Burnt Rum Punch and Dracula
Friday January 05th 2007, 9:26 am
Filed under: Book Club,Books,Film,Food,Horror (Other),Transylvania

Burnt Rum Punch & Dracula

Three months late, our little book club finally met tonight. The book for October had been Dracula. To celebrate the book, MaikoPunk, MaikoPunk’s Husband, Matt and I held six commemorative activities:

1. We made a batch of mămăligă, which Jonathan Harker ate in Klausenburgh (or Cluj in northwestern Romania) a day before he met the count. Mămăligă is cornmeal (grits to southerners and polenta to Italians), which I served with sour cream and goaty feta cheese. If any had been left over, I could have eaten the rest with cold milk in the morning.

2. We made Bat Bites, a rum-and-cranberry concoction.

3. We made burnt rum punch. When Renfield meets Arthur Holmwood in chapter XVIII, he blurts out, of Arthur’s father, “He was a man loved and honoured by all who knew him; and in his youth was, I have heard, the inventor of a burnt rum punch, much patronised on Derby night.”

The Annotated Dracula provided a burnt rum punch recipe from The Art of British Cooking by Theodora FitzGibbon:

5 lemons
1/2 pound lump sugar
1 piece cinnamon stick
2 cups water
1 bottle rum

Rub lemons with the lumps of sugar until you have removed all the yellow zest. Put the lemony sugar into a saucepan with the lemon juice and the cinnamon stick; pour over the water and bring just to a boil. See that the lumps of sugar dissolve. Then add the rum, heat up, but do not boil, for fear of destroying the strength of the rum. Remove the cinnamon stick and serve hot.

I thought that, unlike paprika hendl (or paprika chicken) or impletata (“eggplant stuffed with forcemeat,” or patlagele impulute, according to the Annotated Dracula), mentioned, with mămăligă, early in the novel, burnt rum punch sounded like something worth attempting.

No, it isn’t. Burnt rum punch tastes like Vicks Cough Syrup.

4. We watched Nosferatu, the third-known film treatment of the novel. A 1920 Russian version and a 1921 Hungarian version by Karoly Lafthay called Drakula preceded the 1922 F. W. Murnau film. Most of us had seen this best of Dracula adapations numerous times; however, how can one not watch the classic again?

5. We watched Bela Lugosi‘s film White Zombie, which he filmed two years after he made Dracula. Tonight’s crowd had all watched the 1931 film last October, so it was too soon for a re-viewing. White Zombie, however, was new to almost everybody except myself.

With Bela starring as zombie overlord ‘Murder’ Legendre, the Bela Lugosi school of acting is very much in evidence in this 1932 film. Lost until the 1960s, it is also currently the first known zombie film, albeit the zombies are of the voodoo variety and not the revenant ghouls.

6. We watched Freaks, directed by Tod Browning, the man who also did Dracula with Bela Lugosi. Of the treachery of trapeze artist Cleopatra, Matt said, “Seems like there’s a special level of hell reserved for stealing a midget woman’s man.”

As for the real sideshow cast, in Cleopatra’s words, “Great jumping Christmas!” Conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton learned self-hypnosis from Harry Houdini so they could spend time alone; Mexican pinhead Schlitze (or Simon Metz) dressed as a girl for most of his career; despite having no arms or legs, Prince Randian could really roll and light his cigarettes as seen in the film (he could also shave and paint). We all marvelled at the Half-Boy’s grace (played by Johnny Eck). Browning himself was once a circus contortionist. He made only four more movies after Freaks.

*****

I was not able to find any of Bela Lugosi’s other landmark films, Murders in the Rue Morgue or The Raven. I even went through Matt’s WC Fields DVDs to try and find the 1933 International House in which, as General Nicholas Petronovich, Bela finally had the chance to break out of stereotype and act in a comedic role. No luck.

I do regret not borrowing the Spanish Drácula from the library. In 1930, while Bela and Browning were shooting the familiar Dracula during the day, a Spanish-language version with Spanish actors used the same set by night. Starring Carlos Villarías (who looks like Bela himself or Nicholas Cage, depending on the source) in the title role, the film’s director George Melford knew no Spanish whatsoever.

