Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Latest Greatest Books

I've really got back into reading this last few months, I suppose many of us have due to being quarantined at home. I'm a very slow reader so many books I "read" by listening to them on Audiobook. I've become a loyal fan of Audible for this reason. I was also fortunate enough to find loads of good books at second-hand shops recently. I'm always looking for recommendations, and supposing you may be too, I've decided to henceforth share with you which books I've recently read which turned out particularly topping. 

If you're a word nerd then this book is for you. It's not long, easily-digestible, and thoroughly enjoyable. Reading The Etymologicon is like listening to a long string of consciousness from someone who is really, really interested in etymology. It beautifully links one word to another to another until you've come full circle. You may find yourself uttering an "oh" aloud many times as the interesting origins of so many English words are revealed. Not only is this book fascinating, it's also very funny. For example it has a chapter called 'Sausage Poison in Your Face'. I wouldn't call it particularly educational, but more entertaining than anything. The audiobook version has a great narrator, Simon Sherpherd, who expresses the humour perfectly.

Also from Mark Forsyth, as I was so impressed with the above, I also got Elements of Eloquence. It's wonderful and important. Once upon a time everyone was taught the art of rhetoric. For some reason this stopped being a thing, despite it being an important part of speech. This book explains why we think pretty words are pretty. Why memorable phrases are memorable. It also touches on prosodic metre, if you're into that sort of thing. I don't imagine this sort of book would excite everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and now know the difference between anaphora and anadiplosis, thank goodness for that. Simon Sherpherd narrates the Audiobook once again, and again perfectly expresses the humour. It's very funny as well as educational. Perfect for the poet, writer, or orator in your life. 

I knew I would like this because I know historian Ruth Goodman from many BBC history documentaries. She's super sweet and extremely knowledgable. This book is very thorough. It covers pretty much every element of life from dawn til dusk and beyond in the British Victorian period. What I like most about it, is unlike other history books which tell tales of Kings and noble courts and battles, this describes the ordinary people. The everyday man and woman and the intricacies of their everyday existence. Food, clothes, medicine, childcare, work places, and more, How to be a Victorian breaks all these things down and talks about them at length. I can't wait to read more of Ruth Goodman's books.
£13.56 on Book Depository 

Lastly, something non-non-fiction. Made into a (rather excellent) film in 2012, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is surprisingly believable. It mixes real life events and people with supernatural gore. It's easy to imagine Lincoln saying and doing the things he does in this book, and I expect the man himself would have found it pretty funny. Like all of Seth Grahame-Smith's books (I've not read others but heard nothing but praise), it's a shining example of good historical fiction. The story is exactly as the title states; we follow the life of Abraham Lincoln from his boyhood to his death, not only his political career, but his deadly mission to rid America of evil vampires. It's not a long book, even a slow reader like me can get through it fairly swiftly. 
£17.67 on Book Depository

Have you read any of these books, and if so what did you think? Feel welcome to suggest books that you think I or any of our Belfry Bat family might enjoy, or just anything exceptional you've discovered lately. I've linked to Book Depository as well because it offers free international shipping, and is usually where I buy books from, being that Amazon is not available everywhere. 

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Store Spotlight - Sick Soaps

Sick Soaps brings new meaning to the words "hand soap". If everyday soap is not gruesome or creepy enough to match your home or personality, then you might enjoy some of the horribly cool creations to be found in this store.

Severed hand soap, lavender scented.
Horror and slasher film fans will appreciate the soaps themed after their favourite movies, such as The Exorcist, Halloween, or IT. Lovers of curios and gross stuff in bottles as decor will enjoy the encapsulated brains, fetuses, teeth, and bloody body parts. As they look so amazing, and many of the reviews say that the photos don't do them justice, I think these soaps might fall into the category of "too beautiful to use." There's something so sad about gradually destroying something so cool looking, but these soaps are intended for everyday use. They're full of lovely scents and moisturising ingredients too. Why bring a boring bottle of soap into the shower, when you can have a fetus in a popsicle instead?

