Birthdays

A Taste Of Autumn In Spring

The 8th of November is Bram Stoker’s birthday. Stoker was born in autumn in 1847 during the sign of Scorpio. His most famous creation is the gothic novel Dracula. 

Every year I like to celebrate his birthday by doing something special. This year I treated myself to an autumnal breakfast in the heart of spring.

The Coffeeologist is a cafe which recently opened near me. It’s been getting rave reviews so I couldn’t wait to go. The menu looked good and there were a few items I wanted to try. The Red Velvet Hotcakes were tempting as was the selection of sourdough fruit breads, but the winner was the Spiced Brioche. 

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My plate arrived and it looked beautiful. A pool of burnt apple puree supported a thick slice of spiced brioche French toast topped with a rasher of maple bacon, hazelnut cream and scattered with almond granola. I took one bite and thought “This tastes of Autumn!” Memories of Halloweens past and present and ideas for future Halloweens swirled in my mind while my taste buds were blown away by the cacophony of autumnal delights. I can think of no better way to celebrate the birth of the author of Dracula than with a Halloween treat. 🙂

This is my basic recipe for French Toast. Dress it up with a drizzle of maple syrup or go all out and add as many seasonal accompaniments as you like!

French Toast
Ingredients
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
butter or oil for frying
2 slices of bread*
maple syrup
seasonal accompaniments

Instructions
Lightly beat the egg in a bowl.
Add the milk and beat until combined.
Melt a small knob of butter or heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
Dip bread slices in the batter.
Place the bread into the frying pan and cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until golden brown.
Turn the slices over and cook the other side until golden brown, adding more butter or oil as needed.
Place on a serving plate and drizzle with maple syrup.
Add whatever seasonal accompaniments you desire.

*I usually use sliced white bread but you can use whatever bread you like.

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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A Dark Beginning

The 8th of November will be Bram Stoker’s 170th birthday!

Count of Goblets

The Dracula Tarot

Famous for writing the gothic novel Dracula, Bram Stoker had an interesting start in life. Bram spent the first seven years of his childhood suffering from a mystery illness which left him mostly bedridden. During his long illness, Stoker spent much of of his time alone or being entertained by his mother Charlotte who loved to tell him stories, some of them quite scary. Stoker himself said that the time he spent bedridden as a child deeply influenced his future writing.

When I think of the young Bram and his illness, I think of Lucy Westenra and her battle with Dracula. I also think of Count Dracula himself, alone with his thoughts in his isolated castle far away in Transylvania. I wonder if Dracula would ever have been written if Stoker had not had such a challenging start to his life.

I sometimes imagine what the young Bram Stoker would have been fed during his ailment. I have many foods I go to for comfort and convalescence but one of favourites is porridge. I love rice porridges like congee, cornmeal porridges like mamaliga and classic oatmeal porridges.

Oats were an important crop in Ireland so Bram probably had a few porridges in his day. There are many ways I like to eat oatmeal, but when I’m thinking of Bram Stoker and vampires I like to serve my porridge with a good drizzle of black as night molasses and a dollop of cream 🙂

Steel-Cut Oats

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Ingredients
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup steel-cut oats*
molasses for drizzling
cream for dolloping

Instructions
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a saucepan.
Add the oats.
Stirring occasionally, cover and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes or until they achieve your desired level of chewiness.
Turn off the heat and allow to rest for 2 minutes.
Place oatmeal in a bowl.
Drizzle with molasses.
Add a good dollop of cream
Cover and refrigerate any leftover porridge. You can reheat it or have it cold.

*Steel-cut oats are known by a few names such as Irish oats, pinhead oats or coarse oatmeal.

Soup For The Soulless

Bela Lugosi was born on October 20th, 1882 in Lugos, Hungary. Bela was most famous for his portrayals of the vampire Count Dracula. As an Hungarian actor famous for playing a Romanian prince, it seems appropriate that his birthplace is now called Lugoj and is in Romania.

In honour of Bela’s Hungarian heritage I wanted to make a traditional Hungarian dish for his 135th birthday. I also wanted it to be blood red. Classic paprika dishes like goulash are an option but I wanted something sweet and liquid. That’s when I discovered meggyleves, a sweet(ish) soup made from fresh sour cherries. The name is a combination of the Hungarian words “meggy” meaning sour cherries and “leves” meaning soup.

