Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Night Fun Night

A couple weeks ago, we made plans with our friend Monica to join her for supper at her apartment this evening. She has been so good to our daughters, who think of her as a "foster grandmother," and so nice to Susan and me--a friendly spirit and kind soul who is one of many reasons to enjoy attending Sons of Norway lodge meetings. When we arrived at her place, she had the table set and the counter and fridge stocked with food! We ordered pizza and sat in the living room to visit. When the pizza arrived, we moved to the dining room for supper.

In addition to the pizza, Monica served a tray of dill pickles, pickled beets, and crudités and a dish of strawberries, mango, and pineapple. She had Shirley Temples for the girls and wine for the adults. After supper, she served red velvet cake with vanilla ice cream. She had also made a batch of fudge, and we couldn't resist sampling that, too, when she sent the plate around. It was a tasty meal during which we enjoyed good conversation.

We brought a couple games to play afterward: Apples to Apples Junior and Taboo. Monica wasn't familiar with either of them, so we enjoyed teaching her how to play each one. Susan had made a batch of ranch-flavored pretzels and a batch of sweet-'n'-salty cereal mix for us to snack on while playing, but we were all so stuffed from supper and dessert that we couldn't even think about opening the snacks!

Time flew, and soon it was time to get the girls back home and into bed to be ready for school tomorrow. Monica had a bouquet of long-stemmed roses in her living room, and before we left, she had each girl choose one to take home (plus one for Susan and one for me, too). How thoughtful! We had a delightful evening--thanks, Monica!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fruit for Every Course

This morning the girls had a piano performance at the home of their piano teacher, Mrs. Vold. Susan had helped to organize a scrapbooking weekend event at our church and had to be there today. So I took the girls to Mrs. Vold's house, in the basement of which she had set up rows of folding chairs facing her grand piano. Parents and grandparents were a friendly audience for the students, who took turns playing their songs and practicing the performance techniques that Mrs. Vold wants them to "have down" before they play for an actual recital or piano festival: how to approach the piano, adjust the bench, find the correct distance to sit from the keyboard, prepare mentally before touching the keys, and so on.

All the children--our girls included--did well. One of the students is Madeline, our neighbor and Hillary's best friend. Madeline's little brother Jack sat with me while his parents, our friends Chuck and Reba, sat behind us. At one point, Jack looked over at the table of punch and cookies that awaited us for the end of the performance, and he whispered, "What do you suppose that is for?" A little later, he tugged on my ear and whispered, "I'm getting a little bit bored now." All in all, he sat pretty well for a little guy not that interested in a piano recital and tempted by the presence of red fruit punch and store-bought cookies just a few feet away.

Before we left, we made plans for Madeline and Jack to come over to our house in the afternoon to play. Abigail was supposed to be my helper for Scandinavian Saturday supper tonight, but it seemed cruel to expect her to be upstairs in the kitchen while all the other children played together downstairs . . . so I cooked alone and told her to help me next weekend instead. I consulted a cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas and planned a menu featuring fruit in every course! Here's what I prepared for my family's dining pleasure:

Danish æblesuppe ["apple soup"]

Ojakangas writes, "In Denmark, apples are sometimes used as vegetables in soups and salads." This soup looks like it should be savory with its cheesy-looking color and thick, smooth, velvety consistency--but it's actually a mostly-sweet soup with spicy undertones. I peeled apples (two varieties) and simmered the peels for 30 minutes in water with whole cloves in it. I cored and sliced the apples and sprinkled them with lemon juice. I strained out the peels and cloves and added to the broth some white wine and the sliced apples, letting them simmer for a half-hour. Then I puréed the apples in a blender, adding cornstarch and curry powder during processing. I poured the mixture back into the pan and stirred in heavy cream, sugar, butter, and salt, stirring it as it thickened while boiling gently.

Danish sommer koteletter ["summer house pork chops"]

I served the pork with crudités and a dill sauce for dipping.

I browned pork loin chops in butter and set them aside. Then I added to that pan some tart apple slices, diced onion, salt, black pepper, sugar, and curry powder. I put the apple/onion mixture into a baking pan, arranged the browned chops on top, and baked them for 30 minutes. Then I stirred melted butter into dry breadcrumbs, sprinkled the mixture over the pork, and baked it for about 10 more minutes. The apples and curry made this dish a good match for the soup, and the pork was tender and flavorful with the unusual combination of apple and onion.