Strawberry & champagne scented serial killer soap
There's also a category dedicated to the Haunted Mansion, plus lots of other dark Disney. And it's not just soaps, there are sugar scrubs, body and room sprays, scented oils, and dishes to store your creepy creations.

I have yet to try them myself (I definitely will be) but more than a thousand reviews singing Sick Soap's praises can't be wrong. I'm so keen on trying the 'curio' looking ones. The prices are reasonable compared to other fancy handmade soaps I've seen at markets and such, and as these are individually handmade, one can imagine how much time and work goes into each. Definitely not the sort of thing you will find in any normal bath and body section.

Coconut, lime, & verbena scented brain specimen soap

Every time I visit this shop to oogle, there seems to be even cooler designs than ever. The large coffin soaps with removable lids have to be the most sophisticated soaps I've seen in all my life.

So if you're looking for a gift for the weirdo in your life, or maybe just your wonderful weird self, visit Sick Soaps and have an oogle yourself.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

17th Century Sack Posset

If you start talking about the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries with me, you'll find I won't shut up for ages because I love those periods so much. For years I've done research on historical medicine, food, fashion, industry, traditions, politics, weapons, daily life, diseases, everything I can find to read or watch. Most of my research has hovered between 1650 - 1750 Britain and Europe, as this is when I've set my (I swear I'll finish it someday) novel. Also, several other writing projects in my giant unfinished pile are set then, and I like to be as true to history as possible so must therefore know everything.

Nearly every resource I've read on the 17th century references the diary of Samuel Pepys, so I thought I would just have to read that. And so I have been. Well, listening to it on audiobook through Audible, that counts as reading, does it not? It's 115 hours of listening, it's not a small undertaking. Everything mentioned in the diaries that I wasn't already familiar with, I looked up, and one of those things was "sack posset". I'm so glad I did. I think the mildly amusing name attracted me most, but I looked up as many recipes for sack posset as I could, written at the time. No two were exactly alike, so I combined the essential ingredients and rough ratios from every recipe I saw, and had a crack at making it. It was amazing. Warming, soothing, delicious, makes you all cosy and sleepy. Sack posset is generally served in the evening after supper, the last thing you give your guests before they head home.

I made an enormous basin of it on Christmas day for Mr Owl's family, and everyone enjoyed it verily. It's to be drunk hot, and is best enjoyed hot, but on boxing day, a couple of Mr Owl's cousins biffed the leftovers into an ice-cream machine and it was lovely cold, too! It felt like a Christmas-appropriate thing to make, but sack posset isn't a special occasion thing. It's for any day of the week, all year around.

But the fuck is it, I hear you ask? What is sack? What is a posset? This which we are making is essentially hot booze-custard. Posset started its life centuries ago as a strengthening medicinal drink, and over time became a sweet night cap. It finally evolved into such familiar things as custard and eggnog. Sack is a fortified wine which no longer exists. The closest modern equivalent to sack is sherry.

So here is the recipe and method, it's quite easy and only takes about 15 minutes to make. Obviously this is 18+ or 21+ depending on where you live because of alcohol laws, but I've heard the sherry can be substituted for orange and lemon juice, though I haven't tried it. The mixture can be thickened with bread crumbs if you fancy eating it with a spoon instead of drinking it, but I've not tried that either. Some old recipes suggest adding mace, crushed almonds, rosewater, musk, or even ambergris. It's a flexible recipe, you could experiment with whatever ingredients take your fancy.

Let us begin! This yields about 3 coffee mugs full, but is best served in teacups. You can warm the cups beforehand if you wish.

