Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mardis Gras and Music

A couple fun events from this weekend:
  • Our friend Michelle invited us to her house for a belated Mardi Gras party last night. She held a similar event last year (remember?). She had her house decorated with New Orleans posters and Mardi Gras masks, and she served gumbo and a traditional king cake. Susan made a fruit pizza (giant baked sugar cookie for the crust, sweetened cream cheese frosting for the sauce, and various kinds of fresh fruit sliced and arranged artistically for the toppings) to share, and it was a big hit. Michelle has a knack for inviting family and friends and colleagues to make for a delightful mix of guests, so we never know just whom we will visit with or about what subjects (last night's topics: conspiracy theories about city government during city-wide flooding, wildlife conservation, medicinal marijuana and aging Baby Boomers, and stock car racing).
  • This afternoon we attended a concert performance by Ten O'Clock Classics as part of the Dickinson Area Concert Association's current season. It has been several months since the last concert (remember?), but we didn't forget our regular routine: enter, march down to the first or second row, and take our place in a prominent position so that we can see what's going on and the musicians can make eye contact with us. (This is what has gotten some of us up on stage with the performers from time to time, too.) The group consists of a pianist, a violinist, a cellist, and a vocalist, and they perform in various combinations. My favorite number featured the cellist playing a song that had her creating all sorts of unsual sounds on the instrument: plucking the strings, tapping it like a percussion instrument, using the bow in different spots along the neck for various effects, etc.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Just for the Halibut

Last night Suzanna had a belated birthday party (very belated!) at the bowling alley with a handful of friends, one of whom then stayed with us overnight. Abigail and Hillary each had birthday parties to attend, too, and ended up as overnight guests at different spots after their parties. By the time we got Hillary back at our house today, it was time for her and me to go grocery shopping for supper.

For tonight's Scandinavian Saturday supper, Hillary was my helper, and she spent the majority of her time in the kitchen grating cheese. Yep, that's pretty much it. I gave her a block of Jarlsberg to grate, and she grated and grated and grated . . . eventually pulling a stool over to rest her weary body as she continued to grate. While she grated, I chopped and stirred and fried and baked and cleaned and got everything ready for the cheese that she was grating (I needed only one cup, by the way). I did enlist her help in setting the table, though, and she was a great visitor while we worked together in the kitchen. Here's what we made:

løk pai med Jarlsberg og timian ["onion pie with Jarslberg and thyme"]

ovnens kokt kveite ["oven-cooked halibut"]

poteter med olivenolje og sitron ["potatoes with olive oil and lemon"]

The onion pie and lemon potato recipes came from Andreas Viestad's book Kitchen of Light, and the halibut recipe came from the bounty of the Interwebs. For the pie, I sliced red onions and sautéed them on low heat in butter with garlic, peppercorns, cloves, salt, and a bay leaf. I lined a baking dish with puff pastry and put the onions in it with some thyme and the grated Jarlsberg cheese (thank you, Hillary!) and baked it. The thyme and cloves gave an interesting flavor to the onions, which were tender but firm enough to be a little crunchy and juicy. And who can go wrong with crispy puff pastry and melted cheese in a savory pie?

The potato dish called for goose fat instead of olive oil, but not surprisingly that was nowhere to be found in the grocery store. I cut the potatoes into wedges, salted and peppered them, and fried them in the hot oil to give them a crisp surface on each flat side. Then I put them into a baking dish and nestled wedges of fresh lemon and crushed bay leaves in between the potatoes. Frying the raw potatoes briefly on high heat gave them a crunch on the outside that sealed in the moisture while they baked, making them tender and fluffy on the inside. And the lemon added a tart surprise to every bite of potato. I suspected that the bay leaf flavoring would go well with the salt and pepper and olive oil, but I was skeptical of the lemon--but lemme tell ya, it was terrific.

I cut a couple pounds of halibut into bite-sized pieces; coated them in flour; seasoned them with salt, pepper, and lemon-herb seasoning; fried them in butter until golden brown on the outside but not yet done inside; placed them into a baking dish; and sprinkled them with lemon juice. Then I deglazed the frying pan with chicken stock (the grocery store does not sell fish stock, and I bought boneless, skinless halibut so had nothing to use to make homemade fish stock) and turned it into a sauce by adding cream, sherry, and whisked egg yolks (that I tempered first). I poured the sauce over the fish and baked it. The sauce thickened nicely and finished cooking the fish so that it had a firm consistency something like a fast food chicken nugget. The lemon and sherry gave the sauce a great flavor--a wonderful way to prepare halibut (a fish expensive enough to deserve a great recipe).