Norwegian krem ["grape pudding"]

It's not a perfect photo, but you can sense the bright scarlet color of the translucent pudding. Ojakangas writes that this dish is a "favorite of young and old" and is "light, refreshing, and simple to prepare." I'll have to take her word for it on the first part, but I can confirm the second part. I combined tapioca, grape juice, sugar, and salt and let it stand for 15 minutes. Afterwards I brought it to a boil and then reduced the heat to low, stirring the entire time until it became thick. I poured it into individual bowls and chilled it in the refrigerator until ready to serve dessert. (The white circle on top of the pudding is homemade whipped cream with plenty of sugar and vanilla extract.)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sad Family Reunion

We're leaving my dad's now for the sleepy drive back to Dickinson. We got up in the wee hours this morning and drove to Tioga to see Dad and my stepmom as well as my sisters, visiting for a few days from OR and NE. It was nice to see them, of course, but we wish it had been under happier circumstances. You see, we were reunited today for the funeral of my uncle Curtis (my mom's brother).

He died last week, but the funeral wasn't until today in order to accommodate traveling by so many out-of-state relatives. Many were able to return, too; there were enough of us family members attending that we took up about a third of the pews in the church in McGregor. We gathered in the fellowship hall beforehand and shared condolences and did a little catching up after years of not having seen some relatives (e.g., "Ah, these must be your kids" or "Is this your husband?" or "And where do you live now?").

The funeral service itself featured three particularly touching elements.
  1. Three of Curtis' grandchildren who couldn't return for the funeral instead wrote letters to be read aloud by the pastoral assistant. They were all beautifully written and described meaningful memories of Grandpa Curtis.
  2. Two of Curtis' grandchildren joined their mom (Curtis' daughter-in-law) to perform special music. Kristian and Janna played "Ashokan Farewell" on the violin, accompanied by Mary Ellen on the piano. The siblings are great string players, and their mom is a skilled pianist, and the overall effect was both lovely to listen to and emotional.
  3. As an Army veteran (who witnessed the Nuremberg Trials--I had never known that!), Curtis was recognized with military funeral honors. His casket was draped in the flag of our country, which two uniformed members of a local honor guard ceremonially folded and presented to Curtis' son Wilmer. Before that, other members fired the traditional three-volley salute outside the church, followed by the playing of "Taps." Very respectful and moving.

After the funeral, the ladies of the church served a mid-afternoon lunch* in the fellowship hall, where we gathered to visit with relatives and others who live in the area, many of whom it had been years since we'd last seen. The chats were good but brief, and somehow all our relatives managed to rush out of the church before we realized that they were gone (yes, as is typical, our Moberg family was the last to leave) . . . so we got no photos of these aunts and uncles and cousins whom we so rarely see and whom we were so hoping to have pose for quick snapshots. I don't know what their hurry was, but it was sad to look around and see them all gone with no plans for the extended family to gather afterward over supper to visit some more and share memories of Curtis.

So our family drove back to Dad and Beverly's and visited amongst ourselves and had a nice supper of ham, scalloped potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, and cake for dessert. Before supper, Susan set the timer on our camera and got some good photos of our group. And after supper, it was time for us to pack up, say farewell, and head home (the girls have a piano recital in the morning). It was a brief visit, but we're grateful to live close enough to my family that we can make the drive there and back in a day if necessary. Curtis was a good man; may he rest in peace.

back row: Sandy, Beverly, Dad, and Cathy;
front row: Suzanna (holding my step-sister's dog, whom Dad and Beverly were dogsitting), Abigail, Hillary, Kevin, and Susan

* To my delight, it was the same kind of funeral lunch food that I grew up with: some sweet salads (involving a combination of Jell-O or pudding and fruit and Cool Whip), some savory salads (like potato salad and coleslaw), open-faced sandwiches on homemade buns (including brown buns spread with Cheez Whiz and topped with slices of pimiento-stuffed green olives), homemade pickles, and a separate table of cakes and bars for dessert. Unfortunately, the beverages were just as I remember them from my childhood, too: water colored yellow for lemonade and brown for coffee (i.e., both of them made too "weak" flavor-wise).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Lutheran Von Trapps

Recall that meterologists predicted that we'd experience two successive blasts of nasty winter weather this weekend . . . and that the first one didn't really come to pass. Well, the second one surely did! It's nasty outside and getting nastier by the minute. Our electricity has been off and on throughout the day with a 90-minute stretch of no power over noon. Throughout the region roads are closing, and no travel is advised.

