most of these versions still retain the moral lessons of the original games.
When I think of playing Snakes and Ladders as a child, I can’t remember any moral lessons being imparted. All I remember is my desperate desire to win and to avoid the snake boldly waiting at the top, ready to turn my impending victory into defeat! I actually loved the drawings of the snakes, with their cute tongues poking out, but I was annoyed that it was a punishment to land on them.
Snakes are one of the oldest, richest and most widespread mythological symbols. While they are seen as symbols of negativity in some cultures, they are more often associated with positive traits such as creativity, fertility, healing, rebirth, sexuality and wisdom. I’m glad Snakes and Ladders didn’t teach me to see snakes solely as a symbol of negativity.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
March 16 is Panda Day. It is a day to celebrate our beloved giant pandas, though for some of us that’s everyday! 🙂 Panda Day is also a day to reflect on the important work being done to save these precious creatures from extinction.
To celebrate Panda Day, I thought I would explore the giant panda card in the World Animal Dreaming Oracle by Scott Alexander King. I bought this deck as I knew it had a red panda card which I’m hoping to explore on International Red Panda Day. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the deck also had a giant panda card. I was a little disturbed to discover this card was called Sorrow. However, to understand this card, you have to know the legend of how the giant panda came to have black and white fur.
There are a few variations of the legend, but my favourite version tells the story of a young shepherdess who protects a giant panda cub being attacked by a leopard. The brave shepherdess saves the panda, but during the struggle she is killed by the leopard. The cub returns safely to the other giant pandas, who in this legend are as white as snow. When they hear about the death of the shepherdess they are heartbroken. As a sign of respect for her sacrifice, the pandas attend her funeral. As was the custom, the pandas cover their arms in black ash. As they weep, they rub their eyes with their paws, wiping away their tears and staining their fur with black ash. To block out the sound of crying, they cover their ears with their paws, staining their ears with black ash. To deal with their grief, they hug each other, spreading the ash from their arms to their legs. To remember the shepherdess and her sacrifice, the pandas decide to never wash the ash from their fur. They have kept their black and white markings to this day.
So now you know why Sorrow is a fitting theme for the giant panda in the World Animal Dreaming Oracle. Thankfully the giant panda card has a lovely meaning. According to Scott, the giant panda reminds us of our compassion, empathy and sensitivity to the suffering of others. The giant panda also teaches us to be careful of not burning ourselves out with the weight of our concerns and responsibilities. We can care for the world, but not at the expense of our own emotional state. The giant panda is here to support us, especially when we value ourselves as much as we value others. I think this is a beautiful interpretation of our beloved pandas.
For this Panda Day, I’ll be celebrating the legend of how the panda became the black and white beauty of the bear world, by enjoying a nice slice of white cheese rolled in black ash. In true panda style I’ll also be enjoying a cup of bamboo leaf tea.
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
When my 50th Anniversary Edition of Traditional Macedonian Recipes arrived, I couldn’t wait to to see what tasty offerings it contained. I was happy to see some familiar treats like Chicken and Baked Rice (Kokoshka Sus Oris), Egg Custard Banista (Mletchneek) and Lenten Crepes with Garlic Sauce (Posnee Peetoolee Sus Tulchen Luk). These recipes brought back happy memories and took me on a culinary journey through my childhood.
Traditional Macedonian Recipes was originally published in 1969 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada by the St. George’s Macedono-Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church and Ladies’ Section Mara Buneva. I was intrigued by who Mara Buneva was and, after a quick search, I discovered a female revolutionary who is as fascinating and divisive as the Balkans themselves.
Mara Buneva was a Macedonian Bulgarian revolutionary. She was born in 1902 in Tetovo which was then a Vilayet of Kosovo in the Ottoman Empire and is now part of North Macedonia. After the Serbian annexation of Tetovo, Buneva moved to Bulgaria. She studied at Sofia University and married a Bulgarian officer. They divorced in 1926. Buneva then joined the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) in Sofia.
In 1927 she returned to Skopje and opened a store. When members of the Macedonian Youth Secret Revolutionary Organization were arrested and sentenced to long-term imprisonment, IMRO ordered the execution of Serbian official, Velimir Prelić.
On January 13th, 1928, (ironically Friday the 13th), Mara Buneva assassinated Velimir Prelić. After shooting Prelić, Buneva committed suicide by shooting herself. Prelić died a few days later in hospital. Buneva was buried by Serbian police in an unknown place.
Buneva is viewed by some as a traitor and terrorist while others celebrate her as a heroine and martyr, fighting for the freedom of Macedonia. Attempts to place a commemorative plaque at the place where she died have failed as they are destroyed not long after they are erected. I don’t know if there is one there now, however, there is a wax figure of Buneva in the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle.
While I’ve only explored the tip of the iceberg in relation to the controversies and legacies surrounding Mara Buneva, it’s a journey I’m eager to pursue. And speaking of icebergs, Buneva Point in Antarctica is named after Mara Buneva.
To celebrate my discovery of another controversial revolutionary woman, I thought I would make one of the cakes from Traditional Macedonian Recipes. To honour Mara Buneva’s deathiversary, I’ve chosen the Marmalade Cake, which is a special Lenten recipe and contains no fats, dairy or eggs. Thankfully it contains lots of flavour!