Suzanna had leftover belated birthday cake (a brownie cake made with my mom's recipe for homemade chocolate frosting, similar to Abigail's last birthday cake), so we ate that for dessert instead of concocting something Scandinavian for that dish, too. All in all, it was another great culinary cultural experiment!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Valentines and Vegetables

Now that we are officially officers of our local Sons of Norway lodge (remember?), it's time to start fulfilling our duties at the monthly meetings, of which we had one this afternoon. As newsletter editor, Susan prepared her first one and had it mailed out in time for people to read it and know all the details in advance about today's meeting and the social program to follow. As youth director, she planned some Valentine-themed craft projects for the children to do during the business meeting to keep them entertained and occupied.

Jack, Hillary, and Madeline, with their backs to the camera, work on crafts. Suzanna is visible between them, and Abigail is mostly obscured by Hillary.

As vice president, I . . . let the president run the meeting and the other officers do their duties. I did help Suzanna with her job, though. As musician, she was called upon to play the Canadian, Norwegian, and American national anthems at the start of the meeting. However, the songs in the Sons of Norway songbook are a little beyond her skill set, so I played the keyboard alongside her--I played both hands, and she played just the treble line with her right hand.

Here are some of the officers visible at the far end of the table: our president Cathy in the center, our secretary Lynette to Cathy's right, and our marshal Paul to Cathy's left. Other officers and members are to the right and left, out of camera range.

We had invited our neighbors Chuck and Reba (those are their kids, Madeline and Jack, in the photo above with the girls) to the meeting as potential new members, and they sat patiently through the business meeting and then joined us for the food and program to follow. The program director had arranged for one lodge member to make Valentine-themed table decorations, and there were Valentine candies sprinkled in the middle of each table, too. She asked everybody to come up with a Valentine sentiment containing a fruit- or vegetable-related pun (e.g., "We make the perfect pear" or "If you carrot all, you will be my Valentine," etc.). Two lodge members were appointed to judge who had the best puns, and Hillary won one of the prizes! Abigail and I had our names drawn to win door prizes, so our family left with a small collection of Valentine's candy at the end of the day.

Next month's meeting will precede a memorial service for lodge members who died in the past year, and that happens to be Susan's grandpa E. J. (remember?). Then we'll eat a special supper in celebration of the lodge's anniversary, which will be followed by the program: a play written by one of the lodge members. There's lots going on in our little lodge!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Driving the Dolphins Around

No Scandinavian Saturday supper tonight, either (remember last weekend?). The girls had a swim meet in Mandan today, so we ate in Bismarck instead. All three of our Dolphins improved their own records in nearly every event (Abigail even shaved off 26 seconds in one!), so it was a successful day. It was also a lo-o-o-ong day for Susan and me; Suzanna's events were in the morning, and Abigail and Hillary's were in the afternoon, so Susan and I sat in that hot, humid, muggy, stuffy pool area on those hard, backless metal bleachers all day long through a series of events featuring other children punctuated by the occasional one in which one of our daughters was racing. At the end of the day when it was time to leave, we were more than ready.

Suzanna ready to jump into the water

Abigail waiting for her heat to begin

Hillary in mid-leap

We took the girls to a late-afternoon screening of the movie Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, based on the book by Rick Riordan, a book that Susan and our daughters all read and loved (they've read all the books in the series, in fact). Despite the presence in the theater of three ill-behaved young adults a couple rows behind us, our family enjoyed the movie . . . and, afterwards, the girls enjoyed enumerating the ways in which the characters and plot had been altered by the moviemakers.

Then we had an unsatisfactory supper at a buffet restaurant that shall remain anonymous but whose name rhymes with Bolden Morale (and whose Web site is here). Despite the restaurant staff's best efforts to deny us food (by not replacing items in a timely fashion when the last portion had been taken), we managed to eat our fill. It was a quiet and sleepy drive home, and that bed is a-callin' my name.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hillary Takes the Gold!

Today was the first of two one-hour sessions of "Computer Fun," a class that I'm teaching to elementary students at Abigail and Hillary's school. About this time each year, the school's Parent Advisory Council offers a variety of mini-lessons as enrichment opportunities for the children. Students sign up for the topic that interests them, and they get two one-hour sessions on consecutive Fridays, led by parents or community members with some expertise in the area being taught. I did this last year (review this and this), and Abigail signed up to be a student in my class then. This year, Hillary is in it!

