Archive for June, 2012

A Dwarven dinner

June 27, 2012

“I thought it was only a kind of cram, such as the Dale-man make for journeys in the wild,” said the Dwarf.
“So it is,” they answered. “But we call it lembas or waybread, and it is more strengthening than any food made by Men, and it is more pleasant than cram, by all accounts.”
“Indeed it is,” said Gimli. “Why, it is better than the honey-cakes of the Beornings, and that is great praise, for the Beornings are the best bakers that I know of.”

While The Lord of the Rings tells us little about elven food, it tells us nothing at all about what dwarves eat, Gimli’s approval of elven lembas and the Beornings’ honey-cakes notwithstanding. So for this months dinner I had to completely fly blind, trying to imagine the kind of meal that the Fellowship might have enjoyed in Moria had they found the place still in the possession of Balin’s folk.

To begin with, it seems likely that dwarves would have enjoyed little in the way of fresh food, so much of what they ate must have been preserved and able to keep for a long time. There are many ways of preserving food– drying, salting, smoking, pickling, canning, and so on. In the old days the dwarves of Moria used to trade with the elves of Hollin, so the produce of the world above ground could have reached them. Putting these thoughts together, I came up with a menu for a dwarven dinner.

Mushroom soup, good for underground dwellers

We started with mushroom soup, followed by homemade sausages and pickled vegetables. We had rosemary crispbread to accompany this. For dessert we had honey-nut cakes.

Crispbread and honey-nut cakes on the left, sausage with pickled vegetables on the right

I made the sausage using a piece of local pork. I ground the meat and mixed it with fresh thyme and sage, plus salt and a little black pepper. I did not use any casings but just shaped the ground meat and froze it overnight. The sausages held their shape well when I sliced and cooked them the next day, although they tended to dry out while cooking. The pickled vegetables (beets, cucumbers, and asparagus) came from a local farm. The crispbreads were very easy to make and I will probably make them again just for snacking. The honey-nut cake recipe actually comes from an ancient Greek source and I have made it very successfully before.

A dinner for Durin’s folk

The combination of flavors was a little unusual, but pleasant. The sausages were quite mild compared to the sharpness of the pickled vegetables and the crunchy crispbread added a very different texture. The mushroom soup had a sweet note to it. The meal was a combination of very different flavors and textures that all together seemed to work.

Previous Lord of the Rings dinners:

January: A long-expected party

February: Farewell to Hobbiton / March: Supper at the Prancing Pony

April: A rangers’ dinner in the wild

May: At Elrond’s table



Screwing up

June 24, 2012

We have taken a big step in one of our long-term projects to make the basement nicer and more finished. We’re not aiming at having a proper “finished basement” that we could use as living space, but we want to turn it into something cleaner and nicer for storage and a cool place we can retreat to in the hottest days of summer. We have now accomplished one of the most challenging parts of the whole plan: putting up a ceiling.  The old ceiling was just joists with exposed insulation and wiring and pipes. We decided to cover it with light plywood. Last month we rented a van and loaded up with wood at one of the big home improvement stores.

I claimed this project for myself. I had the feeling that if we tried to work together on this we would just get in each other’s way and on each other’s nerves (like trying to hang wallpaper together, for those who know that story). I used some wood scraps from previous projects to make a frame for holding a piece of plywood up near the ceiling while I worked on it, which freed up my hands and made it a job that could be done solo.

My handy-dandy frame. You can see the ugly old ceiling in the background with all the exposed pink insulation.

Even so, it wasn’t easy. Putting up a plywood ceiling meant a lot of screwing up, in both senses of the word. I haven’t done anything like this before, so there was a lot f trial and error involved in figuring out how to make everything fit in a way that gave us a nice clean ceiling while still making room for all the pipes and wires and light fixtures and so on. Often the most annoying part of the work was how the screws kept falling from my grip as I tried to screw straight up through the plywood into the joists.

Me, working on putting up a plywood panel. We found 4’x4′ panels which were much easier to handle solo than the usual 4’x8′ variety.

It took four solid days of work to finish and there is still little patching up to do, but the results are very satisfying.

The new ceiling. You can see that there are places that still need work, but it is a great improvement.

I’m melting

June 22, 2012

We are in the third day of a heat wave.  We’ve seen temperatures here up to 93 in the shade.  It’s hard to do anything but sit as still as you can.  There’s hope for some thunderstorms tonight to break the heat and less sweltering temperatures tomorrow.

At Elrond’s table

June 9, 2012

“Pippin afterwards recalled little of either food or drink, for his mind was filled with the light upon the elf-faces, and the sound of voices so various and so beautiful that he felt in a waking dream. But he remembered that there was bread, surpassing the savour of a fair white loaf to one who is starving; and fruits sweet as wildberries and richer than the tended fruits of gardens; he drained a cup that was filled with a fragrant draught, cool as a clear fountain, golden as a summer afternoon.”

May’s Lord of the Rings dinner is the most difficult yet: an elven dinner at Rivendell. We know next to nothing about elven food and effectively nothing about what elves eat when at home. The most famous of elven foods, lembas bread, is meant as travel rations and nowhere in the novel is an ordinary elven meal described with any kind of clarity. Like much of what we know about the elves, their food is glimpsed only in ethereal, dream-like moments such as Pippin’s in the forest with Gildor’s company.

Not quite the Last Homely House, but still pretty good

So, I have had to exercise my imagination more than before. The result was very satisfying. The main course was roasted lamb. I picked lamb because one elf in Rivendell makes a joke about sheep to Bilbo Baggins, so we know sheep are at least known to the elves. We had some wine jelly made by my sister and given to us as a Christmas present that was an excellent accompaniment to the lamb (I’ve been saving some of the jelly since Christmas, knowing that this dinner was coming). With the meat I served asparagus since it is fresh and in season. There was also a salad of greens with strawberries and roasted apples (inspired by the sweet fruits of Pippin’s recollection).

Roast lamb, asparagus, and salad

For dessert I could think of nothing better than pulla, the sweet Finnish coffee bread. To go with it all we drank pear cider and white wine, then black currant liqueur with cranberries to go with dessert. I think E. outdid herself in laying the table for this one.

Fresh homemade pulla. Yum.

Previous Lord of the Rings dinners:

January: A long-expected party

February: Farewell to Hobbiton / March: Supper at the Prancing Pony

April: A rangers’ dinner in the wild

Canopy for the back deck

June 3, 2012

The latest addition to Heather House: a canopy for the back deck. We’ve been wanting one for a few years. The deck is lovely and we’d like to spend time out there in the summertime, but it faces south in a sheltered nook of the house, so it gets unbearably hot when the sun is out. This gives us a little shade so we can enjoy the outdoors.

A little shade for the deck