  • 400ml heavy cream
  • 300ml sherry
  • 7 egg yolks
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • ground nutmeg
  • ground/sticks of cinnamon

  1. Pour the cream and sugar into a pot. Sprinkle a small amount of the nutmeg and cinnamon in, and stir. Some recipes called for a blade of mace, but mace is fairly expensive so I omitted it.
  2. Separate yolks and egg whites. There are several methods to do this, I like passing the yolk between the shell halves. You might have one of these doodads. Put the yolks into a large basin or similar. If you don't want to waste the leftover whites, you could turn them into meringues.
  3. Crack two whole eggs in, whites included.
  4. Add the sherry to the eggs and whisk together until eggs are beaten. 
  5. Boil some water in a pot that will comfortably sit the basin atop it. Place the egg-sherry mixture over the boiling water. If exposed to direct heat, the eggs will cook, yuck! Stir it continuously and test the temperature with a knuckle.
  6. Put the cream-sugar pot on the stove at a medium heat. Stir this regularly too. The cream should be taken off the heat just before it starts to boil.
  7. Once the egg-sherry mixture is warm, take the basin off the boiling water.
  8. Carefully pour the cream into the eggs, pouring a little at a time, and stirring constantly until all is combined.
  9. Ladle into teacups and enjoy!
I read that cushions were placed around the basin to keep it warm. It's important that it doesn't get too hot or else you'll end up with scrambled eggs, you want it at a warm, drinkable temperature. It's quite filling, you'll probably find that a couple of teacups is loads!

Watch the video:

Let us know in the video comments on YouTube if you try this out, and how it goes! Thanks for joining me, see you again soon! x

Monday, 1 January 2018

Store Spotlight - The Crypt of Curiosities

Today I'd like to turn your attention to a shop I've known for several years, and proudly own a couple of pieces from. Based in Manchester, England, The Crypt of Curiosities is a spooky little handmade jewellery store. It is a one person business, lovingly run by the hardworking @wifetodarkness.

If you are looking for small adornments for the spooky individual, then you have found somewhere that will provide nice quality pieces with top-hole customer service. The Crypt brings you pendants, earrings, chokers, and bracelets. A variety of styles can be found to suit one's own; some Victorian, some modern and witchy, some cute - all gothic.

New designs pop up all the time, some designs disappear quickly, so if there's something you have your eye on, you might have to be quick.

The store is described as "Gothic treats for children of the night. Halloween every day". I've never understood why one should get so excited over one day of the year, when the feeling of Halloween can be maintained all year round, to live a Halloween lifestyle, so to speak. If Halloween every day is your vibe or the vibe of someone you know, then perhaps a handmade treat from The Crypt would be a welcome decorative addition to the person.

The pieces I have have lasted years, have been worn and worn, put in and out of jewellery boxes and bags, travelled with, and have held together through it all. While a lot of handmade jewellery of this nature from other artists, I have noticed, tends to have something of a similitude, I've always found The Crypt to have a special and pleasing creative uniqueness, if that makes sense. It stands out.

I hope I've been able to introduce you to something new to admire! I apologise for the long break in these 'Store Spotlight' articles, but I've had to put a few things aside to deal with personal matters. I'll endeavour to make them a weekly thing once more :) Until next time!

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Black Poison Candy Apples DIY

Christmas is over, but it's still the season for sweets, if there's ever actually a time that it isn't. I've long wanted to have a go at making black candy apples. I don't recall ever making ordinary candy apples, so this was a bit of an experiment. I'm not sure it went all that well :p
No doubt you can do a better job! But it was fun and I do feel inspired to try other kinds of candy apples in future. So, I wouldn't exactly call this a recipe, but here are the ingredients and method I used this time around...

3 cups sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup (I used caramel sugar syrup)
3/4 cup water
Black gel food dye

The plastic straws I used are the ones that normally come with these completely awesome skull drinking glasses. I found this amount probably enough to coat 6 apples.

1. Wash and dry your apples, and remove the stems. Stick the straws or sticks firmly into the dimple.

2. Combine all ingredients into a pot, heat on medium high until boiling.
3. Let boil, stirring intermittently, for 20 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, your liquid candy should reach 300˚F, the "hard crack stage".
4. Remove the pot from heat, and let it cool slightly. Roll the apples in the liquid candy, and place onto a sheet of non-stick baking paper. 
5. I would suggest perhaps refrigerating them afterwards to help them set and stay hard. 
Have fun, and be careful your teeth don't pop out, these were very sticky! 