Both years the main project has been to create a newsletter requiring the students to use desktop publishing software and integrate digital photography, graphics, Internet research, and creative writing. Last year the timing of the class made it logical for the students to create a Valentine-themed newsletter. This year our theme is the winter Olympics, and the students are writing newsletters announcing their own designation as gold medal winners in fictional winter Olympic events: snowball fighting, snowfort building, avalanche racing (as in racing against an avalanche), and others that they brainstormed today. Each newsletter features a photo of the student wearing his/her Olympic gold medal.

Today they wrote news articles announcing their victories, chose graphics to accompany their stories, and posed for their photos. Next week they will find interesting facts about the Olympics to add to their newsletters, print out the final products (in color, of course), and play some Olympics-related online games to end the session. I'm happy to report that Hillary was a model student, and it looks as though her newsletter will be top-notch!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Five Fellows

Tonight Susan and I took the girls to a concert by a local all-male a capella vocal group called the aka'Fellas. There are five "fellas," all of them either graduates of or current students at the university, and two of them former students of mine (and one of them gives Suzanna private lessons on the trombone). One of the five does vocal percussion on most numbers, another does the bass line, and the other three take turns on melody and harmony. Some of their numbers are sweet and serious, but more often they incorporate humor into the show with funny movements and facial expressions during songs and playful banter between songs.

It was a very enjoyable concert, not only because we knew all the performers and wished to be supportive but also because they continue to improve their act the longer that they're together as a group, and it's fun to hear/see their evolution. Want to know more? The aka'Fellas have an old Web site that directs Interwebbers to their new site, currently undergoing renovations. You can hear/see the aka'Fellas here, though.

P.S. They remind me a bit of Four for a Dollar (remember?), a great a capella men's group whom we heard perform when we were at Disney World in 2007.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Vacation Day Cleaning and Valentine's Day Eating

I'm having a few moments of rest; it's been a long day, and I haven't yet started on any of the projects that I had for myself today! The girls didn't have school today, but Susan had to go to work for professional development workshops, so I stayed home with the kids. We started the day by sorting through the collection of Valentine's candy from their classmates, and then we noticed in the living room the piles of things that needed to be put away, and then we got to work on the stacks of clean laundry to put back into dressers and closets, which led me to discover . . . Hillary's bedroom.

The child had a disaster going on in there. In every corner, under the furniture, in the closet, under the bed, and on every horizontal surface, things were piled, stuffed, crammed, jammed, shoved, hidden, buried, tossed, flung, and generally out of order. This was not met with approval by Dad. She and I embarked on what turned out to be a day-long excavation. We filled and hauled out two 13-gallon garbage bags of detritus and flotsam. In the process, we rearranged her furniture to allow for better organization of, and access to, her belongings, and we got out the vacuum and cleaned her carpets and floorboards while we were at it. We enlisted the help of her sisters to go through her dresser drawers, sort shirts and socks, move some clothes to the closet shelf, and refold and tidy the remainders while I continued vacuuming the carpet in the other rooms upstairs.

We recovered many items from Hillary's bedroom that actually belong in other rooms: scissors and other supplies for the office, hair accessories and lotions and body sprays for the bathroom, makeup for the girls' "dress up" collection in the downstairs bathroom, some of her sisters' toys, clothes for the laundry basket, Christmas decorations for the storage room . . . sheesh! Suzanna and Abigail wisely made themselves scarce during the first part of my rampage through Hillary's bedroom, sequestering themselves in their own rooms and straightening up lest I should next make my way downstairs to examine their own abodes!

So Susan will come home from work to find things put away and clean, but she'll find me pulling my hair out over my undone "to do" list for work. Aargh! But onto a more pleasant topic:

We had a very nice Valentine's Day yesterday. We exchanged cards and gifts in the morning and then went off to Sunday school (I attended Abigail's pre-confirmation class with her to learn about the sacrament of communion) and church. We had a gift certificate to use at Taco John's, so that's where we went for dinner at noon. Following an afternoon of chores and homework, we went out for supper at Sanford's Grub and Pub, where we sat in the section of one of my former students, who just recently started working there and for whom Hillary worked diligently throughout the meal coloring a "You're awesome!" note for him on a hat/coloring sheet that children receive at that restaurant. (He told me that, once he got home after work, he put in up on his bulletin board. "I appreciate the hell outta it.")

