Archive for August, 2012

Of herbs and stewed chicken

August 27, 2012

For a while Sam sat musing, and tending the fire till the water boiled. The daylight grew and the air became warm; the dew faded off turf and leaf. Soon the rabbits cut up lay simmering in their pans with the bunched herbs. Almost Sam fell asleep as the time went by. He let them stew for close on an hour, testing them now and again with his fork, and tasting the broth.

The most famous meal in The Lord of the Rings is also one of the simplest: Sam’s homely stewed rabbit made in the wilds of Ithilien. The recipe is quite clear, no guesswork needed here. Sam stewed the rabbits in simmering water with bunches of fresh sage, thyme, and bay leaves for about an hour.

This dinner has been delayed partly because of busy family time, but also because I have been hoping to get rabbit. Our regular grocery store usually carries it, but they haven’t had any rabbit in stock for the past few months. In the end I decided that rather than keep delaying, I had to make a substitution, so I cooked a fresh, local chicken instead of a rabbit, but otherwise it is Sam Gamgee’s recipe to the letter.

Sometimes the simplest is the best

I cleaned and dressed the chicken while starting a few inches of water simmering in a pot with bunches of thyme and sage and a handful of bay leaves. (Extreme nitpick: I also added salt. It isn’t explicitly mentioned in Sam’s rabbit stewing, but his box of salt is mentioned among his cooking equipment just as he sets to cooking the rabbits, so I think it’s a safe assumption.) When the water started to bubble, I laid the chicken on top and kept it at a low simmer for an hour.

The result was delicious: soft, tender chicken in warm, flavorful broth. I also cooked some crispbreads to stand in for the Hobbits’ Elvish waybread. Although Sam and Frodo had nothing else to eat, we took some fresh vegetables to complement the soup and bread. E. did a lovely and simple place setting that nicely evoked stopping for a comforting meal in a shady grove in the wilds.

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

June: A Dwarven dinner

Pumpkins in progress

August 25, 2012

My pumpkin plants have started to produce fruit.  So far I can count three little gourds starting to grow.  Hopefully there will be more and they will grow up to be nice and plump and delicious.

One, one pumpkin, ah ah ah…

Late summer

August 22, 2012

The signs of late summer are around us.  The nights are getting cool and so is the pond.  I spend most days wearing a shirt.  There are fewer bugs around.  The goldenrod is in bloom.  The grass doesn’t need mowing quite as often.  We’re still getting daytime highs in the mid-80s F, so fall isn’t quite with us yet, but we can feel that it’s on its way.

E. is back at work this week.  She was a few weeks with just the library staff before any of the kids come back, so she’s working a daytime schedule now rather than her usual evening schedule.  That means we get to have dinner together, which is very nice.  My classes start up in a couple of weeks, after Labor Day.  I did a lot of prep work early in the summer, but I still have things I need to take care of before everything starts.

New York mini-vacation

August 13, 2012

After playing host for most of July, we decided to treat ourselves to a little mini-getaway for a couple of days just for a change of scenery. After looking at various possibilities we decided to go to New York. This may sound strange, given how much both of us hate New York, but we had a good reason for going: Iron Sky.

Iron Sky is a new sci-fi/comedy movie that was conceived and initiated in Finland and produced with a lot of international crowdsourcing. E. knows a few people who were involved in making the film. It is not being widely released in the US but there are individual showings being organized around the country. We have since discovered showings being organized closer to us, but when we were making our getaway plans, New York was the most easily accessible place which had a confirmed showing. So we decided we might as well go there, and I’m glad we did.

The movie was very impressive as a visual spectacle. The movie was well directed and the special effects were on par with any Hollywood blockbuster. We both found the story a little lacking (when your premise is “Nazis on the moon,” the script has a lot of selling to do), but it’s exciting to see something like this come out of Finland.

We also got discounted tickets to see Spider-man: Turn off the Dark. We got very good orchestra seats from TKTS and we enjoyed the show. For all of its reputation as a troubled production, it was a lot of fun. I gather that the script has been changed a lot from Julie Taymor’s original rather Spider-man-free vision and now it is a creditable stage rendition of Spider-man’s origin story. The aerial stunts and acrobatics were impressive and the main actors handled their roles well.

