Archive for December, 2012

Sunrise after snow

December 30, 2012
Morning after a snowstorm

Morning after a snowstorm

Yesterday and last night we had a snowstorm blow through. This is what the woods look like under the sunrise this morning. Yesterday we watched three deer in the woods just beside our house. With the fresh snow on the ground we’ll be able to start looking for prints.

E. and I celebrated our tenth anniversary a few days ago with a shopping trip. We hit some after-Christmas sales and came home with a new microwave (the old one has been gradually failing on us for a while) and a Blue Ray / DVD player. We also ordered a pair of i-pads; the store was out of stock, but they’ll be shipped to us in a couple of weeks. The stores were even busier than when we were shopping before Christmas. We have so much stuff to sort through now after Christmas, new things to find a home for and some old things being replaced. We’re taking our time over it so that we can spend more of our vacation time together.

Christmas Eve dinner

December 25, 2012

We had a Finnish-style Christmas Eve dinner, as usual.

Ham with fruit sauce, salmon casserole, carrot casserole, and cucumber salad

Ham with fruit sauce, salmon casserole, carrot casserole, and cucumber salad

Gingerbread cookies, Christmas tarts, candy

Gingerbread cookies, Christmas tarts, candy

 

A Hobbiton homecoming

December 22, 2012

“Altogether 1420 in the Shire was a marvellous year…. In the Southfarthing the vines were laden, and the yield of ‘leaf’ was astonishing; and everywhere there was so much corn that at Harvest every barn was stuffed. The Northfarthing barley was so fine that the beer of 1420 malt was long remembered and became a byword. Indeed a generation later one might hear an old gaffer at an inn, after a good pint of well-earned ale, put down his mug with a sigh: ‘Ah! That was a proper fourteen-twenty, that was!’”

Here we are in December with the last of our Lord of the Rings dinners. This month I tried to imagine Frodo and Sam safe at home back in Hobbiton after their adventures and the kind of homely hobbitish dinner they might have enjoyed once all the bother was over. There is no particular meal described in the text for me to copy this time, but plenty of information to go about what hobbits enjoy when dining comfortably at home.

A cozy hobbit dinner

A cozy hobbit dinner

For dinner I cooked a whole chicken and a mix of carrots, potatoes, onions, and cabbage all boiled together in one pot with bay leaves, sage, thyme, and rosemary. It’s much like a traditional New England boiled dinner, but with chicken instead of the usual ham or corned beef. The chicken came out juicy and tender and suffused with the flavors of the herbs and vegetables. I’ve never been a great fan of chicken, but seeing that it can come out so well when cooked so simply is changing my mind.

Boiled chicken and vegetables

Boiled chicken and vegetables

We served up the chicken and vegetables all in a bowl together with some of the good broth from cooking. It was warm and delicious on a chilly December night. We drank cider to wash it down with.

For dessert I made an apple tart. It is quite simple, I just rolled out the crust, laid the sliced apple on it and sprinkled it with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, then baked it until the crust was golden brown.

Apple tart

Apple tart

I have had such fun this year doing LotR dinners. I haven’t decided yet what next year’s theme will be. E. has suggested that maybe in a few years we can reprise the LotR dinners when she has more time to plan the table settings and I can make some adjustments to a few of the recipes from experience. If we do, I’m sure it will be just as much fun.

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

July: Of Herbs and Stewed Chicken

August: Dinner in Ithilien

September: A feast in the golden hall

October: In the ruins of Isengard

November: The return of the King

An unexpected journey

December 19, 2012

E. and I had a day out a few days ago.  We went to a couple of local malls to do some Christmas shopping and window shopping.  It was a drizzly Monday with school still in session, so for the Christmas season, things were pretty quiet, just the way we like them.  We did a lot of browsing and a little bit of buying, then stopped for lunch, then went back and did a little more.

Once we were done, we went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of the new three-film Hobbit series.  We love Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films so much it was wonderful to be back in that world.  As always, the art direction and New-Zealand-as-Middle-Earth scenery were almost worth the price of admission in themselves, and Martin Freeman makes for both an excellent Bilbo Baggins in his own right and a great match for Ian Holm as the elderly Bilbo.  The film is more childish than LotR, but it is true to the book in that way, since the Hobbit was a children’s book.  There are also some worrying signs that Peter Jackson is being indulged a little too much in his desire to make everything bigger and crazier.  I really hope that this trilogy does not go the way of the Star Wars prequels in being stuffed full of everything the director thinks is exciting regardless of whether it is good for the movie or not.  Like George Lucas, Peter Jackson seems to be a brilliant director as long as there is someone to occasionally tell him “no.”