But that wasn't enough to cancel an event for which our family had been asked to perform today, so we didn't get to stay inside! We just got back from singing at the St. Cecelia Music Club 19th Annual Serenade and Tea, held at a local church. The St. Cecelia Club has been around for 90 years and promotes musicianship by offering area students scholarships to attend music camps and university programs. Today's event was a fundraiser to support those scholarships, and scholarship recipients were among those performing.

And our family performed because the president of the club asked us to! We were the penultimate act, right before a string ensemble from the university. We sang two songs: all five of us on "Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying" by Ken Medema and the four ladies on "Come to Jesus" by Chris Rice (and I accompanied on the piano for both). Both numbers went well despite a subpar sound system in the church (all the microphones were different brands of varying quality, and at least one speaker went out midway through one of our songs).

I suppose we can be grateful that the power didn't go out while we were singing, as it has been going out in various parts of town throughout the day (and in various parts of the region the past several days; some people have been without power since Wednesday). We stayed afterwards long enough to visit and enjoy cookies, coffee, and punch (note: I didn't see any tea being offered at this Tea . . .) and then got the heck back home. The intersections are snow-packed, and visibility is low even in town--and it's supposed to get worse throughout the night. Let's hope the power stays on in our home tonight!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Supper Called on Account of Inclement Weather

The weather service warned us for days that this weekend, we would experience two one-after-the-other winter storms the likes of which have rarely been seen. Events throughout the region were peremptorily canceled or postponed, and meteorologists intoned, "Do NOT travel this weekend! Stay home!!" So we went to the grocery store to stock up on food, and we filled the vehicles with gas and got fuel for the snow blower, and I made sure there was wood for the fireplace, and we got ourselves home last night and hunkered down for the onslaught.

Um, I don't think the first expected storm ever happened. Sure, it snowed yesterday, and our driveway has snow on it, but it's been a pretty nice day so far, actually. Businesses have been open as usual, and people were out last night and today. The kids are outside playing right now, as a matter of fact. But the weather service still has us under a winter storm warning, so maybe the second of the two expected storms will happen after all.

All this is to explain why there will be no Scandinavian Saturday supper tonight. I usually plan the menu each Saturday morning, but Susan needed to get to the store Thursday night to prepare for the horrendous weather that we were expecting--so she just planned to make something herself for tonight's meal, and we just planned to stay inside this morning where we'd be safe and warm. Turns out I could probably have gotten up, planned the food, and gone shopping anyway, but c'est la vie.

To satisfy your weekly craving for writing about Scandinavian food, check these out:
  • Make your own solboller ["sun buns"] to celebrate the return of the sun to the sky after the darkest (sunless) nights of deep midwinter in Norway. Get the recipe--and the explanation--here.
  • Make your own lefse [a soft flatbread made from potatoes] by following the directions given in this video.
  • Defy the cold of the actual season by preparing a midsummer meal inspired by Norway--or just enjoy the photos of the food featured in that feast--by checking this out.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Doing Well at Doing Good

Remember this? Well, today I participated for the first time as an official board member in a meeting of the board of directors of the Western Wellness Foundation. That organization has a lot of good-for-the-community programs going on. The main one is its mentoring program, which matches adult role models with area kids in need of a positive adult influence. I know a bit about it because many of my students at the university serve as mentors themselves, helping out the children who need it while gaining practical experience that will serve them well as future teachers.

Western Wellness Foundation also has a recycling program that earns money to support its work in the community while keeping tons (literally) of aluminum out of our city landfill each year. How did I not know that until now?! There was a city-run comprehensive recycling program where we used to live, so it took some adjusting when we moved here to stop separating cardboard and glass and plastic and cans from our other trash. Now we can at least recycle our aluminum (although we have to haul it ourselves to a collection site).

