bram stoker

A Treat For Renfield

May 26 is World Dracula Day, a day which celebrates the publication of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula in 1897. Dracula is full of fascinating characters and one of the strangest is 59 year old R.M. Renfield, forever remembered as a fly eating maniac.

 

Fool

The Dracula Tarot

Renfield is a character who appears spasmodically in Dracula but his brief appearances are both fascinating and instrumental to the narrative. We never know how Renfield came to be a patient at Dr Seward’s sanatorium as his personal history is a mystery. What we do know is that he has a particular fascination for blood. He devours live animals beginning with flies and quickly works his way up to spiders and birds. He even asks the doctor if he can have a kitten. Dr Seward calls his strange patient zoophagous, a term he devises to describe Renfield’s blood-thirst for live animals.

Renfield also has a connection with Dracula. From the moment Dracula’s ship nears England, Renfield is aware of its approach. Soon after Dracula moves into Carfax, Renfield twice escapes, runs to Carfax, and talks with Dracula. Renfield offers his allegiance to the dark vampire, as he desires the gift of eternal life that only Dracula can offer. In an interesting discussion with Dr Seward, Renfield becomes uneasy when they discuss souls. Renfield initially does not want to be responsible for the souls of those who may die at his hands, but it is a responsibility he eventually and reluctantly accepts.

When Renfield meets Mina, a guest at the sanatorium, he has a change of heart. Knowing that Dracula will come for her, Renfield warns Mina to leave. It is only through Renfield that Dracula can enter the sanatorium, as he needs an invitation. Renfield allows Dracula entry but regrets his actions when he sees Mina again. She is pale and withdrawn, a consequence of Dracula’s attacks on her. Renfield has grown quite fond of Mina and does not like the fact that Dracula is feeding from her. He decides to stop Dracula when he next tries to gain entry into the sanatorium through his window. In a show of strength, Renfield grabs Dracula as he begins to materialise in the room. The two struggle and Dracula fights off Renfield, delivering him a killing blow. As Renfield lies dying, he confesses his sins to the vampire hunters. He tells them that Dracula has attacked Mina and that he is with her now. He dies hoping that his brave actions can save Mina’s life and also his soul.

As a tribute to Renfield, I couldn’t resist making Garibaldi Biscuits. These pastries filled with currants are named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian general who led the struggle to unify Italy. What does that have to do with Dracula or Renfield? Well it’s the various nicknames of these pastries that are my inspiration. The look of the squashed currant filling has given rise to nicknames such as Fly Cakes, Fly Pie, Fly Sandwiches, Flies’ Graveyard, Flies’ Cemetery, Squashed Fly Biscuits and, my favourite, Dead Fly Biscuits. I think that Renfield would like these delicious (although fly-less) biscuits that won’t weigh heavily on his soul.

Dead Fly Biscuits

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Ingredients
2/3 cups dried currants
2 tablespoons marsala wine
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
80g (1/3 cup) cold unsalted butter, chopped
1/2 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten

Instructions
Place the currants and marsala in a bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.
While the currants are soaking, start the dough.
Place the flour, butter and a 1/4 cup of the sugar into a food processor and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Turn out into a bowl.
Add the milk and mix until it forms a dough.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.
Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven 200C / 400F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper (approximately 20x30cm / 8x12inches).
Divide the dough in half.
Roll one half between two sheets of baking paper to fit the baking tray.
Place the dough on prepared tray.
Combine the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar with the cinnamon.
Sprinkle two tablespoons of cinnamon sugar over the pastry.
Drain the currants, discarding the marsala, and spread the currants over the pastry.
Roll the remaining pastry between two sheets of baking paper and place over the top.
Lightly roll with a rolling pin to squeeze the layers together.
Score the surface to mark out twelve rectangular slices.
Brush top with beaten egg.
Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon sugar.
Bake for 25 minutes.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Cut along the score marks to separate the slices.
These are usually eaten cold but they are delicious hot too. 🙂

For The Blood Is The Life

There are three interesting events coming up – National Bat Appreciation Day, Orthodox Easter and Bram Stoker’s Deathiversary.