To make meggyleves, unpitted sour cherries are simmered in spices before adding sour cream. The soup is then chilled and served cold. I was looking forward to making this soup but our greengrocer didn’t have any fresh cherries as they are out of season. When I got home I started thinking of ways of “resurrecting” the recipe. I had a jar of sour cherries, and although the recipes don’t recommend canned cherries, I thought I would give it a try.

Rather than simmering the already soft cherries I decided I would simmer just the juice in the spices before adding the sour cream. The one thing I was really disappointed with was that the flavour of the cherry stones would be missing. Then I remembered that one of my favourite spices is mahleb which is made from ground cherry stones. I added a dash of mahleb and hoped for the best. The soup is pink rather than blood red but I enjoyed the flavour and could taste the mahleb. I would definitely make it again and am looking forward to making it with fresh cherries when they are back in season.

Resurrected Sour Cherry Soup

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Ingredients
600g (21oz) jar pitted morello cherries
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon flour
1/4 teaspoon ground mahleb (optional but recommended!)
cream for serving

Instructions
Strain the cherry juice into a saucepan and place the cherries into a bowl.
Heat the cherry juice, water, cinnamon and cloves in a small saucepan.
Bring to a gentle boil.
Cover and simmer for 5 minutes on low heat.
Remove from heat.
Mix together the sour cream, flour and mahleb in a bowl.
Stir a little warm soup into the sour cream mix.
Pour back into the soup and stir until combined.
Cover and allow to cool before straining over the cherries.
Refrigerate until cold.
Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of cream.

A Place Not Far From Home

So last year was my 50th Birthday. To celebrate we did a very special trip. Friends have asked me to write something about it and I’ve been waiting for the anniversary to do so. While I was writing, I saw an opportunity to enter it into a competition. It didn’t win but I liked the way it came out. I hope you do too.

A Place Not Far From Home

“I’ll be spending my 50th birthday in Canberra”, I told my regular travelling companion Trevor.

The look of horror on his face was priceless. “Have you been to Canberra?” he asked, stunned.

I have been to Canberra many times. Unlike a lot of Australians, I like our nation’s capital city. But I knew why Trevor was stunned. Trevor, my partner Paul and I were supposed to be travelling halfway across the world to England to celebrate my birthday, not Canberra, which is only a short flight away.

Ten years earlier, when I was planning my 40th birthday, the three of us started a tradition. We would each choose a holiday destination to travel to for our big birthdays. I chose a trip I called “A Dracula Tour of Romania”. My 50th was supposed to be part 2 – “A Dracula Tour of England”. Whitby was the prize destination. Sadly an ailing elder dog meant I couldn’t travel too far from home. Trevor went to Whitby and Paul and I took a short trip to Canberra.

On the eve of my 50th birthday, I woke to the sound of lions roaring in the night. They were so close. I could picture them walking near my window. I snuggled into the thick duvet, comforted by the warmth of the room and the sound of lions.

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Throughout the night I had been woken by their stirring call. Sometimes the roars were close, sometimes they were distant, every time was hauntingly beautiful. They made me smile. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my 50th birthday than in the company of wildlife.

When I knew I wasn’t going to Whitby for my birthday, I trusted that I would somehow find the right place to go. Sure enough, a few days later I was viewing an online newspaper when I saw an ad that made me look twice. The ad featured a photo of a woman taking a bubble bath while a European brown bear watched from outside her window. The words “wild”, “down under” and “Canberra” grabbed my attention. I knew immediately that this was where I would be spending my birthday weekend.

The ad was for Jamala Wildlife Lodge – the National Zoo and Aquarium’s new onsite accommodation. We had visited the zoo before, most notably to celebrate the very first International Red Panda Day, but never realised we could stay there. The secluded bungalows scattered around the zoo in the animal enclosures sounded perfect. Floor to ceiling windows gave you views of the animals as they went about their daily (and nightly) meanderings. An “al fresco” style section with heated pads and food treats was used to encourage the animals to come and snuggle down. I just had to choose which animals I wanted to “share” my room with. I chose the white lions for my first night and the European brown bears for my second.