We also, of course, made the pilgrimage back to Pisticci, our favorite restaurant and pretty much the only thing we do miss from New York. We went their for dinner one night and lunch the next day, even though we were otherwise down on lower Manhattan and it was a bit out of our way. The food is just as good as we remember and the atmosphere just as cozy.

Everything went well until we were on our way home when heavy weather delayed our flight to Boston by over six hours. Fortunately, we were mostly stuck in the airport and only spent the last hour sitting on the plane waiting to take off and the plane crew were very good about handing out drinks and snacks and keeping us updated on the situation.

Now we’re home again and starting to get ready to go back to work in the fall.

Flowering pumpkins

August 6, 2012

My pumpkin plants are flowering.  We haven’t had very good luck with pollination this year, but I think that was because of a very wet spring.  I hope these plants will fare better.

Orange-yellow flowers on a pumpkin plant

Comings and goings

August 1, 2012

It has been a long and wonderful three weeks. That’s how long we’ve had members of E.’s family visiting us. The occasion was the celebration of our tenth wedding anniversary (actually this December, but it’s so much more fun to get people together to celebrate in the summertime). Our guests included E.’s father, both of her sisters, her youngest brother, and her youngest sister’s spouse. We were sorry that E.’s mother wasn’t able to come and join us, nor were her other brother and his family, but this is by far the most of E.’s extended family whose ever come to visit us at once and we were so very glad to have them.

Some highlights from these few weeks:

We had a big get-together on Saturday a couple of weeks ago. I cooked on the new grill (photos below) with lots of help, especially from sister-in-law. My parents came down from Maine and my sister and her boyfriend up from Virginia to join in the festivities, as did our best man. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I had a wonderful time. It certainly looked like other people were, too. There was lots of food, but not many leftovers, which I take to be a good sign. For some of the people there it was a first opportunity to meet some of the transatlantic family; for others, it was a chance to see some old friends. Late in the day there was some swimming and some croquet, thoroughly dominated by E.’s father the engineer.

A couple of days later, we had a lobster/barbeque ribs dinner for everyone who was still around (or felt like coming back). It was a no-untensil, all-napkin meal: lobster, ribs, corn, and cut vegetables. I gave lobster-eating instructions to those who needed it. Unfortunately, sister-in-law, who is allergic to shellfish, was bothered just by being around the cooked lobsters and didn’t get to enjoy the night with the rest of us, but we did our best to get the offending articles out of the house and she was okay the next day.

I volunteered to be designated driver for some of the gang who wanted to go to Hooters (apparently there is nothing like it in Finland). I didn’t know what to expect, though I wasn’t really looking forward to it, but it turned out to be okay. The restaurant delivered on its promise: perky, busty waitresses in skimpy clothes serving crappy food and enormous amounts of alcohol, but managed to be so wrapped up in it’s own knowing cheesiness that it didn’t feel dirty. It’s what a strip club designed by Disney would look like. I have no intention of going back, but I don’t feel dirty for having gone.

Although I knew it already, I was reminded of the fact that: damn, Finns can hold their liquor.

Various subsets of us went to see Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and Spider-man. It’s interesting to see that superhero movies have evolved to the point of having several quite distinct sub-genres from dark, moody thriller to quirky coming-of-age story.

There was lots of swimming (I did a lot of that), lots of early-morning running (I did none of that), some shopping (I did a little of that) and lots of cooking and eating (I did a fair share of both, but by no means all).

Our last guest left this morning and the house is quiet again. I’ll admit that I was running out of steam towards the end (sorry to those of you who stayed longer, I wasn’t much fun for the last week or so). But I’m still incredibly glad that so many people came and I’m glad we were able to offer a place to stay. We may not be doing this again any time soon, but we are both very very happy to have done it once.

Selected pictures below

Preparation: building the stand for the new grill

It’s all drystone, so the pieces on top can be rearranged for different purposes

Some of the family

Some more of the family

And even more family.

Swimming in the pond.

Making s’mores

Croquet game in progress

And more croquet. The croquet set was a big success.

Exploring Salem

Lobstah.