April 17th is National Bat Appreciation Day, a day when we are asked to remember the important role bats play in our lives. Bats are insectivores, which means they eat insects which helps keep insect numbers down. This is especially critical with mosquitoes. Bats are also pollinators which means they move pollen from male to female flowers which helps bring about fertilisation, thereby providing a vital link in our food chain. There are heaps of other interesting facts about bats and April 17th is a great day to learn more about them.

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This year April 17th is also Orthodox Good Friday. This doesn’t happen every year so it’s a fun coincidence. Orthodox Easter Monday will be celebrated on April 20th which is also Dracula author Bram Stoker’s Deathiversary – another fun coincidence. Perhaps a more disturbing coincidence is that all three events have a blood connection.

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While my favourite bat is the fluffy and cuddly Australian flying fox, I’ve always been fascinated by the cute and uncanny vampire bat. Vampire bats are connected to vampires, not only in name, but also by being blood suckers! There are other connections too as the vampire’s cape is reminiscent of bats wings and some vampires are depicted as sleeping upside down like bats rather than in coffins. Dracula can also turn into a bat when necessary. With all the competing Easter traditions such as bunnies and chocolate eggs, it is easy to forget that Easter is actually a celebration focussing on blood, death and rebirth. 

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To celebrate this trilogy of bloody connections I’ve made dyed red Easter eggs – with a twist! Colouring eggs red is meant to represent the blood of Christ which is shed on Good Friday. I’ve used red wine to colour my eggs as red wine is symbolic of blood in Christian rituals. (Knowing this connection it always amused me that Bela Lugosi’s Dracula never drank wine.) I’ve also added spices, which symbolise the spices that Jesus’ body was anointed with before burial. The eggshell represents the tomb and the egg signifies rebirth. An Easter tradition I grew up with was the egg cracking game where you try to crack the shell of your opponent’s boiled egg without cracking yours! Because I’m not a traditionalist, I had to break the rules by cracking shells and turning them into Chinese marbled eggs. But don’t worry, there are still some unbroken eggs to play with. 🙂

Red Wine Eggs

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Ingredients
6 eggs
1 bottle red wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 cloves
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks

Instructions
Place the eggs, wine, sugar, cloves, star anise and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan, making sure the eggs are fully submerged in liquid.
Cover and bring to a boil.
Once boiling, turn off the heat and allow the eggs to cook for 15 minutes.
Remove half the eggs from the saucepan and allow to rest until cool enough to touch. Gently tap them with the back of a spoon to crack shells, making sure to keep the shell intact. The deeper the cracks, the more flavour will penetrate.
Place the eggs back in the wine with the remaining eggs.
Allow to cool then refrigerate and steep for a few hours or overnight.
Remove the eggs from the wine and allow to dry.
Peel the cracked eggs to show off their marbling.
Use the remaining eggs to play the cracking game.

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.

Wake The Dead Cake

Saturday the 20th of April is Bram Stoker’s 107th deathiversary. To celebrate, I thought I would play around with a recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks – Death Warmed Over by Lisa Rogak. This cookbook is a collection of recipes and customs from different countries and religions around the world with a common theme of death. The recipe I have chosen is an Irish Wake Cake, in honour of Bram who was born in Ireland on the 8th of November, 1847.

