deathiversary

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.

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Pancakes for Bram

Wednesday the 20th of April is the 104th Deathiversary of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.

Every year I commemorate his birthday and death day.
Last year I went to the newly resurrected pancake restaurant appropriately named Stokers.
This year I decided to make my own pancakes in honour of Bram.

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Pancakes are filled with mythological and folkloric meanings. They are most commonly associated with Shrove Tuesday and Lent. Their circular shape associates them with the sun and they are often eaten at the end of winter to welcome the coming spring. They are symbols of the beginning and the end of life. I remember eating pancakes at funerals and I remember new mothers being given pancakes after childbirth. With their links to life, death and the sun, pancakes are the perfect food to honour an author whose greatest character was deeply connected to life, death and the sun.

The pancakes below are unusual as they are leavened with yeast. Yeasted pancakes are common in Eastern Europe, especially in Transylvania! They can be eaten with savoury or sweet fillings. I have chosen a classic combination of strawberry jam and cream, not only because I love the flavours, but because the colour combination has a vampiric feel for me – perfect for Mr Stoker.

Yeasted Pancakes

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Ingredients
2 cups flour
2 cups lukewarm milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried yeast
extra olive oil for frying

for serving
strawberry jam
cream

Instructions
Add the flour to a large bowl.
Slowly stir in the milk.
Add the egg, butter and oil and mix until they form a smooth pancake batter.
Add the salt and yeast and stir until combined.
Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm place for 1-3 hours or until doubled in size.
Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat.
Pour in approximately 1/4 cup of batter.
Cook for 3-4 minutes or until it starts to form bubbles.
Flip and cook for a further 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with jam and cream.

A Halloween To Remember

From the film Dracula (1979)
Dracula and Lucy discuss the sound of howling wolves.

DRACULA:
Listen to them, the children of the night. What sad music they make.

LUCY:
Do you think it’s sad?

DRACULA:
So lonely, like weeping.

We named our first two dogs for a bat and a wolf – the animals Dracula turns into in the novel. We named our pack WolfChild – as they were our Children of the Night. A year later, near Halloween, two more WolfChildren joined the pack. They made beautiful music together. Then one of our wolves left the pack far too soon for his journey to the Underworld. This year he was followed by first by one, and then another of our wolves as they too journeyed into the Underworld. We are left with only one wolf, our original bat.

When I think of my musical wolves I feel sad, lonely and constantly like weeping. The time will come when I, like Lucy, will not feel sad at the sound of howling wolves, but that time is not now. It is Halloween – a time for tricks and treats and honouring the dead.

Our dogs are buried in the backyard. Three little graves testifying to the fragility of life and the call of death. They are constant reminders of what we have lost and confronting reminders of what will happen to us all. But they are also comforting. When I look at their graves I remember their lives and their deaths. The pleasure and the sorrow. I remember them playing and running around the yard and I remember laying them in their graves and covering them with dirt. They are always with me and yet they will never be with me again.

Not long after Wolfy, our first wolf passed away, I saw a post on a pug forum about Shelter Pups, a dog charity in the USA that custom makes small stuffed dogs and cats based on your own photos. We knew straight away that we wanted one of Wolfy. Little Wolfy arrived on Halloween 2013. When our next two wolves, Wally and Furghy, passed away, we had little versions of them made. They are in our bedroom where we all slept, watching over us. We also had one made of our remaining wolf, Batty. But she won’t be introduced to the world until she passes away, which we hope will be a very, very long time away.

The Little WolfChildren

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Wolfy Maynard WolfChild and his Tribute Doll

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Wally DennyCrane WolfChild and his Tribute Doll

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Furghy Fergie WolfChild and her Tribute Doll

Death and food are intimately linked. In honour of the decreasing howls of my Children of the Night I am sharing a recipe for Hush Puppies. These feature corn which is an ancient symbol for birth, death and renewal – appropriate food for mourning and Halloween.

Hush Puppies
Some stories say these fried cornmeal treats were used to “hush puppies”.