Night one was more about sound than sight. While we caught glimpses of the lions and one came up to the window briefly, we mostly heard them roaring into the night, and were woken again by them in the morning.

 

After a sumptuous breakfast on day two we moved from the lion room to the bear room. There, snuggled warmly by our window, was a European brown bear. I wanted to squeal in delight but restrained myself, scared I might frighten the bear away. Instead, I calmly approached the window and quietly watched. We made ourselves cups of tea, munched on biscuits and relaxed on the couch, all under the watchful eye of a beautiful bear. Finally the bear left to do what bears do.

 

We reluctantly left our room and wandered around the zoo. We laughed when we made it back to the bear enclosure. One of the bears was enjoying a feast of fruit, vegetables and bread by a waterfall. We watched it for a while, before returning to our room. As before, the same brown bear was snuggled in the same place. We watched, mesmerised, as another bear arrived, grabbed some food, gave us a long, hard look and then left. We opened up a bottle of wine and shared the late afternoon with this most accommodating bear. Again, we were reluctant to leave our room, but dinner was calling and we were hungry.

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There are few lights in the zoo overnight and for our own protection, we weren’t allowed to walk around after dark. At a prearranged time, a bus came to collect us from our cabin, taking us through the pitch black of the zoo to the main hotel for dinner and drinks. The bus stopped a couple of times to pick up others from their rooms and we compared notes on our experiences as we rode.

A lavish South African inspired spread greeted us at the communal dinner table. I couldn’t wait to try the bobotie and malva pudding, both of which I’d heard of but never had a chance to try. The food was extraordinary and the wine selection suited it perfectly. We sipped wine and spoke to the other guests, each of us exchanging stories about the animals outside our rooms. The staff told us the main bear visiting our room was a female named Blondie. While we enjoyed the food, wine and the company, we were eager to get back to our room and hopefully a bear. In the meantime, we were entertained by first a pair of white lions and then hyenas as they were let into their dens for the evening. We could see them clearly from the dining room. We suspected that they could see us also, but they ignored us and after exploring their dens, curled up and went to sleep.

There was one birthday wish I deeply wanted granted. To have a bubble bath with a  bear! I really wanted to reenact the ad that got me to Jamala. We arrived home and Blondie had returned to her usual place. I was so excited. It was now or never for my bubble bath. I carefully filled the bath, making small, unhurried movements. I gingerly hopped in, hoping I wouldn’t startle her. I sat in the bath like the woman in the ad, watched by the beautiful brown bear. Then to my surprise and delight, another bear arrived. I lay in the bath, soaking in the soft, warm bubbles, watched by the gentle eyes of two extraordinary creatures. I had surpassed the ad. Not one but two brown bears were sharing my birthday dream with me. It was the most extraordinary birthday of my life.

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While I bathed with bears, Trevor had a drink for me in Whitby. Was I sad that I didn’t get to Whitby? Yes. Did I enjoy myself in Canberra? Immensely.

I didn’t have to travel the world to find a new and exotic place. I found one right here, in a place not far from home.

Cheers Mr Stoker!

Dracula author Bram Stoker was born on the 8th of November 168 years ago. I love remembering the birthday of a man who achieved symbolic immortality by creating an unforgettable immortal being – Count Dracula.

I wanted to create a recipe in his honour. Normally I would go for something more gothic, but I found myself wanting to pay tribute to his Irish heritage. I thought Irish Stew or Irish Soda Bread (or both!) would be great but it’s nearly summer here so hot stews and breads are a bit heavy. Maybe I will make them for his Deathiversary in April – hopefully it will cool down by then.

Thinking of the long, hot days ahead made me think of drinks and as a big coffee fan I thought of Irish Coffee. Early versions of Irish Coffee were simply hot black coffee with Irish whiskey and brown sugar stirred through, topped with thick cream. Later versions added a slug of Irish cream liqueur – yum! Naturally I wanted to add a twist. I played around with a dessert version of the classic drink and decided to make an Irish cream liqueur panna cotta, dotted with cubes of coffee jelly and topped with a whiskey cream.