Irish Wake Cake

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Ingredients
for the cake
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup mixed peel*
1 + 3/4 cups flour
1 + 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
170g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
80g (3oz) cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup buttermilk

for the glaze
1/2 cup icing (powdered) sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons brewed black tea**

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line a 22cm (9inch) loaf pan with baking paper.
Place the currants and mixed peel in a small bowl.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl.
Add 1/4 cup of the flour mix to the dried fruit and toss until the fruit is coated in flour.
Place the butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat until fluffy.
Add the eggs one a time and beat until combined.
Add the cream cheese and beat until combined.
Add 1/3rd of the flour mixture and 1/3rd of the buttermilk to the batter and mix until combined. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk.
Add the dried fruit and mix until combined.
Pour batter into prepared baking pan.
Bake for 1 hour and 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before placing on a wire rack placed over a tray.
Make the glaze by combining the icing sugar and tea together in a bowl.
Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake and allow to cool completely before serving.

*the original recipe just uses currants. I substituted half the currants for mixed peel as I like the flavour and texture.
**the original icing is a lemon icing. I substituted the lemon juice with black tea as I was curious to see how it would taste and used Earl Grey to compliment the citrus notes of the mixed peel.

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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By The Light Of A Scorpion Moon

Halloween falls between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. As an Autumn festival, many Australian Pagans and Witches celebrate Halloween on the 30th of April. I’m a bit of a traditionalist so I celebrate Halloween on the 30th of April AND the 31st of October. One Halloween a year is never enough!

April 30th is also Walpurgis Night – a night when spirits walk the Earth and witches are thought to fly through the night skies on their way to various celebrations. Bram Stoker hauntingly invokes the spirit of Walpurgis Night in Dracula’s Guest, his short but compelling prequel to the novel Dracula. This quote by Stoker always sends a delightful chill down my spine:  

“Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.”

Bram Stoker was born in the sign of Scorpio so it’s not surprising he wrote so beautifully of hidden secrets and creatures of the night.

To add more magic, mystery and a touch of Stoker to April 30 activities in Australia, a Full Moon in Scorpio will be shining upon our festivities.

After an evening of celebrating Halloween, Walpurgis Night and a Scorpion Full Moon, I can think of no better way to end my evening than with a bowl of soul warming soup. Pumpkins and apples are traditional Halloween fare and I never say no to a good drop of alcohol, either in a glass or in my soup!

Pumpkin & Apple Cider Soup

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Ingredients
1kg butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into cubes 
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup apple cider
cream for serving

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
Place the pumpkin into a baking pan.
Add the oil, rosemary and salt.
Toss until combined.
Bake for 30 minutes or until cooked.
While the pumpkin is baking, prepare the soup.
Heat the butter in a large saucepan.
Add the celery and cook until soft but not browned.
Stir in the apples.
Pour in the stock and apple cider.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat to a simmer.
Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until the apple is cooked.
Add the roasted pumpkin to the soup.
Blend the soup with a stick blender until smooth.
Pour into bowls and serve with a splash of cream.

Food For Death

Bram Stoker died 106 years ago on April 20th, 1912. Many of us will never forget this great writer nor the amazing works and characters he created.

My recipe for this year’s deathiversary is inspired by a traditional dish called funeral potatoes, an American comfort food casserole that is often brought to gatherings held after funerals. There are many variations but the key ingredients are potatoes, cheese, onion, sour cream, a canned cream based soup and a crunchy topping. It is easy to prepare, travels well and is easily reheated.

My funeral potatoes are a very different dish and are inspired by Dracula’s immortal line “I Never Drink … Wine.” Although these words never appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel, they were uttered by the equally unforgettable Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning’s 1931 movie Dracula. Baked in red wine and olive oil and flavoured with rosemary, the herb of remembrance, these versatile potatoes can be eaten hot from the oven or cold from the refrigerator. I find the flavour of the wine is more pronounced when they are eaten at room temperature.

Served with sour cream you’ll want to make them for all occasions – not just funerals!    