Oddly enough, tonight we never got to doing the usual book club thing. We ran out of time to discuss What elements of the gothic genre are found in Dracula?, What is the significance of blood in Dracula? and What are the ways Dracula remains an icon in today’s popular culture?

Oh well.

Our next book is Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. On with the crotch-grabbing!

*****

Our previous bookclub meetings and books:

June: Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman (and here)
July: Evelyne Lever’s Marie Antoinette (not documented) with an initial foray into the attractiveness of Madame du Barry, some Zamor bashing, the deaths of Princesse de Lamballe and the Duc de Brissac, and the current vogue for Marie Antoinette.
August: Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down
September: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (not documented)
October: Bram Stoker’s Dracula with literary surprises and a Halloween diatribe.

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Top Ten Food-Related Celebrity Vaginal Descriptions
Tuesday January 02nd 2007, 9:37 pm
Filed under: Food,Lists

With all the recent flap about the combined crotches of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, I am reminded of the words of Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali:

If you take uncovered meat and put it on the street, on the pavement, in a garden, in a park or in the backyard, without a cover and the cats eat it, is it the fault of the cat or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem.

If the meat was covered, the cats wouldn’t roam around it. If the meat is inside the fridge, they won’t get it.

If the meat was in the fridge and it [the cat] smelled it, it can bang its head as much as it wants, but it’s no use.

As if proving the truth of the Australian cleric’s words, pervy types roam around seeking out celebrity upskirt photos.* They also tend to use similarly colourful and oddly hunger-inducing descriptions to explain the pink taco.

Thus -

The Top Ten Food-Related Celebrity Vaginal Descriptions

  1. Weathered pastrami flaps
  2. Beef curtains
  3. Pork chops
  4. Vagigantic mufflepie
  5. Taffy crotch
  6. Saggy bat wings (possibly a food source in some cultures)
  7. Bacon lips
  8. Ham wallet
  9. Oyster ditch
  10. My neighbour’s mastiff (also a food source if your city is under siege)

Who knew a bunch of white middle-class kids with an internet connection have so much in common with an old Egyptian imam? Hurrah for globalization!

Collected from comments here, here, here, here and here.

*Myself included.

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Of Chinese Buns & Rice Pudding
Monday November 13th 2006, 2:30 am
Filed under: Food

Reading about Gorgonzola and pear ice cream, I was a little downcast because I like non-traditional flavours but I hate ice cream. Vancouver has plenty of gelato places catering to those who like non-chocolate-vanilla-strawberry ice cream, but nothing for the likes of me.

What I’d like is a store that serves up the usual stuff then has five hundred flavours of mixing and matching that’s the real backbone.

I’m thinking a takoyaki shop that has mentaiko-stuffed takoyaki (octopus balls with spicy roe). Or a croquette cafe that lists on brie korokke on their menu. Or a Transylvanian creperie with dill pancakes. Or a door-to-door peddler of shiokara-umeboshi-shiso-sea urchin yumminess (in other words, a dish of something mixing the mushy goodness of sea urchin innards with squid viscera, pickled plums and perilla leaves).

Nothing of that level of fusion weirdness, sadly, exists in Vancouver. Unless it comes in ice cream form.

Japan and Taiwan fulfilled many of my food fantasies. From Japan, the love of the shiso leaf was the perfect accompaniment to all dishes. In Taiwan, having bought a mystery sandwich in the dark, I realized that tuna and peanut butter are excellent sandwich buddies – we’re talking Taiwanese peanut butter, stuff that is to American peanut butter as mimolette is to pimiento cheese.

Trapped on the continent, there are two stops to whet an appetite for the daring.

The first is Wow Bao in Chicago’s Water Tower Place. Run by white people, with an Asian frontline staff, every time I am in Chicago I sneak up the Magnificent Mile every day to sample the buns. Sometimes I remember my lovely Chicago hosts and pick up a box of the frozen bao for them.

