bram stoker

Dining With Dracula

November 8th is Bram Stoker’s birthday. Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1847, Bram’s most famous work is his 1897 novel Dracula. It’s one of my favourite books, and not just because it has vampires.

One of the many things I love about Dracula is that is an epistolary novel, meaning it is written as a series of documents. In Dracula, the narrative unfolds through letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, ship logs, telegrams and even translated phonograph recordings. There is no main narrator in Dracula, as many of the characters use the medium of writing to tell their own stories. This allows us to form an intimate connection to them, and offers us insight into the characters they interact with. It also means there are multiple viewpoints and interlacing narratives. Part of the pleasure of reading Dracula is trying to piece together all the different narratives and their timeframes.

The first chapter of the novel is written like a travelogue, as Jonathan Harker writes about his journey from England to Castle Dracula. One of the things Jonathan describes in detail in his journal is the food he has eaten along the way. His descriptions of the exotic dishes, such as paprika hendl, mamaliga and impletata, fascinated me, while his description of robber steak made my mouth water – until I got to the last bit!

“I dined on what they called “robber steak”—bits of bacon, onion, and beef, seasoned with red pepper, and strung on sticks and roasted over the fire, in the simple style of the London cat’s meat!”

Thankfully cat’s meat refers to meat classed as unfit for human consumption which was sold as meat for pets, and not actual cat meat. It was sold by street vendors known as cat’s meat men and women.

To celebrate Bram’s birthday I thought I would share my version of Robber Steak, or as I like to think of it, Robbed Steak, as I’ve robbed it of everything but the beef! Basically it’s my recipe for Beef Skewers. As I’m allergic to the chilli family, which includes paprika and red peppers, I’ve used cumin, cinnamon and white pepper as my spices. Feel free to replace them with paprika. I think Hungarian paprika would be most appropriate. 🙂

Beef Skewers aka Robbed Steak

Special Equipment:
metal skewers or bamboo skewers (if using wooden skewers, pre-soak them for at least 30 minutes to prevent them from burning)

Ingredients
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
500g beef, cut into 2cm cubes
extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients
Make the marinade by placing all the ingredients, except the meat, in a bowl and stir until combined.
Add the meat, making sure it is fully coated in marinade.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight if possible.
Preheat the grill to high.
Thread cubes of beef onto the skewers.
Lightly brush with olive oil.
Grill, turning occasionally, for 10-15 minutes or until cooked to your liking.

The Dracula Tarot

Liquid Kisses

May 26 is World Dracula Day. This is the day that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was published in 1897. There are so many brilliant characters in Dracula who, although they do not appear very often, are nonetheless unforgettable. The three vampire women who live in Castle Dracula are such creatures.

The three female vampires are never individually named in Dracula but are collectively called the “weird sisters” or “sisters”. It is Jonathan who calls them the “weird sisters”, a name that links them to the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They are known as the “Brides of Dracula” in popular culture but that name was never used in the novel. Intriguingly, it is the name “sister” that the female vampires themselves embrace.

After Mina is been bitten by Dracula and slowly starts to turn into a vampire, she travels to Transylvania, where she meets the three female vampires. They recognise her vampiric nature and welcome her into the sisterhood with the words “Come, sister. Come to us. Come! Come!” Another form of sisterhood is the relationship between Mina and Lucy in which Mina describes Lucy as a sister. The nuns that take care of Jonathan when he escapes from Castle Dracula are another important form of collective “sisters” that highlight the importance of sisterhoods in Dracula.

While the vampire sisters are never named, they are certainly described in graphic detail by Jonathan who meets the beguiling vampire trio at Castle Dracula.

“In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner.”

“Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires.”

“All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips.”

“I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips.”

The Dracula Tarot

While Johnathan is both seduced and repulsed by the vampire sisters, they only see one thing in him – blood!

“He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.”

The Dracula Tarot

To celebrate the sisters’ desire for bloody vampire kisses I thought I would make them a Vampire’s Kiss Cocktail.

A Vampire’s Kiss is a delicious drink made with Chambord, vodka and cranberry juice. Chambord is a French liqueur flavoured with red and black raspberries. The colour of the red and black raspberries made me think of the two dark haired sisters and the vodka made me think of the pale sister. The red cranberry juice adds to the bloody colour of the cocktail and is a perfect reflection of the bloody lips and bloody desires of the vampire sisters. While cranberry juice is traditional, I used pomegranate juice as pomegranates are linked to Demeter, Persephone and Hades. There are many references to this myth in Dracula, especially in the name the Demeter, the ship that brings the Count to England.

To make sure we don’t disappoint the vampire sisters by running out of liquid kisses, the amounts below are easy to scale or up or down so you can make a small cocktail for one or a pitcher for a crowd!

Vampire’s Kiss

Vampire’s Kiss

Ingredients
1 part Chambord
2 parts vodka
2 parts pomegranate juice

Instructions
Pour the Chambord and vodka into a chilled glass or jug.
Top with pomegranate juice.

Death By Crumble

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.

The Dracula Tarot

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.

The Dracula Tarot

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. 🙂

Quincey’s Crumble

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.

Bram Stoker’s Farewell To The Year Of The Rat

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

Happy Year of the Ox!

A Gem Of An Author

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.

Gem Scones

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.

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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