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Gingerbread Krampus Cookies DIY

Gruß vom Krampus! I wanted to have a go at making some festive gingerbread, but little men and houses and whatnot are so prosaic, don't we feel? So let's make the half-demon half-goat Christmas fiend himself. I took the recipe from the Edmond's Cookery Book, New Zealand's favourite cook book, whose recipes are relatively fail proof.

150g unsalted butter
70g soft brown sugar
70g white sugar
200g treacle
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 cups white flour

For icing I used black fondant, white fondant, and red marzipan. You could also use standard royal icing, but I wanted the certain look that fondant has. However, fuck fondant, that shit was so hard to use. The marzipan was far more agreeable. But if you're already adept at using fondant, go ahead!

1. Preheat the oven to 160˚C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
2. Cut the butter into small lumps and place in a large mixing bowl. Place the sugars, treacle and spices in a heavy-based saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon until melted together and the mixture comes to the boil.
3. Add the baking soda and stir again until the mixture froths up and turns a pale gold.
4. Remove from the heat and pour the treacle mixture onto the butter. Stir well until the butter melts and the mixture is smooth.
5. Mix in the egg, then sift the flour and stir in, one cup at a time.
6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead lightly until smooth.
7. Divide in half and shape each portion into a rectangle. Wrap in greaseproof paper and chill for a few minutes if the dough seems too soft to roll easily.
8. Roll out one piece of the dough at a time to 5mm thickness. Cut out shapes and place on the prepared trays. The dough will be quite soft to begin with and you may need to use a spatula to lift the biscuits. You can re-roll the scraps several times – the dough does not get tough.
9. Bake for 15–20 minutes until firm to the touch and just beginning to brown. Leave on the trays for a 1–2 minutes then place on a wire rack to cool. 
If you have a go at these, good luck, and have fun! I would love to see your efforts on Instagram!

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Store Spotlight - Dellamorte & Co.

Well, if there's a shop I've been pining over for literally years, it's this one. Dellamorte & Co. makes some of the most awesome shit for the home I've ever seen. A number of their items have been on my wish-list for a long time, the only thing that holds me back is the cost of shipping weighty items internationally, but I reckon they're worth saving for.

Amor Aeternus Wall Plaque
Dellamorte & Co. makes statues, vases, magnets, barware, wall plaques, lights, and more; everything the macabre household could do with to improve upon its macabreness. Each piece of quality dark art for the home is handmade to order. Much of the inspiration comes from the wish to create functional art, and it is precisely that; many of the things you can find there are not just for display, but to use.

You can find anatomically correct heart-shaped vases, realistic skull planters, tombstone magnets, tentacle winestoppers, and much more. Also can be found exquisitely morbid items purely for decoration, such as wall plaques that look like they've been taken from centuries old sepulchres. At Christmas time, you can decorate with cheerful Krampus decor, or hang the Headless Horseman from your tree.

Anatomical Heart Vase in black

The only piece I own is a conjoined twin fetal skull, which was gifted to me a few years ago. It takes pride of place in the centre of my living room's display cabinet. It's always been one of my favourite decorations, and I have, like I said, pined to own more ever since. Dellamorte & Co. has managed to find the balance between spooky and classy. A lot of home decorations can look cheap and Halloweeny, whereas these pieces are pleasingly morbid as well as elegant and smart.

Fruit Bat Wine Accessory Set
If you are someone who decorates for Halloween all year round, and likes to do it with style, then you should definitely visit Dellamorte & Co's online store. Their pieces also make excellent gifts for fans of the dark and macabre, as I said, my piece was a gift, and one of the coolest I ever remember receiving. Thank you for visiting, hope I've given you something new to admire!
Until next week x