Photo Courtesy: Gino888

The scrumptious flavours include the ever-present Kung Pao Cashew Chicken bun (I suspect the “cashew” part of its name wasn’t there before), the Thai Curry Chicken bun, the more authentic BBQ Pork bun, the Spicy Mongolian Beef bun, and the Green Vegetable bun, more delightful than its name would otherwise suggest. The online menu also lists the Teriyaki Chicken bun, which must be new since my last trip to Chicago.

Photo Courtesy: Stacey Cookie

With no franchise information on their parent site, I am more than a little disheartened that I must continue paying the airfare to Chicago if I want to sample my dastardly Kung Pao Chicken bun.

Then there is New York’s Rice to Riches. Screw raisins, this rice pudding store takes the already-perfect dessert to beyond any heaven with 72 virgins!

As a rice pudding chef (I taught rice pudding class when I was a high school teacher), I drool over the flavours on today’s menu:

  • Secret Life of Pumpkin
  • Coconut Coma
  • Forbidden Apple
  • “Category 5″ Caramel
  • Hzelnut Chocolate Bear Hug
  • Gingerbread Joy Ride
  • The Corner of Cookies and Cream
  • and the greater-then-great Man-Made Mascarpone with Cherries

Annoyingly enough, there are no plans yet for franchising. Investing, yes, they want your money, but a load of good it’ll do me if I have to fly across three time zones to indulge. Rice to Riches does, however, ship their puddings overnight to anywhere in the US. At $49 USD, this expensive rice pudding does beat the frequent trip to New York.

Photos Courtesy: Mussels

Update: This post inspired Matt to present me tonight with a half-litre each of Gorgonzola-pear gelato and basil-Pernod gelato.

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A Meaty Day
Monday October 16th 2006, 6:59 am
Filed under: Film,Food,Personal

For the last month and a half, I have become mostly vegetarian. Partly for health reasons, mostly for animal rights, I occasionally slip and declare a meat holiday. For example, in a schnitzel restaurant, how can my Austro-Hungarianess resist?

I planned for brunch at the Elbow Room, the bad service satirists who serve the best multiplex eggs in town. Vegetarian choices include the Thelma (poached eggs, sauteed spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms and avocado on a sour dough muffin topped with camembert and feta cheese) and the pesco-vegetarian Ted McLaren (poached eggs, baby shrimp, imitation crab, diced tomato and green onion with avocado, served on a croissant topped with hollandaise). I closed my menu and clasped my hands in front of me, waiting for my breakfast companion to decide.

Matt looked up at me from his menu. “Would you be upset if I order the Brett Cullen?”

The Brett Cullen. Poached eggs, sauteed spinach, bacon, avocado and blue cheese on a sour dough muffin. Topped with hollandaise sauce. The stuff of my daydreams during work meetings, during long commutes, while washing dishes, when I brush my teeth at night. The Brett Cullen.

“Well, if you’re having a meat holiday,” I said, “Then I can have a meat holiday too.”

Confident that I could simply reach over to my breakfast companion’s plate and sample the Brett Cullen, I decided to order something novel. The Bryan with two poached eggs on a Bavarian smokie, topped with BBQ sauce, sauteed mushrooms, onions, tomato and melted cheddar cheese on top of a sour dough muffin would round out my familiarity of the hidden corners of the Elbow Room menu.

Forty-five minutes later, as I waddled out of the Elbow Room, I contentedly proclaimed Meat Holiday a success and was ready to go back to ordinary vegetarian living until next year.

Forty-five minutes after that, my soggy self made it to Science World.

For those of you not from Vancouver, Science World is a children’s science museum, well, science education centre. Science World is in a shiny metallic sphere full of hands-on exhibits about optical illusions, physics, human functions, animals and the like. Science World, though a non-profit, is one of the few, if not the only, Vancouver-area cultural institution to turn a profit. With Body Worlds, they’ve clearly met their 2006 budget many times over.