While we waited in the lobby of Sanford's (for a table to become available), I had the lovely blonds pose for Valentine's Day photos. Here is Susan with our daughters.

Susan with our oldest daughter, Suzanna.

Susan with our "middlest" (Abigail's word) daughter, Abigail.

Susan and our youngest daughter, Hillary.

Susan and I. (By the way, we had our first date 19 years ago yesterday.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Wet and Windy in Williston

No Scandinavian Saturday supper tonight. The girls had a swim meet in Williston today, so we ate there instead. We left around 6:45 A.M. and drove through some drifting snow on the roads until Watford City, but we made our way to the E. J. Hagen Aquatic Center in Williston without incident. My aunt Lucille, who lives in Williston, spent the day with us at the meet, cheering on the girls and catching up on family news with us. My dad and stepmom drove to Williston for the meet, too. My dad's cousin Jay and his wife were there from Minot with their son Daniel, who was competing, too--and Jay cheered on our girls whenever they were racing (and, um, he's a very audible cheerer). So our daughters had lots of fans in the stands while they swam!

That's Abigail sitting on her grandma's lap. Beverly is sitting beside Dad, who is beside me, and Lucille is to my left.

It's not so easy to get good photos of the girls at a swim meet. We end up with a collection of photographs of diving blocks with blurs on them as a daughter leaps for the water, or of splashing water as she heads down the lanes. So, in lieu of pics of our children, here's a cool photo that Suzanna took of the lanes between events. (Orange and black are Williston's school colors.)

After the meet, we went with Lucille, Dad, and Beverly to Gramma Sharon's Family Restaurant for a mid-afternoon meal courtesy of Lucille. It was terrific to spend so much time with her today. She certainly didn't have to sit in the heat of the pool facility on the hard concrete bleachers with no back support for four hours to watch her great-nieces swim, but she did. She also didn't have to buy us supper, but she did that, too! And it was good to visit with her throughout the day. It had been a long time! We got some visiting in with Dad and Beverly, too. They brought early Valentine's Day gifts for the girls (red and white stuffed animals with long, floppy, super-soft ears), and we gave Beverly an early birthday gift (the real day is Tuesday).

The wind was bitterly cold in Williston today, and the weather was none too pleasant to drive through on the way home. The darker it got outside, the windier it got, and the drifting snow swirled in mesmerizing patterns across the road, making it difficult for me to focus. From Grassy Butte to Belfield, snow drifts were forming on the road, too, giving us a few jolts as we plowed through them in order to stay in our lane when meeting oncoming traffic. But we're home now, safe and sound. Time to hang up the wet swimming suits and get into comfy pajamas!

Friday, February 12, 2010

In the Olympic Spirit

Who else watched tonight's opening ceremony for the XXI Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada? Our family made a point of watching the opening ceremony for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (remember?) in Beijing, China in 2008, and it was impressive, awe-inspiring, and educational. Well, Vancouver's opening may not have been done on as grand a scale as Beijing's (or with as huge a budget), but we loved it just the same.

Great to hear K.D. Lang, Sarah McLachlan, Nelly Furtado, Bryan Adams, and Joni Mitchell (and to see Anne Murray, although she should have been asked to sing, too). Great to see the variety of effects achieved through the use of projected visuals combined with physical objects (especially the whales that swam across the floor and used their blowholes). Great, too, to see the prominent role played by representatives of Canada's aboriginal peoples. And we were touched by the respect shown for the Georgian athlete who died today in a training accident and for his grieving teammates.

We'll tune in to watch various events from time to time throughout the coming weeks, but for sure we'll watch the closing ceremony at the end of the month to see what presentation they've been planning.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


You've heard of "aftermath," "afterbirth," and "afternoon," but have you heard of "aftermilk"?

Some background: Our daughters enjoy a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, and we buy the kind that they can make for themselves by adding milk and heating it in the microwave. After the oatmeal is done cooking, they add a little more milk both to cool it and to thin it out a bit before eating it.

The story: This morning, one of Hillary's sisters prepared a bowl of oatmeal for Hillary and set it on the counter for her while she was out of the room. When Hillary returned to the kitchen, she saw the hot cereal at her place and inquired, "Did you already add the aftermilk?" "Aftermilk" is a word to Hillary, and we all know what she means when she uses it.

af·ter·milk (āf'tər-mĭlk) -- n. -- dairy liquid added, as a cooling agent, to hot breakfast cereal after cooking it but before consuming it

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Boneless Birds That Once Moo-ed

The table is ready for our ethnic meal! The roses are the ones given to us by our friend Monica last Sunday (remember?). Near the roses is a covered plate of lefse made by the ladies at our church (thank you, refrigerator freezer, for storing our lefse so well).