Anyhoo, it sounds like there are lots of events coming up throughout the year to fundraise for the organization and offer fun to the community, so keep your eyes open for related posts on Pensive? No, Just Thinking in the coming months.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

We Do Solemnly Swear

To review:
  1. We joined the local lodge of the Sons of Norway in 2008 (remember?).

  2. As a family, we attended a Sons of Norway language and cultural camp last summer (remember?). There, Susan and Suzanna learned the basics of a new-to-them craft: knitting.

  3. Afterwards they both started attending weekly cultural skills nights here in Dickinson hosted by our local lodge, meeting with other knitters, learning new stitches, getting ideas for new projects, etc.

  4. Eventually Susan met the requirements for earning a Level 1 pin in the category of Hand Knitting in the Sons of Norway's Cultural Skills Program, and she was awarded that pin at one of our monthly lodge meetings last fall (remember?).

Well, there is a Youth Cultural Skills Program, too, and Suzanna completed the Hand Knitting unit for that, earning herself a recognition pin, too. That was awarded to her at our local lodge meeting today. Congratulations, Suzanna! Here's the proud Norske knitter and her pin:

A part of today's meeting was the installation of lodge officers for the year, so there was a little ceremony "transferring power" to us new officers. We had to pledge to uphold the constitution or its by-laws or some such thing and to carry out our duties with honor or some other virtue--I'm not really sure. But I solemnly swore to do so. I'm the vice president now; Susan is both the youth director and the newsletter editor; and Suzanna is the musician. A lodge member donated money for a keyboard to be purchased for use by the musician at lodge activities (remember?), so a couple members did some shopping and got one on loan from a music store to try out before deciding whether to purchase it. That keyboard is now at our house for Suzanna to practice on.

The newsletter archives are at our house now, too, in the form of a ginormous plastic tub full of papers. That will make for some entertaining reading for Susan, I'm sure, as she prepares to assemble her first lodge newsletter for next month. I have already suggested a new column: "Kevin's Kjøkken" [kjøkken = "kitchen"], in which I would share recipes from my weekly exploration of Scandinavian cuisine. Maybe she has too many ideas of her own to fit mine into the newsletter . . . we'll see.

Bonus: After the meeting ended, we gave a ride home to our friend Monica, the girls' "foster grandmother" (also, incidently, the keyboard-donating lodge member mentioned above), who invited us in for soda, treats, and visiting. She sent us home each with a juicy honeybell (a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit--delicious but in season only in January) and all with an appointment to return in a couple weeks for supper. How great is that?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Gourmet Swedish Steak 'n' Potatoes

Susan was my helper today for our weekly Scandinavian Saturday supper. For inspiration, we turned to a cookbook that I bought late last year: Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine by chef Marcus Samuelsson. Years ago we'd watch him cook on a television program that he used to have; so when I found this cookbook, I was pretty confident that I could trust recipes from him. And I was not wrong! This was one of the best Nordic meals we have had since starting this weekly experiment last March.

sparris och potatis "risotto" ["asparagus and potato" prepared risotto-style] and karamelliserad biff ["caramelized steak"--specifically rib-eye]

Susan prepared the vegetables by peeling and dicing asparagus and potatoes while I chopped shallots and garlic. She sautéed the aromatics and potatoes before adding asparagus and white wine to simmer. When the white wine had cooked away, she added chicken stock. When that had been absorbed, she added more, continuing the process until the stock was gone and the potatoes were tender. I whipped some cream and folded in Neufchâtel cheese and some basil leaves cut in a chiffonade. I combined that with the potatoes and asparagus, and the result was one of the best vegetable dishes I have had.

For the meat, I trimmed several rib-eye steaks while Susan made a cooking liquid of chile sauce, soy sauce, fresh lime juice, garlic, Dijon mustard, and horseradish. I seared each steak in olive oil in a hot pan and then transferred all the steaks to a baking dish, immersed them in the cooking liquid, and roasted them in the oven. Our daughters have never ooh-ed and aah-ed over steaks the way they did over these steaks tonight. The sauce was so sweet/salty/savory/spicy and the meat so tender and flavorful. Again, a very big hit with our family.

mandeltårta med citron ["almond cake with lemon"--that's a lemon curd/cream cheese frosting]

Many a Scandinavian dessert features almond flavoring, so we felt safe not following a recipe for our dessert but still counting it for the theme of our meal. I had some frosting left over from having made Susan's birthday cake (remember?), so Susan baked an almond pound cake from Tastefully Simple and topped each slice with a generous dollop of the icing that I had made. With it Susan and I drank Moscato Allegro, a dessert wine that we both loved.