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An Irish Coffee I ordered in Chengdu, China. 🙂

Working with gelatine is an adventure in itself. I use the leaves as sometimes the powder is difficult to combine and can become grainy. Leaves are great but they come in different strengths and you’re not always sure what strength they are. For jelly I usually follow the recommendations on the packet for the water/gelatine ratios. For panna cotta, I often use a bit less gelatine as I sometimes like my panna cotta creamier and less set. The panna cotta below is soft set so it contrasts well with the jelly. If you like your panna cotta set more firmly, just use more gelatine.

As this recipe is assembled on serving, you can add as much or as little coffee jelly and whiskey cream as you like. You can also choose whether you want the panna cottas to serve two, four or more people.

Irish Coffee Dessert

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Ingredients

for the panna cotta
4g of gelatine leaves
1 + 1/2 cups double cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Irish cream liqueur

for the coffee jelly
6g of gelatine leaves
1 cup freshly brewed coffee
1/4 cup sugar

for the whiskey cream
1 cup double cream
2 teaspoons icing sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Method
To make the panna cotta:
Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes to soften.
While gelatine is soaking heat the cream and sugar together in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer then remove from the heat.
Squeeze the gelatine leaves to remove any excess water then add them to the cream mixture. Whisk until the gelatine has dissolved. Stir in the Irish cream.
Pour panna cotta into a heatproof jug. Allow to cool to room temperature, stirring regularly with a whisk. Give a final stir then pour evenly into glasses or bowls. Leave some room on the top for the jelly and cream.
Cover and refrigerate overnight or until set.

To make the coffee jelly:
Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes to soften.
While gelatine is soaking heat the coffee and sugar together in a saucepan over medium-low heat until warm and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat.
Squeeze out any extra water from the gelatine leaves then add to the warm coffee. Whisk until the gelatine has dissolved.
Pour jelly into a square or rectangle container.
Allow to cool before covering and refrigerating until set. Cut into rough squares for serving.

To make the whiskey cream:
Using a wire whisk, beat together the cream and sugar until soft peaks form. Whisk in the whiskey until combined. Cover and refrigerate until cold.

To serve, dot the panna cottas with coffee jelly cubes and pipe or dollop on the whiskey cream.

A Bloody Birthday Drink

October 20th is Bela Lugosi’s birthday. He would be 133 years old if he lived. Considering he is one of the most famous actors who played Dracula, he may still be living – or undead!

As I continue to explore the five taste sensations through drinks, I couldn’t resist creating a Bloody Virgin Mary. Not only is it a drink most appropriate for a vampire, it is also a celebration of umami flavours. Umami is a Japanese word and is used to describe the unique flavour of savoury. Best examples of umami flavours can be found in aged foods such as cheese, cured foods, fermented foods, meats, sauces, seaweed and stocks.

Bloody Virgin Mary
A heady combination of savoury and salty flavours.

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Ingredients
1 + 1/2 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup beef stock
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 spring onions, finely chopped

Method
Place the tomato juice, beef stock, lemon juice, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce and spring onions in a blender. Blend until combined. Pour into a jug. The mixture will be frothy so chill in the refrigerator until settled before serving.

A Taste For Gin

I’ve been drinking gin since I was 15 years old. Something about the heady aromatics of
juniper berries grabbed me and held on tight. I love the different botanicals in different gins. When I discovered sloe gin I was blown away.

In my younger days I mixed my gin with lemonade or lemon squash. Now I shudder at the thought. Being older and wiser I go for the more traditional gin and tonic with a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber.

A while ago I saw that The Bass and Flinders Distillery in Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula was offering a Gin Masterclass. I couldn’t wait to enrol in their two hour workshop and quickly booked a place.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived and was a little nervous. All I knew was that it was a workshop where I would be creating a bottle of gin for myself! I shouldn’t have worried. As soon I walked in the door, I was offered a gin and tonic with a choice of gin. That’s a good start! They make a few different gins here so there was quite a choice. I chose the Monsoon, which is a blend of 8 botanicals featuring coriander, ginger and lemon grass. It was delicious.

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I sat down at a little table and was confronted with an array of small glasses filled with liquid alcoholic botanicals. It was like being in a laboratory. I had a mixing glass in which I poured the juniper berry base. Coriander was added as the balancing element. Now all I had to do was decide which other flavours I wanted for my personal blend of gin!