Operating under the aegis of education and health advocacy, Body Worlds 3, the exhibit Vancouver got, has some 200 body parts, sliced cross-section and entire corpses. Surely something someone of my morbid tendencies would revel in the sheer grotesquerie.

Having touched human bones before, the femur at the entrance was nothing. I stared hard at the red veiny things seeping on the femur’s extremities. Then my first full corpse.

Well, I am more a fan of goriness in the fictional form, in particular on celluloid, in the guise of a good zombie flick. I’ve spent a night in Transylvania with a dead body in front of a graveyard, and that got acquainted with the superstition terrors of the night. Anything too nonfictional, however, and I get queasy.

So it was at Body Worlds. I felt weak, as if I couldn’t lift my arms. Still I walked around each body, sometimes standing on my tiptoes to peer into cranial cavities and vacated abdomens. I began dissecting my reaction.

It wasn’t the gross-out feeling one would get from, say, a burn victim. It was more of, this is meat.

The muscles reminded me so much of food. I kept thinking, I could never eat that. (I am a fan of emergency cannibal nonfiction; Uruguayan rugby players wrecked in the Andes, the Franklin expeditions, besieged Muscovites eating one another, Donner Party horrors, Chinese rumours of WWII-era kidnappings.) I mean, I’ve helped out at pig and chicken slaughters, and at the time I couldn’t wait to eat my favourite parts. Looking at real human bodies reduced to mere meat, I was happy I’ve become vegetarian.

Then I further dissected my queasiness.

My stint in a law firm, looking at photos of liability claims, instilled in me an understanding that humans are fragile and anything – an escalator, a wedding ring – can become a weapon that tears the body asunder. I’d seen the pictures of a girl’s face ripped off by an escalator and a woman’s finger separated from her hand by a two-metre-long thread of tendon. I respect the dangers inherent in life, yet intend to live to 85 and pass away peacefully in my sleep.

Body Worlds reminded me that, though I may avoid sipping cyanide or signing up for mercenary service in Iraq, death might come riding as that extra doughnut or that third martini. Hell, I can limit myself to bran and lettuce; birth condemns all of us to death. Part of my fear of Body Worlds was that I began half-expecting that the ceiling would begin raining anvils to pulverize us the audience into snitzel pulp.

Halfway through the exhibit, there was a hands-on table, mimicking the children’s displays elsewhere in Science World, only this time with a plastinated kidney, liver and two arm cross-sections. I flapped liver slivers, poked my finger into a gouged-out hole in the arm, and held up the kidney to my nose to smell it.

Beside the touchy-feelies was a book, How Do I Become a Plastinate? I skimmed over the table of contents, then turned to the chapter on reasons for wanting to become a plastinate. Selflessness was the main reason, to educate the lay public and to continue being of some use to society after one’s demise. But also immortality. I want to be like the Egyptian Pharoahs, one said. Another, I worked hard to get my body into prime physical shape, I want others to learn from me.

Here’s something I have never admitted until now: I have a deep-seated fear that, if I were to become an organ donor, my consent would give a modern-day Burke and Hare a pre-mortem carte blanche. Immortality would not be Pharaonic but meaty.

Other visitors felt the human body reverberated with the trappings of a meal. “The intestines look like sausages,” said a young woman in her early twenties.

On the way out were cross-sections of the length of an obese man’s body, a warning about the dangers of eating lest any viewers mull the meatiness of the human body too much.

Two hours after Body Worlds, I sat in a movie theatre waiting to see Jan Svankmajer’s latest, Lunacy, a horror film about the two opposing methods of running an insane asylum.

The film is live action interspersed with stop-motion animation interruptions of ambulatory meat, the latter scenes accompanied by saccharine carnival music (photos here). The meat parallels the real actors, with tongues, slabs of meat, brains and eyeballs dancing out the travails of the humans. In the end, a hunk of meat in a supermarket pulsates against the confines of plastic wrap, mirroring the nightmare come true for the human protagonist.

“Repugnant palate cleansers,” says one of Lunacy’s critics of the parading meat. “A counter-melody reminding us that all is decay.”

Tonight I ate bread with vinegar.

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