The Return of the King

December 13, 2012

“And Gandalf said: ‘Many folk like to know beforehand what is to be set on the table; but those who have labored to prepare the feast like to keep their secret; for wonder makes the words of praise louder.’”

A refined table for the folk of Gondor

A refined table for the folk of Gondor

Our penultimate Lord of the Rings dinner is a grand feast in Gondor to celebrate the end of the war and the coming of Aragorn as king. There is no particular meal described in the text to recreate, but there are references to feasting in the days after Aragorn’s return to the city.  Our information on Gondoran food is scant, but I have tried to put together a meal representing the different parts of Godoran society: the farmers of the plains, the herdsmen of the hills, the fishing folk of the coast, and the city-dwellers of Minas Tirith. I’ve given this month’s food something of a Mediterranean inflection to reflect Gondor’s position in Middle Earth.

Seafood soup, roast lamb, spinach, and marzipan pastry

Seafood soup, roast lamb, spinach, and marzipan pastry

For appetizer, we had a seafood cream soup made with scallops, shrimp, fish, and flavored with saffron.

Seafood soup.  The creamy base is much like a traditional chowder, but the absence of potatoes and the use of saffron gives it quite a different flavor.

Seafood soup. The creamy base is much like a traditional chowder, but the absence of potatoes and the use of saffron gives it quite a different flavor.

The main course was roasted lamb stuffed with olives, dates, and fresh herbs. Alongside that was spinach sauteed with ginger and honey.

Roast lamb and spinach.  The olives and dates as stuffing imparts a very different flavor to this than plain roast lmab.

Roast lamb and spinach. The olives and dates as stuffing imparts a very different flavor to this than plain roast lamb.  The spinach recipe comes from a mediaeval source.

The dessert was a marzipan pastry representing the white tree of Gondor.

One white tree... or something.  I'm not very good at pastry.  At least it was tasty.

One white tree… or something. I’m not very good at pastry. At least it was tasty.

E. laid out a splendid table setting using a theme of silver and blue and capturing some of the age and elegance of Minas Tirith.

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

July: Of Herbs and Stewed Chicken

August: Dinner in Ithilien

September: A feast in the golden hall

October: In the ruins of Isengard

Weekend with friends

December 13, 2012

Our friends Miti and Stephen came up from Connecticut to visit us last weekend. We haven’t seen them in a while and it was very nice to spend some time with them. Miti is in the midst of the academic job search and we both wish her the very best (and really hope she gets a good offer somewhere not too far away from here).
On Saturday we had a big dinner to celebrate Finnish Independence Day and we invited my new colleague from work, Margo, and her husband to come up and join us. We thought they would enjoy meeting Miti and Stephen, and things seemed to go very nicely.

Family gatherings

December 7, 2012

We celebrated Thanksgiving again this year the same way we did last year: E. and I hosted a dinner on Saturday. My folks and Theo came down from Maine, Kris and Dan came up from having Thanksgiving Thursday with Dan’s family in southern Massachusetts. It was really wonderful having everyone together again and the day went very well despite one small glitch.

In the midst of morning preparations, shortly before our guests began to arrive, we lost power for about an hour. It was a clear but windy day and we figure the wind must have knocked down branches somewhere up the line. The turkey was in the oven and nearly done, but I didn’t dare open the oven door to check it and let the hot air out. The other cooking was half done. But after about an hour, the power came back on, and when I checked the turkey it turned out it was perfectly done. We were able to finish everything up in plenty of time to serve.

Everyone’s contributions were very welcome. Kris and Dan brought a Virginia-made mead with them which was really delicious as a dessert drink. Theo made fancy apple crisp in the apples (yum). Mom and Dad brought the family cranberry pie and plum pudding, without which it wouldn’t feel properly like Thanksgiving.

It is such a delight to have Thanksgiving here, and it seems to work out well for everyone’s schedules as a way to get people together. Unless something changes, I expect we’ll be doing Thanksgiving this way for the foreseeable future.

Kris and Dan came back to spend some more time with us the next day. We went off to have a little walk in Crane Pond Woods, a nearby patch of conservation land that E. and I had explored a little bit before and wanted to go back and poke around a little more. Afterwards we went to see Lincoln and have dinner out. It was great getting to spend some more time with Kris and Dan; we don’t see nearly enough of them. We’re hoping to get down to Virginia this spring, though, and that will be good.

The following weekend, E. went for a quick trip to Finland for her youngest brother’s 30th birthday party. It was only a few days and she had to squeeze it in between nearly full work weeks, but I’m really glad she was able to go and be there. She got to see the latest addition to the extended family, our new nephew, only a few months old. It was lonely here without her, but I got busy and filled the time with schoolwork and housework.