The botanicals came from three regions – Asia, Australia and Europe and ranged from dry to aromatic. I decided to try and taste all the botanicals but after a few sips I was getting confused. So I just launched in and starting mixing flavours – keeping written notes so I could remember my final blend. I was doing really well until I added lemon myrtle, one of my favourite Australian herbs. Sadly it completely destroyed my gin and turned it into a lemon cough syrup. No amount of coriander could balance out that taste and I was devastated.
Luckily there was a second round.

I decided to punish and banish all the Australian botanicals from the next round and went for a blend I like to think of as The European Panda 🙂 There were only a few European botanicals so I decided to use them all and mixed them with a few Asian botanicals to come up with a very delicious gin. My final concoction was a heady blend of juniper, coriander, barberry, dill, elderberry and cardamon. My job was done!

All I had to do was decide what I wanted on my label and then wait for my very personal bottle of gin to arrive in the mail. The first part was easy as I’d already made up my mind. The second part, not so much. Patience is not my strong point. As the weeks passed I kept checking the mail, getting more and more anxious. Would the gin be as good as I remembered? How long was the process going to take? Had they forgotten me? Where is MY GIN?? were justIMG_0414 some of the thoughts that ran through my mind.

Finally my package arrived. I cracked it open and took a much anticipated drink. It was better than I remembered. It was so good straight that it didn’t need any mixers.

I smiled when I looked at the label. There, draped between two women, were the words – Vintage Vladic Aged 50 Years. This was a 50th birthday present to myself. I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate for an ancient gin drinker 🙂

Gin Alexander
Another one of my favourite drinks growing up was Brandy Alexander. It wasn’t the brandy I liked, but the cream and the chocolate. Naturally I had to try it with gin.

1 part gin
1 part creme de cacao
1 part thin cream
ice cubes
grated dark chocolate for sprinkling

Place all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well.
Pour into a chilled cocktail glass.
Sprinkle with grated dark chocolate.

Happy Birthday Mr Stoker

Born – November 8, 1847
Died – April 20, 1912
167 Today!

In honour of Bram Stoker’s birthday I offer a review of Dracula Untold, the latest movie which draws on characters created by Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula. Like the novel, the film turns the historical figure of Vlad Dracula into a vampire.

Spoiler Alert
The following discussion gives away key points in the film.

Dracula Untold – The Man

The film tells the story of how Vlad Dracula becomes a vampire to save his country from Ottoman forces. Narrated through the eyes of his son, the film is a confused melding of historical fact and fiction. Sadly the Vlad Dracula in Dracula Untold is less a formidable warrior and more a passive negotiator.

After spending part of his childhood with the Sultan as a ransom, Vlad returns to rule his Transylvanian homeland bearing physical and psychological scars. Vlad is portrayed as a peaceful and benevolent ruler, a doting father to his son Ingeras and a loving and romantic husband to his wife Mirena. The only thing they fear is the encroaching Ottoman Army. Vlad dutifully pays the Sultan his tributes and hopes that as he obeys the law the Sultan won’t try and conquer Transylvania. Nonetheless he is constantly on the lookout for any signs of invading Turks.

Early in the story representatives from the Sultan gatecrash dinner at Vlad’s. They have come for their monetary tribute and to tell Vlad the price has gone up – the Sultan now wants young boys for his army. When the time comes for Vlad to give Ingeras to the Turks, he meekly complies until, bullied by his wife, he finally decides to fight. And that is when we see the first glimpse of who and what Vlad Dracula is – a brilliant and deadly fighter!

Sadly, that’s the only glimpse we get. Fearful of the Sultan’s retaliation Vlad becomes a vampire so he can fight the Ottoman Army. Using his newfound powers he single handedly takes on the Ottoman Army. After a few battles, Vlad finally wins the war but at the cost of his wife. Having secured the safety of his son, Vlad gives up his vampiric life, dies but is resurrected by a mysterious stranger. Ingeras is installed as the new Transylvanian leader. Ingeras talks about the legacy of his father, saying that people think he was a monster but that he knows the truth –  his father died a hero.