The entire meal, start to finish, was just terrific. It's always a good sign when one of the daughters places a morsel of food in her mouth, closes her eyes, and says, "Mmm, I love Scandinavian Saturdays so much!" (I think we'll keep doing this.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Significant Birthday for Susan

Today was the first day of the semester at our university. I had a lot to do to prepare for my classes today, and I didn't quite get everything done that I had been hoping to because I had another event to prepare for:

Today was Susan's birthday! I won't tell you how old she is, although the clever reader will be keen to clues in the remainder of this blog post. I got up early and made breakfast: sausage and potatoes and peppers fried and tossed into scrambled eggs with shredded cheese, cinnamon bread toasted and spread with black raspberry jam, pomegranate/ruby red grapefruit juice, with caramel lattes for Susan and me. She read her cards and opened her presents . . . and then we all rushed off to school. Sigh.

Part of Susan's gift from the girls and me was a dozen red roses. My sister and her roommate sent a beautiful floral arrangement, too. (My other sister and my dad and stepmom, both of whom were here last week, left behind cards and gifts for Susan, too.)

After school, the girls had swim team practice; but I had asked them to change into dressy clothes afterward so that I could pick them up at the pool, pick Susan up from home, and get us to our supper reservation on time. We ate at the BrickHouse Grille downtown and had an absolutely fantastic meal. The girls impressed the waiter and other patrons nearby with their mature behavior and enjoyment of menu items that aren't your run-of-the-mill "kids' food." I forgot the camera at home but snapped a few pics with my cell phone:

For an appetizer, we shared grilled scallops served with a grapefruit salad and drizzled with a blood orange/ginger glaze. Susan and I had cocktails, and the girls drank Shirley Temples.

For her entrée, Suzanna ordered steamed mussels served over angel hair pasta with spinach and a garlic/white wine sauce.

Abigail ordered cilantro shrimp, which came grilled on skewers and served over jasmine rice. I didn't get photos of the other entrées, but Hillary had angel hair pasta (essentially the same dish that Suzanna had but without the seafood); Susan had filet mignon with bordelaise sauce, potatoes au gratin, and vegetables; and I had a spice-rubbed rack of lamb served with fingerling potato skewers, grilled onions, and an apricot compote. Of course, we sampled one another's dishes (that's how we roll), so I can confirm that everything was incredibly delicious.

When I made the reservation, I let the restaurant know that it was Susan's birthday--so she got a complimentary dessert of her choice (a chocolate-covered waffle bowl filled with fresh berries and crème anglaise) served on plate on which they had drizzled a message for her in chocolate before chilling it for the presentation.

When we got home, I revealed that I had baked Susan a birthday cake: a lemon cake with a frosting that I made from cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, cream, lemon curd, and lemon extract. After eating cake and putting the girls to bed, Susan and I enjoyed some chilled dessert wine: Makulu Moscato, a slightly effervescent white wine from South Africa. It was a peaceful, relaxing end to a happy occasion whose celebrating we had to squeeze in before and after school and work. Happy birthday, Susan!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Suzanna's Superior Soup and Salad

Faithful readers will recall that Suzanna last summer (when she was 11 years old) started making meals for our family occasionally. And not just peanut butter sandwiches and canned pasta, either: homemade entrées and appetizers and desserts--the whole shebang. There's no set schedule for her taking over the kitchen; sometimes she's inspired to prepare breakfast, and other times it's Sunday supper. She may refer to some children's cookbooks that the girls have received over the years, or she may remember a tasty recipe that she saw on a cooking show (one of the few types of programming that we can safely watch together as a family) and ask Susan to find it online and print it out for her.

That was the case for tonight's meal. She selected a couple recipes from Ten-Dollar Dinners, a show whose host makes tasty meals for a family of four for $10 or less. Suzanna made us orange-scented carrot soup and tuna/bread salad . . . with no help from either Susan or me! For the soup, she sautéed the vegetables and aromatics, deglazed the pan, simmered everything in the chicken stock, and then transferred it to a blender to make the soup smooth and velvety before dishing it up and swirling a spoonful of sour cream into each bowl.