Funeral Potatoes with Red Wine & Rosemary

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Ingredients
1kg potatoes
1 cup red wine – split in two
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
sprigs of fresh rosemary
sour cream for serving

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F.
Peel then chop the potatoes in half and then in quarters.
Place in a baking tray in a single layer.
Pour over 1/2 cup of red wine, reserving the other 1/4 cup for later.
Pour over the oil.
Add the dried rosemary and salt.
Toss together until combined.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and flip them over.
Pour over the remaining 1/2 cup of wine.
Return to the oven and bake for another 15 – 20 minutes or until they are cooked to your liking.
Drain on paper towels and allow to cool.
Place in an airtight container and add some sprigs of fresh rosemary.
Refrigerate until needed.
Allow them to come to room temperature before serving.
Serve with sour cream.

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.

Bram Stew

I hope Bram Stoker isn’t going to turn over in his grave when he sees what I have chosen to make for his 105th Deathiversary (Thursday the 20th April) – deconstructed Irish Stew! It’s not the first time I’ve dabbled with deconstructing a classic recipe for Bram. I celebrated one of his birthdays by making a dessert version of an Irish Coffee.

So how do you deconstruct an Irish Stew? First, you have to have an idea of what deconstruction means in cookery terms. Basically, it is the art of looking at all the ingredients in a recipe, reimagining them in some way, and then putting them together again. The key is to make a dish that reminds you of the original, especially in flavour, and remains true to the essence of the dish. How you do this is where the artistry and the confusion comes in.

With that in mind there are a few ways of deconstructing a stew. I have chosen to stick with a basic stew but have taken the lamb out of the dish. Isn’t that just a vegetable stew? Yes, except I am still serving the lamb but in a different form. My aim is to deconstruct only part of the dish. The essence of a stew for me is a piping hot combination of hearty ingredients cooked to perfection in a tasty sauce. The reason I am taking out the lamb is because I don’t particularly like lamb. The only way I eat lamb is as crumbed cutlets. So, when I thought about making an Irish Stew for Bram, I couldn’t help but think of a dish of piping hot vegetables with succulent and crispy crumbed lamb cutlets served on the side. I hope you and Bram enjoy my reworking of this classic dish.

Deconstructed Irish Stew

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Note:
Start preparing the lamb cutlets once you have the stew simmering.

For the Irish Stew
Ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons plain flour
1 cup of Irish beer
1 cup of  chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add the onion, carrots and potatoes and cook for a few minutes.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables. Stir so they are all coated in flour.
Stir in the beer and stock. Add water if needed until the vegetables are just covered.
Bring to boil then reduce heat to a simmer.
Cook for 1 hour or until the vegetables are tender.
Check the liquid level during the cooking process. The vegetables should be covered at all times. Add more beer, stock or water as needed.
Once cooked, taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.
Keep warm while you cook the lamb cutlets.

For the Lamb Cutlets
Ingredients
1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
6 lamb cutlets, French trimmed
olive oil for shallow frying

Instructions
Mix flour and salt on a plate. Whisk the egg in a small bowl. Place the breadcrumbs on another plate.
Flatten the cutlets between plastic wrap with a meat mallet.
Working with one cutlet at a time, coat cutlet in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in the beaten egg. Dip in the breadcrumbs, pressing firmly to coat. Repeat with remaining cutlets.
Cover and refrigerate until the stew is ready and is being kept warm.
Pour enough oil to cover the base of a large frying pan. Heat over medium heat.
Working in batches, cook the cutlets for 3-5 minutes each side or until they are golden brown and cooked to your liking.
Drain on paper towels before serving.

If you would like to keep the stew vegetarian, substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock.

A Birthday Surprise For Bram

Tuesday November 8 is Bram Stoker’s birthday. To celebrate, I have done a guest post over at Cordelia’s Mom Still. Cordelia’s blog is an eclectic mix of personal anecdotes, photos and other interesting things! Feel free to pop by and have a read 🙂 You can also pop round to Not Cordelia’s Mom if you want to see the world from a very different perspective!!

If you’re looking for a recipe, here’s last year’s birthday one for Bram – Irish Coffee Dessert.

 

Three of Goblets