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Ingredients
vegetable oil for deep frying
1 + 1/2 cups cornmeal
3/4 cups self-raising flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1/2 cup canned corn kernels, rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup buttermilk (more or less may be needed)
extra sea salt for sprinkling

Method
Heat oil in a large saucepan to 180C / 350F.
Mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, egg and oil. Add the spring onion, corn, salt and pepper. Mix until just combined.
Stir in half the buttermilk, adding enough buttermilk for a loose batter that is still thick enough to drop.
Drop tablespoons of the batter into the oil, making sure you don’t crowd the pan. Cook, turning them over halfway, for 3-4 minutes or until they are evenly coloured and cooked through.
Drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with salt to taste.

We’ll Always Have Stokers

While I presume Stokers isn’t named after my beloved Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, I still can’t help enjoying this quaint little eatery. Dark wood trestle-like tables and bench seating are complemented by dim lighting and eerie old time music. An ancient piano adds to the scenery as does the open fire in the centre of the room. In winter, this lit open fire warms both body and soul as staff gently stoke the fire; hence the name Stokers?

The food is delicious. Soup, salad and ice cream sundaes are on offer but the stars are the crepes. Two rolled and filled crepes are presented on a piping hot plate. Savoury fillings include bolognese, camembert with cranberry sauce and chicken mornay. Sweet fillings include traditional lemon and sugar, passionfruit and chocolate peach. A bevy of hot and cold drinks, including steaming hot Bonox, completes the menu. 

In fact, you can pop in just for a drink. I know I have spent many a long summer night in Stokers, escaping from oppressive 40 degree temperatures by sipping on their refreshing and cooling pineapple crush. And as the night wears on I find I can’t resist a crepe or two.

I wrote this review in 2006 for a food writing course. Stokers had become one of my favourite places to eat since first walking in there in the late 1980s. The name reeled me in and the fact it only opened at night stoked my vampiric fires. The decor and atmosphere were more old world than gothic but the freaky clock on the wall blew me away. When you first looked at it you knew something was wrong and then it would click – it was running anti-clockwise. After a late night of studying, indulging in crepes and drinking, that clock could do strange things to your mind.

It wasn’t until I trained as a Wiccan – or as I like to say – went to “Witch School” – that I learned that clocks went clockwise because they were modelled on Northern Hemisphere sundials and therefore travelled sunwise. If clocks were modelled on Southern Hemisphere sundials they would turn anticlockwise which for us is sunwise 🙂

Sadly Stokers closed a few years ago and my partner and I were devastated. Stokers was one of the first places we went to as a couple. Every year we would try and celebrate Bram Stoker’s Birthday and Deathiversary and Northern and Southern Hemisphere Halloween there. But like a vampire in a horror film, Stokers has risen again!!

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Trevor, one of my best friends, gave me a book of vouchers to use as he was going on holiday. Ironically, one of the places he will be visiting is Whitby – the place where Dracula  lands in England. I was supposed to be going on that trip for my 50th birthday but sadly that wasn’t to be. But all is not lost, not only has Trevor bought me a birthday present from Whitby, his book of vouchers has reunited me with a lost love. As I scanned the food vouchers there was one for Stokers Cafe! Stokers has relocated!! Was this Bram Stoker’s way of letting me know “his” cafe was resurrected? Was this a birthday present from Bram to me from beyond the grave? Probably not – but a vamp girl can dream 🙂

Have I gone to Stokers and used my voucher? Yes! It was with great excitement and happiness that Paul and I went out for dinner at the new Stokers. We weren’t sure what to expect but happily we weren’t disappointed. The new owners have kept some of the old world charm of the original Stokers but sadly the anticlockwise clock didn’t make it. There is a fireplace which will be warm and cosy in winter and the lighting is just dark enough to echo the original.

The menu changes were also intriguing. Some of the old favourites were there but the menu has been “revamped” to fit in with its new inner city location. They now have burgers and cold drip coffee. They also have Pancake Chips which are deep fried pieces of pancakes served with a dipping sauce. Naturally we had to try them. I couldn’t decide which sauce to choose. Wasabi Mayonnaise sounded great and so did the Black Pepper Mayonnaise and The Garlic Parsley Mayonnaise. In the end I couldn’t resist choosing the Vegemite Mayonnaise. I’m glad I did 🙂

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For dessert Paul chose the Pancake Suzette which was set alight on our table.