For the salad, she baked and cubed the bread, chopped the tomatoes and calamata olives and shallots, whisked together the dressing ingredients, and tossed everything with the tuna, beans, and basil for a fresh, fragrant, flavorful salad that went perfectly with the soup. Both recipes are keepers. I'm telling you, we do not go hungry in this household!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Godt Nytt År!

["Happy New Year!"]

We were out of town last Saturday (remember?), so tonight was our family's first Scandinavian Saturday meal of the new year. I had no helpers this week; all the girls spent the day at the West River Community Center competing in their first swim meet of the season as members of the Dickinson Dolphins (and Susan spent the day there, too, timing in lane 4). How did they do, you may wonder?
  • Suzanna competed in four events. In the 200-yard relay, her group took 6th place in the heat. In the 50-yard freestyle, she took 3rd place in the heat. In the 100-yard backstroke, she took 5th place and sliced 13 seconds off her previous time for that event! And in the 100-yard individual medley, she took 2nd place in the heat!
  • Abigail competed in two events. In the 100-yard individual medley, she took 3rd place in the heat. And in the 50-yard freestyle, she took 1st place in the heat!
  • Hillary competed in three events. In the 100-yard freestyle relay, her group took 2nd place in their heat. In the 25-yard breaststroke, she took 3rd place in the heat. And in the 25-yard backstroke, she took 2nd place in the heat and qualified for the state meet!! Yep, she swam two seconds faster than the state qualifying time for that event. The state meet will be in Bismarck in March.
So congratulations to our little dolphins! Because they were otherwise occupied with showing their underwater prowess, I planned the menu, shopped for groceries, prepped the ingredients, and made the dishes on my own today.

We started with Caesar salat med tomat basilikum røkelaks ["Caesar salad with tomato/basil smoked salmon"]. It's a traditional Caesar salad with the creamy dressing, crunchy croutons, and tangy Parmesan cheese. Adding the salmon was my Nordic touch, and the tomato/basil coating on the smoked fish was a terrific variation.

My sister Sandy made lefse and brought it to our home when she came to visit this past week (remember?), so I warmed it in the microwave, buttered and sugared it, and served lefse along with the salad to start the meal.

Sandy sells Tastefully Simple products, so we happen to have a large inventory ourselves! I used their Warm Up! mulling spice to turn some apple/cranberry juice into a cinnamony, citrusy hot beverage to go with the salad and lefse. Delicious!

For the main course, I consulted a new cookbook purchase that I made late last year: The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann. We had leftover mashed potatoes from our belated Christmas supper Thursday night, so I used them to make potetkake med limettsitron bete salat ["potato cakes with lime/beet salad"]. To some of the mashed potatoes, I added chopped scallions, eggs, oatmeal, sesame seeds, thyme, and nutmeg and fried the batter in olive oil to make light-and-fluffy pancakes. To top the cakes, I chopped beets and marinated them in the juice from a lime to which I added salt, pepper, and onion powder.

I also made stekt flyndre ["fried flounder"], fillets that I coated in dark rye flour and pan-fried in butter. I topped each fillet with a dollop of basilikum persille rømme ["basil/parsley sour cream"] and then a large spoonful of limettsitron dill reker med agurk og scallions ["lime/dill shrimp with cucumbers and scallions"]. It was a tasty combination of flavors!

For dessert, we ate some of the baking that Sandy had brought for us.

P.S. Last night we surprised the girls by driving them to the movie theater in Belfield to see the Disney movie The Princess and the Frog. We loved it! The movie has appealing characters, a fun storyline, and engaging music--typical Disney. Moreover, the movie theater itself is a fun place to see films. It's a refurbished building with period lighting fixtures and art deco designs on the walls and rows spaced far apart for ample leg room. Best of all, they put real butter on their popcorn! Oh, and admission is dirt-cheap. Well worth the 20-minute drive.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Belated Moberg Christmas (and Birthday)

Faithful Reader, you'll recall the blizzard that swept through the upper Midwest on Christmas, thwarting our Noël plans with Susan's family. Well, it affected our plans with my family, too. My sister Sandy from Omaha, NE had planned to come to ND, and we were going to join her at my dad's home in Tioga the Sunday after the 25th for our family's own Christmas celebration (Susan, the girls, and I with just my dad, my stepmom Beverly, and my sister). The weather that weekend canceled that plan, so Sandy arranged to come to ND this week instead, spending Sunday through Wednesday with our dad and Wednesday through tomorrow here with us. And today Dad and Beverly came to Dickinson so that we could have our belated Moberg family Christmas supper and gift-opening this evening at our house.