Ingredients 1/2 cup oil (I used extra virgin olive oil) 1 cup marmalade 1 cup water 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped zest of 1 orange 2 cups plain flour 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon cloves 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) 1/2 teaspoon salt
Instructions Preheat oven to 180C / 350F. Line a 20cm (8inch) square baking pan with baking paper. Mix together the oil, marmalade, water, walnuts and orange peel in a bowl. Sift in the dry ingredients. Mix until combined. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing and cutting into squares. Can be eaten warm or cold.
Fairy Bread is an Australian treat, comprised of buttered white bread sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. There is no real recipe for this sweet but there are a few non-binding rules. The bread should be sliced white bread, the spread can be butter or margarine, and the sprinkles must be round, coloured hundreds and thousands and not the rod shaped ones. (Hundreds and thousands are also known as nonpareils sprinkles). Fairy Bread is usually sliced into triangles with the crust left on.
Fairy Bread was first mentioned in a 1920’s Hobart newspaper article which reported children eating it at a party. The creation of Fairy Bread may have been inspired by a Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem called “Fairy Bread” published in A Child’s Garden of Verses in 1885.
“Fairy Bread” Come up here, O dusty feet! Here is fairy bread to eat. Here in my retiring room, Children, you may dine On the golden smell of broom And the shade of pine; And when you have eaten well, Fairy stories hear and tell.
Normally I’m a bit of a rebel and love to play around with recipes, but in the case of Fairy Bread, I’m a traditionalist! If you really don’t like crusts, I think cutting them off is fine. I also think cutting or rolling the bread into creative shapes is an acceptable tweak and a way to get creative with a basic, but very tasty, recipe. 🙂
I’ve recently discovered a less messy way to get the hundreds and thousands onto the bread. Instead of covering the buttered bread with the hundreds and thousands, which usually leads to the round, sugary balls sliding off the bread and rolling all over the kitchen, pour the hundreds and thousands onto a plate and press the bread butter side down into the hundreds and thousands. This is particularly helpful if you’ve cut your bread into unusual shapes.
My favourite gothic store, Beserk, often adds little surprises in your parcel when you order online. When I opened my latest package, I was rapt to find a Fortune Cookie among my ghoulish purchases.
At first I assumed it was a black Misfortune Cookie from Pechkeks, which come individually or in a box of 13. As this Friday is Friday the 13th, I thought it would be a fortuitous day to open a Misfortune Cookie.
My only worry was that my cookie was purple and not black. As I took a closer look, I realised it wasn’t a Misfortune Cookie but actually a Beserk Halloween Fortune Cookie. I was momentarily disappointed as I was looking forward to seeing what my misfortunate message would be.
My happiness returned when I realised that a Halloween Fortune Cookie could also contain a misfortunate message! With a sense of excitement and some dread, I cracked open my Fortune Cookie on the morning of Friday the 13th.
Let the Haunting begin!
The perfect drink to have with one of these cookies is a strong cup of Turkish coffee. You’ll find my recipe for Turkish coffee, and tips on how to read your coffee cup, on my previous post Cold Nights And Warm Fortunes.
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.
Saturday the 19th is International Red Panda Day. IRPD is held on the third Saturday in September each year and is a day to celebrate all things red panda! Zoos around the world join in the celebration with a mix of live and online activities. You can find out more about IRPD and heaps of other red panda stuff at the Red Panda Network.
This year I will be celebrating IRPD with a very special addition to my fluffy and felty family – Rusty the Red Panda. Rusty is a famous escape artist red panda who escaped from the Smithsonian National Zoo in 2013. Luckily he was found safe and sound. You can read about his adventure in this Washington Post article.
It is no surprise that such an infamous red panda would make his way into Anne Belov’s The Panda Chronicles. Rusty has appeared in a number of her cartoons and is portrayed as a red panda activist. When Anne starting making felty versions of her Chronicles characters, she included Rusty and his famous protest signs. I think he is the perfect embodiment of IRPD!
Rusty is looking forward to celebrating IRPD with his new mate Kevin the Scorched Koala, another Chronicles critter who has emigrated Down Under. You can read Kevin’s story in A Tale Of A Felted Koala.
Naturally I wanted to make a special recipe for my new felty friend. Rusty’s name brought back memories of one of my favourite drinks – the Rusty Nail, which is made by mixing Scotch whisky with Drambuie, a honey and herb infused whisky liqueur. While researching the Rusty Nail I came across a variation which substitutes bourbon for the Scotch whisky and is called a Rusty Bob. I laughed as Bob T. Panda is one of the key characters in The Panda Chronicles! I was going to make both Rusty Nails and Rusty Bobs but then made a giant leap and turned these delicious cocktails into a rich and creamy dessert I call a Rusty Bob Cranachan.
Cranachan is a Scottish dessert that is a delicious mix of raspberries, cream, honey, oats and Scotch whisky. Drambuie is sometimes added as a sweet optional extra. My version definitely includes Drambuie but, in the tradition of a Rusty Bob, substitutes the Scotch whisky with bourbon. Purists will be shocked, but I’ve always liked to cook on the wild side!
Instructions Toast the oats in a frying pan over medium heat. Toss occasionally, being careful not to burn them, until they just start to brown and smell nutty, then remove from the pan and set aside. Whisk together the cream, whiskey and Drambuie until just firm. Fold in the oatmeal. Put a few raspberries aside for serving and fold the remaining raspberries into the cream, being careful not to over-whip the cream. Place in serving glasses or bowls. Refrigerate for one hour or until chilled. Top with reserved raspberries and drizzle with honey.