I chose the Hot Jam Donut Pancakes which lived up to their name. They even cut little holes in the pancakes to mimic donuts. Luckily they served the holes with the pancakes!

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By the end of the evening I was so happily full, I couldn’t fit in a coffee. Luckily they sell the cold drip coffee in little bottles that you can take home. I had mine the next day my favourite way – equal parts cold coffee and cold cream.

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I can’t wait to return to Stokers – maybe I’ll unwrap my present from Whitby over hot crepes and cold drip coffee. 🙂

And The Bagpipes Played

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Today is the anniversary of the passing of my beloved pug Wolfy Maynard Wolfchild. While I miss him terribly, I am also inspired by the stoic way that he continued happily through both his treatment and the progression of the cancer that eventually took his life. Here is that story.

And The Bagpipes Played

The passing of a beloved pet is always tragic, even more so when you have to choose the time of the passing.

The dreaded question that plagued us during Wolfy’s two year battle with cancer was “how will we know when it’s time?”

How short is too short, how long is too long?

Any time would be too short for me. The thought of losing my beloved pug was killing me. The thought of never seeing him again, of never touching his soft fur or having him cuddle up to me when we watched television was beyond painful.

We were charged with making that fateful and irreversible decision and the burden weighed heavily.

Some dogs will let you know when they want to go but I knew that Wolfy would struggle to the end. He was the most stoic dog I have ever met. Wolfy came to me from a pug rescue with only one eye and was a bold, feisty little boy. Every challenge thrown at him he dealt with in a creative and courageous way. Yet it was his bravery and stoicism that were going to make the decision difficult.

Wolfy became a part of our family in August 2007 and somehow, as his time came close, I knew that he would be leaving us in August 2013. August slowly wound to an end and I watched as Wolfy’s symptoms became more acute. We made the appointment to let him go on the evening of Friday, August 30.

As the day arrived I prayed to the Pagan Gods I had almost lost faith in to give me a sign it was the right time, but none came. The almost two hour drive to the vet gave me plenty of time to question our decision. I felt bile coming up in my throat as we neared the destination. We had decided to take Wolfy and the rest of our pack for a final walk around Lilydale Lake. The lake is only a few minutes from the vet and has been a place we visit often with the dogs. Many a day has been spent sitting and drinking coffee in the park while waiting for one our dogs to finish having surgery.

We drove into the darkened park and I said my final prayers to the Underworld Gods Hades and Anubis – please give me a sign. Surely they would understand. Hades has his own dog Cerberus and Anubis is … well he’s part Jackal!

As we got out of the car we heard bagpipes start playing in the distance. It was surreal and haunting but more than that, it was a sign. One of my favourite television shows is Hamish Macbeth and in the tragic episode “Wee Jock’s Lament”, bagpipes are played at the little dog’s grave. As I listened to the bagpipes I cried and said “They are playing the bagpipes for Wolfy”. So began our pre-funeral march. We went for our final walk as a pack towards the darkened lake, glistening in the dim lighting. The bagpipes filled the air with sombre notes, nudging us towards our final task.

Wolfy passed peacefully surrounded by his family and his pack. He died at 7.20pm, the same time that I was born. Another sign and another link that will bind me forever to my beloved Wolfy. As a life was taken, a faith was renewed.

My pug friends say that Wolfy is at the Rainbow Bridge. My Pagan friends say he is in the Summerlands. My mother says he is in Heaven. I know that Wolfy is running wild with Cerberus and his pack.

Until we meet again in the Elysian Fields.

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A Very Special Adventure

IMG_0238Wolfy was diagnosed with an inoperable nasal tumour in July 2011 and given three months to live. After the initial shock of his diagnosis things moved quickly. We were advised that radiation therapy could extend his life and that a twelve day stay in hospital with a daily dose of radiation – weekend off – could give him an extra six months or more. The best treatment centre was in Brisbane – two states and about 1,700km (1,000 miles) away. He could stay in hospital for the whole time or if we wanted to go to Brisbane with him we could pick him up for the evenings and just drop him off daily. After careful consideration we decided Wolfy should go to Brisbane. The decision was made easier by the fact that Wolfy was insured. We put Wolfy on a plane and worried the whole time. He arrived safely in Brisbane on Sunday night. I would be joining him in Brisbane on the following Sunday for his second week of treatment.