Faithful Reader, it's time for another chapter in the continuing story of our family's Scandinavian Saturday suppers. Abigail was my helper today. While she and her sisters helped Mommy run errands this morning, I chose the recipes for tonight's meal (thanks again, Beatrice Ojakangas, for your useful cookbooks) and made a grocery list. This afternoon Abigail and I went shopping and then got to work immediately upon returning home. Good thing we did, too; it took us all afternoon to prepare the food, what with all the chopping and meat-flattening and stirring-continuously-until-it-comes-to-a-soft-boil and that sort of thing. Whew!

Once this afternoon, I relieved Abigail of stirring and chopping duties so that she could practice her piano lesson. Awhile later, I did the same so that she could practice her saxophone. Other than that, she worked steadily with me in the kitchen and was an excellent helper. Here's what we made:

Swedish svampsoppa ["mushroom soup"]

Abigail and I cleaned and sliced a pound of Portobello mushrooms and sautéed them in butter. We poured off the juices into beef broth and set it aside. We stirred salt, white pepper, and flour into the drained mushrooms and then slowly stirred in the broth, cooking it on high until the soup had thickened. Just at the end, we stirred in lemon juice, heavy cream, and sherry. It was quite a tasty start to our meal. We selected the Portobellos for their flavor (the best option of the fresh mushrooms available to us at the grocery store), and the soup had the distinct taste of mushrooms, which went well with the beefy base and the tang of the lemon and sherry. Relatively simple but delicious just the same.

Norwegian okserulader ["boneless beef," although this stuffed-and-rolled meat dish is called "boneless birds"--I don't know why]

Finnish perunalanttulaatikko ["rutabaga/potato casserole"]

For the vegetable dish, Abigail and I peeled and diced two pounds of rutabaga and half a pound of potatoes, cooking them together in water on the stove top. Then we drained and mashed them and used the electric mixer to whip into them these ingredients: some of the cooking liquid, flour, breadcrumbs, heavy cream, dark corn syrup, melted butter, eggs, salt, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and white pepper. We spooned the mixture into a baking dish, drizzled the top with melted butter, and baked it.

For the meat dish, we pounded thin several pieces of beef round steak and sprinkled each with salt and allspice. We topped each steak with chopped mushrooms, diced bacon, chopped fresh parsley, and diced onion. We rolled up each steak and used toothpicks to keep it closed (and its filling inside). We dredged the rolls in flour, sautéed them in butter, and transferred the browned steaks to a baking dish. We deglazed the frying pan with beef broth and then added heavy cream to thicken the liquid, which we then poured over the beef rolls before covering the baking dish and baking the "boneless birds" in the oven.

The vegetable casserole had nice flavor with all the seasonings and was definitely my favorite way (so far) of eating rutabaga. The beef was tender and went well with the rutabaga, but we could have used more salt and allspice and maybe a smokier bacon--it just wasn't as flavorful as I had been expecting. But the lefse made everything all better!

Finnish marja kiisseli ["berry kissel," a kissel being a dessert made of thickened fruit purée]

Making this dessert involved boiling blueberries in water, adding sugar, and thickening the mixture with cornstarch. Easy. Well, it was tedious to stir and stir and stir while waiting for the thickening to occur, but it wasn't complicated. Sadly, it also wasn't as flavorful as I had hoped. For desserts in the past, I have made berry sauces whose flavor I enhanced by adding lemon juice and vanilla extract; maybe we should have tried that with the marja kiisseli, too. The recipe suggested serving the marja kiisseli in a bowl with cream poured over it. Instead, Abigail and I started with bowls of Schwan's vanilla ice cream and used the blueberry pudding as a topping. Not bad at all!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Ole Holmes and Dr. Sven Watson?

The Sons of Norway blog recently published a post about this article from the Wall Street Journal: "The Strange Case of the Nordic Detectives." The article notes the international popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction and asks, "What's the appeal of all this blood on the snow, police boots crunching over frozen grass[,] and detectives whose every utterance comes in a puff of visible breath against a background of interminable night?"

The article is worth reading for the writer's answer to that question. Along the way, she mentions several Scandinavian authors and titles of their detective fiction so that you can head to the nearest library, bookstore, or online book source and sample the genre for yourself. Check it out!