A major issue with this filmic Vlad Dracula is that he is so disconnected from his warrior past. When Vlad has to don his Dragon warrior suit of armour he is reluctant. Rather than being proud of his Dragon history he says it is something he wished he never had to do again! The historical Vlad Dracula was proud of his family heritage, the role he and his family played in protecting Wallachia from Ottoman rule and their ordination into the Order of the Dragon. The real Vlad Dracula never shirked away from battle. He was a master strategist and a fierce warrior. He fought until the end. Yet his skill and pride in being a warrior is not portrayed in the film. Vlad seems more a shambling desperado than a ruthless and strategic leader who foiled and bewildered the Ottomans time and time again.

Vlad also appears to have no standing army and no way to defend himself from the Turks. The first battle he has after becoming a vampire is fought on his own. Vlad strides into enemy forces wielding his vampiric skills, but where are his Transylvanian soldiers? After the battle is won Vlad returns home where a few of his men are holding swords. Vlad eventually has to turn them into vampires so they can beat the Turks. This is not the army the historical Vlad led. The historical Vlad’s army was vasty outnumbered by the Turks but still managed to best them multiple times.

Vlad’s role as a husband and father is also problematic. Vlad seems to be led more by his wife and his need to protect his son, than by his desire to protect his people and his land. One thing we know about the historical Vlad is that he put his country first and desperately fought against the encroachment of the Ottoman Empire into Wallachia. Little is known of his role as a husband and father but, for the small amount that is known it is probably a good guess to say he wasn’t going to be winning any husband or father of the year awards! For those of us with some knowledge of the historical Vlad Dracula, watching this cinematic version waltz around as a love-sick pacifist is deeply disturbing.

But the main issue with Dracula Untold is that one of history’s greatest and most feared warriors is successful, not through his own skills, but by becoming a vampire and gaining supernatural powers. The real truth is the historical Vlad Dracula didn’t need magical powers to beat the Ottoman Army – he was just that good!

Dracula Untold – The Vampire

So how did Vlad become a vampire in this filmic version?

On one of his scouting missions Vlad finds a Turkish helmet in the river. Vlad thinks the Turks are holed up in a cave in Broken Tooth Mountain. When Vlad and his team investigate they find not just the dead Turks, but a monster who kills Vlad’s men and nearly Vlad himself. Vlad drags himself into the sunlight and saves himself – but not for long.

After killing the Turkish soldiers, Vlad returns to the vampire’s cave to make a deal. He wants vampire powers so he can take on the Ottoman Army. The ancient vampire makes a deal with Vlad and allows him to drink his blood. Vlad will have all the powers and all the restrictions that come with being a vampire for three days. If he can control his raging bloodlust for that time he will revert to being a human again. If he gives in to his bloodlust then he is doomed to remain a vampire. Vlad sets about conquering the Ottoman incursion in three days.

Throughout his three days Vlad is able to curb his bloodlust even when tested by a stranger who tries to lure him into drinking his blood. On the final day of Vlad’s vampirism, Ingeras is taken by the Turks and Mirena falls to her death. As she lays dying in Vlad’s arms she forces him to drink her blood to become a vampire permanently so he will have the time and strength to save Ingeras. Most of Vlad’s subjects have been killed by the Turks so Vlad transforms the survivors into vampires. With his vampiric army Vlad is finally able to conquer the Turks and rescue his son. As he stands there with Ingeras, Vlad’s vampire army surrounds him and demands that he kill the human child for them. But Vlad has used his power to cloud over the rising sun and, to save Ingeras, he dismisses the clouds, letting the sun burn away his army and himself. Ingeras is taken away to safety by a priest. Shortly afterward, the stranger who tested Vlad returns and feeds Vlad his blood. Vlad is resurrected.

The final scenes are set in the present day. Mirena, now named Mina, has been reborn and Vlad has come to claim her. The two walk off together, unaware that they are being followed by the ancient vampire from Broken Tooth Mountain. The ancient vampire says “Let the games begin”. And so the film ends.