I was picked up at the airport by Kathy, someone I had never met in person, but who I knew from OzPugs, a pug forum we were part of. She had picked Wolfy up from the hospital Saturday and he had stayed with her and her pugs overnight. I couldn’t get to her home quickly enough. When I finally arrived, Wolfy looked at home and seemed surprised, but happy to see me. He said hello to me and then went back to Kathy. She was surprised at his actions – I wasn’t. Kathy had been giving him treats and, like a typical pug, he went where the food was! But when it was time to go to our rental holiday home, Wolfy was happy to leave the treats behind and come with me. We spent the rest of the weekend together before his next round of treatment.IMG_0246

I knew I would be too stressed to drive in Brisbane so I ordered a taxi to take Wolfy and me to the hospital in the mornings. I dropped him off on Monday and met the staff and specialist taking care of him. They loved Wolfy. They said he was such a character. He had spent the first week trying to teach one of the other dogs to stop barking by barking at him. Unfortunately the poor dog was deaf so Wolfy’s efforts were in vain. After leaving Wolfy at the hospital, I set about exploring Brisbane, making sure I would be back in time to pick him up in the afternoon. Two more Brisbane OzPuggers, Nat and Maree, also caught up with me. I got to meet Nat’s adorable pugs and she even took me on a cemetery tour. Maree had Wolfy and I over for dinner and introduced us to her family and pugs. These online friends that I had never met before were instrumental in making a stressful time not only bearable, but fun.

IMG_0263The week passed quickly and while making the final preparations on Thursday night for our flight home on Friday afternoon I had a massive panic attack. Wolfy had his transport to the airport arranged and I was to meet him at the cargo depot, sign him in and then get to the airport to catch our flight. I could catch a taxi but they wouldn’t wait for me to do the paperwork – unless the meter was running – so I would have to walk to the airport. Normally the walk wouldn’t have been an issue but with the Brisbane heat, an uphill walk and a suitcase, I was terrified I would miss our flight. Paul came up with the perfect idea – hire a limousine! It was going to cost the same as a taxi but the the driver would wait for me to sign Wolfy in and take me to the airport. I had never been in a limousine before so I thought “why not”. Lucky I did as Wolfy arrived late! The limo driver took me for coffee – and paid for it – while we waited for Wolfy. I didn’t have much time left to get to the airport once the paperwork was done. The thought of running uphill in the heat dragging a suitcase was terrifying so I am glad Paul came up with the limo idea. We made it home and were greeted by our pack. It was a stressful but fun adventure thanks to the wonderful people I met in Brisbane.

Back Home

IMG_1035Six months after his radiation therapy Wolfy went blind. We were told this might happen as they had needed to direct the radiation through his remaining eye. We were worried how he would cope with this but he dealt with his blindness in his usual stoic and heroic way. He remained happy and confident and would sun bake in the backyard as usual. When he wanted to come in he would simply bark and wait for me to pick him up. He did the same thing when he needed to go to the toilet or get off the couch. He even licked a path along the walls of the bedroom to the lounge so he could scent his way from the two rooms at his pleasure. The radiation therapy had greatly reduced the size of the tumour but by April 2012 it had started growing again. He surprised all the specialists by surviving for two years after his initial treatment. But he could only battle for so long. The above story And the Bagpipes Played was written shortly after we made the decision to let him go.

Memorialising Wolfy

I always knew I wanted to bury Wolfy in the backyard but I wasn’t sure what other memorial piece I wanted. There is so much on offer now for deceased pet mementoes. Nothing felt right until I saw a post on a pug forum about Shelter Pups, a dog charity in the USA that custom makes small stuffed dogs based on your own photos. And that was what I wanted – a small, stuffed pug modelled on Wolfy’s face. Little Wolfy (what other name could he have!) flew from the USA and landed in Melbourne on OctoIMG_7385ber 31st – Northern Hemisphere Halloween. What a perfect time for a death memento to arrive. I couldn’t wait to pick him up. I even bought a little black and white bag to carry him around in when he goes visiting. He mostly sits on a tallboy with some very special pandas keeping his eye on us as we sleep.