Because Susan had to work today, Sandy and I planned tonight's supper, shopped for the groceries, and started the meal. (Once Susan got home from work, she took over for me in the kitchen.) In the photo above, imagine a clock face with the girls standing at 9:00. At 11:00 (near Hillary's left elbow) is a cauliflower/broccoli salad that Beverly brought. Just beneath the plate at 12:00 is a French onion/green bean casserole. At 1:00 is a plate of lefse that Sandy made and brought for us. At 5:00 is a platter of chicken legs that Sandy fried. Above the plate at 6:00 is a covered bowl of mashed potatoes next to a bowl of gravy. At 7:00 is a bowl of whipped cream (that I made) for the bowl of strawberry Jell-O with sliced strawberries in it at 8:00. That was our supper menu!

Our dessert was an angel food cake with almond-flavored powdered sugar icing that Beverly made for Suzanna's birthday. We were supposed to have it at our original Christmas get-together on the 27th, at which point it would have been an early birthday celebration for Suzanna. Because of the weather, Beverly ended up freezing the cake and bringing it today, so we had a belated birthday celebration. It didn't matter to Suzanna; she just enjoyed having Grandma and Grandpa here for her "birthday."

Suzanna with Grandma and Grandpa Moberg

Usually my dad, stepmom, and two sisters buy separate gifts for our three daughters at Christmas. This year, they and Susan and I pooled our money for one high-end gift for the girls: a Wii console, accessories, and games. They have played with their friends' Wiis when visiting their homes, so they know what a Wii is all about, and they love it. However, I told them once upon a time that they didn't need to own their own Wii if they could just go to a friend's house and play with that friend's Wii--so they've never pestered us about buying one. Thus, they were not at all expecting a Wii when they opened the boxes containing all the Wii-related items. In the photo above, Abigail and Hillary's faces say it all, and Suzanna is doing a happy dance! They're absolutely thrilled! (Thank you, Cathy and Sandy, for suggesting, price-checking, purchasing, wrapping, and delivering!)

The girls got to look at the Wii tonight but not play; they have school tomorrow and needed to get to bed so they could get up in the morning. I'm sure the Wii will be operating by tomorrow evening, though. After Susan and the girls head off to school in the morning, Sandy and Dad and Beverly plan to go their separate ways so that I can leave at noon for a meeting in Wibaux, MT. Life goes on. But what a nice break we had today for a belated Christmas celebration with the family!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Speaking Up About Dining Out

After traveling to eastern ND/northwestern MN for the New Year's Day weekend (remember this and this?), we're back in Dickinson and back to work and school. Classes for Susan and the girls started up again yesterday; and although classes don't start at the university until next week, I'm back to work, too, hoping to be ready for the new semester by the time I have to teach in a few days! I was in the office yesterday, and I met with some university colleagues in Bismarck this morning . . . and made it back home before the snow and increasing winds made the roads too difficult to travel.

But can we just talk for a minute about tasty meals at chain restaurants? I know that some people look down their noses at such establishments; and, to be sure, there is some mighty fine food to be had at high-class restaurants with trained chefs on staff, as well as at down-home cafés and diners at which "from scratch" recipes are the norm. I realize that many items at chain restaurants are made in kitchens located at corporate headquarters and then shipped frozen to individual restaurants for the cooks to reheat, plate, and send out to the table. But, dang, I had some tasty food in the last coupla days!
  • On our way home on Sunday, our family ate dinner at Olive Garden in Fargo. Suzanna and I shared the manicotti formaggio with shrimp--cheesy, creamy, salty, seafoody goodness. Paired with the always-delicious salad (gotta love their dressing) and hot garlicy bread sticks, it was a wonderful meal.
  • Before I left Bismarck today, my colleagues took me out for dinner at Carino's. I had a dinner-sized portion of the baked cheese tortelloni, each bite a delectable combination of rich cheeses and savory tomato sauce. They always serve each table a piping hot, crunchy loaf of bread for ripping apart and dipping in olive oil mixed with herbs and spices. After a productive and heartening morning work session with two terrific colleagues, that meal was the perfect followup and sendoff.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Reliving High School Days