The vampire part of the film is the most interesting. Having a three day clause where you can have all the powers of the vampire and then give them back is an interesting idea. Of course you can’t drink blood in those three days. It is this aspect that is slightly problematic as much of Vlad’s vampiric time is spent trying not to succumb to his blood lust. We are therefore denied scenes of him drinking the blood of his enemies – although that does eventually happen! The main focus of Vlad’s vampiric power is his ability to use bats as an army. Vlad can summon a swarm of bats and aim them at the Ottoman troops. While they are busy protecting themselves from the bat swarm, Vlad, who can also turn himself into a flock of bats, wades in and kills them.

The final battle is between Vlad and his Turkish nemesis Mehmed. It is a classic grudge match. Vlad and Mehmed were as close as brothers when Vlad was a “guest” of the Sultan. But now Mehmed has waged war on Vlad, killed his wife and taken his son. When Vlad confronts Mehmed in his tent he finds sliver coins strewn everywhere. In this film, vampires are allergic to silver. What is interesting is that the coins are Transylvanian – they are the tribute Vlad has just paid to the Sultan. When Mehmed throws coins into Vlad’s face he is symbolically “rubbing Vlad’s face” in his powerlessness. Weakened by the coins Vlad falls and Mehmed tries to stake him, remarking on the irony of the Impaler dying by being impaled. But Vlad uses his bat power to morph and ends up staking Mehmed. He then bites Mehmed and drinks his blood proving that Vlad is no longer a victim but the victor.

One of the interesting issues with Vlad as vampire is that he, like his human self, lacks strategic knowledge. Once Vlad becomes a vampire he can use his strength to best the Ottomans but not his military know-how. It seems that every step that Vlad takes, the Ottoman Army is one step ahead – they find his monastery sanctuary and, while Vlad is engaged in battle, kidnap his son and kill his wife. By weakening Vlad as a man they have weakened him as a vampire. Vlad’s seeming ineptitude is so different to not only the historical Vlad but also to Stoker’s vampire Vlad. What makes Dracula so hard to find in England is his military background and strategic nous. Dracula plans his move from Transylvania to England with military precision. He buys property around the country for his hiding places. He employs multiple companies to do his transactions so that no one company or person knows all his plans. Fundamentally it is Count Dracula’s life as Vlad Dracula that makes him so hard to find and kill. He is ultimately caught, but only because the vampire hunters employ the same strategic skills as Dracula in their quest.

A Confusion Of Draculas

The problem with combining the historical Vlad Dracula with the literary Count Dracula is that Vlad Dracula does not need Dracula. Prince Dracula is an incredible figure with a history that doesn’t need to be attached to vampire mythology. The real question is “Did the literary Dracula need Vlad Dracula”? Would Stoker’s vampire have been so powerful without the name Dracula? Would he have been so captivating without his Transylvanian history? It is a question that can never be answered, however I suspect he did.

The beauty of Bram Stoker’s creation of the vampire Count Dracula is that he alludes to the history of Vlad Dracula but never actually makes anything really clear about the warrior Prince. We know that the vampire Count Dracula is the once human Vlad Dracula aka Vlad The Impaler/Tepes. There are some historical inaccuracies, but overall, Stoker remains faithful to the spirit of the historical Vlad Dracula.

Similarly it is never made clear in the novel when, how or why Dracula becomes a vampire. Was Vlad a vampire during his years of battle with the Ottoman Empire? Did he become a vampire after his death? We also don’t know how he became a vampire. There is talk of him attending The Scholomance – the Devil’s School. Did he learn the art of vampiric transformation there? And why did he become a vampire? Did he turn willingly or unwillingly? Was it for power or for love? Again there are no answers in the novel. The reader is left with many questions and the power of their own imaginations! By not letting us know when, how or why Dracula became a vampire, Stoker cleverly leaves the historical Prince Dracula the dignity of his human history as a warrior and a Prince. If only this movie could have given Vlad Dracula the same respect.

Ace of Stakes Dracula Painting

In the Footsteps of Jonathan Harker

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

In the footsteps of Jonathan Harker

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

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

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

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

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

The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

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

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

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

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

Good-bye, all!

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

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

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

Three of Goblets

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

I had for breakfast more paprika, 

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

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

Mamaliga

IMG_8572

 Romanian cornmeal porridge with honey and sesame baked feta.

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

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

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

This makes two very generous serves.

Artwork for the Dracula Tarot by the wonderful Anna Gerraty

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