Some people have thought that Little Wolfy is creepy or macabre. I just think of him as one of the family.

Deathiversary

One year has passed since we brought Wolfy home from the vet, wrapped in his camouflage blanket, and buried him in the backyard. It hasn’t gotten any easier to get over his death. It’s just easier to cope with. Wolfy left a big hole in our hearts and our souls. The hole hasn’t gotten any smaller. It is still a hole and it still hurts.

Cancer took Wolfy away from us. But if he didn’t have cancer we would never have gone on our very special adventure. I had some of my fondest moments with him there. In my saddest moments I often think “you may be gone Wolfy, but we’ll always have Brisbane.”

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Blood, Life, Death & Resurrection – Stoker Style

While many around the world are celebrating Easter Sunday, some of us are commemorating today as the 102nd anniversary of Bram Stoker’s Death. So what better way to honour Bram’s Death Day than by briefly exploring the Easter message of blood, life, death and resurrection in Dracula? Three key characters who experience this journey in distinctly different ways are Lucy, Mina and Dracula himself.

Lucy – The Classic Victim

Lucy is the first of Dracula’s victims in England and experiences a traditional transformation into a vampire. Bitten when sleepwalking one evening, Dracula returns to her periodically to feed. Although her friends and family try to help her fight the vampire, they ultimately fail. Lucy dies, a victim of Dracula’s constant feeding. After her death, Lucy is resurrected into a “Bloofer Lady” – a beautiful vampire who drinks the blood of children. She is hunted, staked and killed, dying a second time. Lucy’s soul is returned to her body by the shedding of her unnatural, vampiric blood. Lucy’s journey is traumatic but conventional. (at least conventional in a “bitten by vampires” sense!)

Mina – The Living Undead

Mina’s slow transformation into a vampire is very different from Lucy’s. Mina is bitten by Dracula and forced to drink his blood. This is a ritual Van Helsing calls “The Vampire’s Baptism of Blood”. Dracula offers Mina eternal life through the drinking of his blood. The symbolism to Communion is obvious. What is interesting about Mina is that she starts to change into a vampire without physically dying. She is therefore turning into a living vampire. Her vampiric transformation is stopped just in time by the death of Dracula.

Dracula – The Unknown

We are never told how Dracula became a vampire. Was he bitten like Lucy? Was he involved in a Vampire Baptism like Mina? Did he learn the secret to vampirism at the Scholomance – the Devil’s school? All we know is that Dracula was once a human Prince and warrior and then sometime, somehow, he became a vampire. Dracula’s death also poses a conundrum. All the vampires in the novel are killed by having a wooden stake pierced into their heart. Dracula’s death is slightly different. Jonathan first slits Dracula’s throat and then Quincey stabs Dracula in the heart with a metal knife, not a wooden stake. Dracula’s body crumbles and vanishes, but is he really gone? Could Dracula have survived his destruction? If you’ve ever read a vampire book or have seen a vampire movie then the answer is a definite YES! Vampires are really hard to kill and the King of the Vampires is especially hard to keep nailed down.

Since it is Easter, we should explore another way that Dracula can be reborn and that is through the birth of a Son. Van Helsing calls Dracula “the father or furtherer of a new order of beings, whose road must lead through Death, not Life”. A year after Dracula’s death, Mina gives birth to her and Jonathan’s son. They name him Quincey to honour the fact that Quincey Morris died to save Mina. Yet many questions remain. Quincey’s mother is someone who has had intimate blood relations with a master vampire and almost became a living vampire herself. Can she ever be truly free of her curse? Does her blood carry any vampiric taint? Could some tainted vampiric blood have been passed onto Quincey? Has Dracula “furthered” or “ fathered” the vampiric curse through Quincey? If Mina is fully redeemed by the death of Dracula then there is no issue with Quincey. However, if she isn’t fully redeemed …..

Bram may have left this world, but Dracula, his most famous creation, lives on.

Three of Stakes

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If you’re really interested in this stuff, check out my Dracula Tarot book and deck 🙂