After leaving our Harwood friends' home Thursday, we headed to our East Grand Forks friends' home, where we're spending the weekend. A Christmastime visit here is another holiday tradition for two reasons: (1) we have several couples-with-kids friends here with whom we like to reunite as often as possible, and (2) one of those couples, Jay and Erin, are consummate party throwers (please review) who usually host wintertime festivities with some fun theme, and they're so kind always to invite us to attend.

Last night they threw a "high school days" party for which they had asked us in advance to send them photos from our years in secondary school. They turned those photos into wall-sized posters! They also created pennants featuring our high school mascots. Some of the party attendees dressed in uniforms or clothes in their school colors, some brought their high school yearbooks and photo albums, and a few even performed cheers that they remember having done as cheerleaders or spectators at high school sporting events.

'80s music was playing throughout the house, and some people danced to it in the open space in the garage, where the food and beverage tables were set up. After examining the posters and pennants hanging up all over the place, partygoers were asked to vote on (1) the person who had changed the least since high school, (2) the person who had changed the most, and (3) the person whose high school had the lamest mascot. Susan got a gift card for winning that last contest (her school mascot: the Dickinson Midgets . . . a mascot still in use today, sad to say).

Wanna see some then-and-now photos?

Susan wore a Halloween shirt because it features her school colors, orange and black.

Here I am next to my younger self in full marching band regalia. Do you know what kind of musical instrument I'm holding? Few people at the party did.

Hostess Erin was a cheerleader in high school.

Host Jay was a football player.

Nicole's volleyball-playing self emerged from behind the couch in the living room.

Nicole's hubby, Jesse, is wearing a button with Nicole's high school-era photo on it! Cute.

Laurie, a skilled seamstress back in the day, made the red velour blouse that she's wearing in her high school photo.

Laurie's hubby, Rob, brings balance to the universe by posing at a complimentary angle to his high school head in the background.

Erin's sister Ali and her husband Mike attended a school dance together when they were in ninth and tenth grade . . . and now are married with two children. For last night's party, Ali shaved the numbers of Mike's high school football uniform (25) on each side of his head and left a strip down the center--a notable contrast to his near-mullet in the background.

The group consensus was that Missy's high school photo looks like a publicity shot for '80s film star Phoebe Cates. Missy responded, "Who?" Heavy sigh.

Here is Missy's husband, Joey, sporting camouflage in high school and an if-you-only-knew-some-stories-from-my-high-school-days! grin last night.

It was another fun party that showcased Jay and Erin's creativity, hospitality, delicious appetizer recipes, and extensive alcohol collection (I've been to bars with less of a selection than Jay and Erin have to offer).

It has been a great weekend here at Jay and Erin's, too. We basically haven't seen our daughters since we arrived Thursday; all the children of all the couples in our group of friends just disappear and play together the whole time we're here (well, with the occasional break for one of them to report to the adults some act of naughtiness on the part of another child, only to return promptly so that playing can resume).

And Susan and I have been playing with our friends, too. Thursday night a group gathered at Jay and Erin's to play games and enjoy drinks and snacks until we rang in the new year. Yesterday Susan and I visited with Mike and Ali and Jay and Erin throughout the day while we helped to prepare a few items for the party buffet tables (including one tasty dip that our group lovingly refers to as "glop" and another that we call "liquid crack"). Today was a leisurely, relaxing day of brunch, movies (including The Hangover), naps, games, needlework, visiting, and jokes (e.g., "TWSS!" with Erin and "Briss!" with Laurie). What a great group of friends!

Tomorrow we'll head home (where it is literally 30 degrees warmer than it is here--sheesh!), stopping first in Fargo to use some of the gift cards that the girls got for Christmas for stores that we don't have in Dickinson. Before leaving we'll have to say our goodbyes, thankful for another terrific weekend with dear friends and regretful that these get-togethers cannot happen more often.