Wednesday, March 31, 2010

School Lunches, Part II

It appears that no one read my post on school lunches a week ago--or cared enough about it to share a response. Well, I'm undeterred . . . here's a followup.
  • The New York Times reviews the ABC show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution
  • A nutrition professor follows up with a review of her own for The Atlantic
  • Chef Ann Cooper talks about her efforts to improve school food programs because, without changing the food we're serving, "we're feeding our children to death"

This is a fascinating and somewhat astonishing topic to me--that we have gotten to a point at which people must be convinced that it's important to feed our children good food and teach them about proper nutrition?!

Wow. Just wow.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

All This in Just One Day?!

I'm not really sure why our weekends are so often just as busy as our weekdays. Here are the highlights from today:

Theatre -- This morning we attended a production of Snow White at the university. It was this year's selection by the student theatre troupe to raise funds for their activities throughout the year, so students directed it, costumed it, built the sets for it, even created seven puppets for it (to serve as the dwarfs, although maneuvered and voiced by seven full-sized actors)! Some of my own students were involved, as were some students whom Suzanna and Abigail got to know when they were in Seussical: The Musical at the university a year-and-a-half ago (remember?)--and it always adds a little something to a theatrical performance actually to know some of the people onstage or backstage.

Everybody's favorite character was the magic mirror, played by a man who had high energy and full commitment to the zaniness of his lines and costumes (including an '80s-style workout outfit with white short-shorts and a terrycloth headband). There was a woman in a yellow chicken suit and bright red tights who performed the chicken dance and bawk-bawked instead of talking, and Abigail thought she was funny. Suzanna also liked the fellow who played "Hansom," especially his transformation from a meek oaf to a confident prince at the end. After the show, the cast gathered downstage and greeted the children in the audience, and our girls collected autographs on their programs.

Carnival -- The Western Wellness Foundation, of which I am a board member, holds a Spectacular Spring Celebration as a fundraiser for its many programs, and Susan and I took the girls to the Prairie Hills Mall for that event after the play (well, after dinner at McDonald's after the play). There were many tables set up in the corridors of the mall, and volunteers were stationed at each table to help children play the carnival-style games (like on the midway of a fair) and to distribute prizes to the winners and to take photos of children sitting on the lap of a human-sized Easter bunny and to sell food at the bake sale table and at the cotton candy and flavored ice cone table.

Many of the volunteers are my students, so I chatted with them while the girls played the games and collected a bunch of stickers and candy and little toys. The table that seemed to be attracting the fewest children was the coloring table, so our daughters sat down to patronize that station, and they signed their coloring sheets and gave them to the volunteers before we left--so there were many "Oh-h-h"s and "Aw-w-w"s from my students: "Aren't your kids sweet!"

Recital -- We left the mall in time to return to the university for Suzanna and Abigail to play piano in a "gold cup recital" sponsored by the St. Cecelia Music Club (remember that group?). All three of our daughters performed just a couple weeks ago in a piano festival (remember?); and after three years of earning points with each "superior" rating, as of this year Suzanna and Abigail have accumulated enough points for the first trophy: a gold cup (in a series of ever-larger trophies, each requiring the accumulation of even more points year after year). Today's recital was for all the gold cup winners to perform, and some of the pianists were quite impressive. Afterward we enjoyed punch and cookies at a reception in the lobby. (ME: "What should I write about the recital?" ABIGAIL: "Um, the treats afterward were good. I liked the punch.")

Cuisine -- Faithful Reader, I know why you're really here: to get the skinny on this week's Scandinavian Saturday supper. Susan was my helper for the last such event, making this week my turn to cook alone. After the recital I consulted some recipes as well as our on-hand supplies in the fridge and pantry, picked up a few items at the grocery store, and got crack-a-lackin'.

sildefilet i dill urtesaus

For an appetizer, I served herring fillets in dill-herb sauce with rye-caraway crackers. Although the crackers were a standard American product and the tin of herring a German import, the ingredients are very Scandinavian: herring, dill, rye, and caraway . . . a super-tasty combination.

røkt laks bakt omelett

Svenske pannekaker med tyttebær og melis

For the main course, I served two items. First, I made a baked omelette with smoked salmon, red onion, garlic, capers, dill, basil, thyme, salt, pepper, and lots of Jarlsberg cheese. The smoked salmon was extra from our having eaten bagels and lox the other night, but it's such a Scandinavian ingredient (as are dill and the Norwegian cheese that I used) that it just called out to be used for tonight's supper, too. What a deliciously savory combination of flavors!

Second, I made Swedish pancakes. I used a mix that I bought at a Scandinavian import store last weekend and fried up cake after cake after cake after cake . . . It took a while to use up all the batter, but they were so, so, so delicious--light, eggy, and slightly sweet. We sprinkled them with powdered sugar and ate them with lingonberry preserves--a great combination of sweet and tart.

bakt ost med honning, frosne druer med sukker, og vinter brus

I served a couple more items that I had purchased last weekend. One was JulMust, a Swedish "winter soft drink." It tasted a little root beer-y and a little licorice-y and was a pleasant change of pace from the brands of pop that we're used to. The other item was Juusto--a buttery cheese with a caramelized, toasted crust--which I heated up and drizzled with honey. (This gives more details about the cheese's Finnish and Swedish history.) Cheese alone didn't strike me as sufficient for dessert, so I paired it with fruit: I washed green grapes, sprinkled them with sugar, and froze them. Each bite was a sweet, icy delight, making for an interesting twist overall on a traditional cheese-and-fruit course.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Learn Something about Coffee Today

Do you enjoy learning? Do you enjoy coffee? Do you enjoy comics? Do you enjoy learning about coffee via comics?

If so, you should check this out: "15(ish) Things Worth Knowing about Coffee." I received an espresso/cappuccino maker as a Christmas gift (remember?), and I've been making caffè lattes frequently for Susan and me ever since. So it's interesting for me to learn a little bit about coffee that I didn't know before.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

School Lunches

Strangely enough, in the past few days, I have been thinking a lot about school lunches.

On a social networking site, a friend posted a link to a blog maintained by a teacher who is normally a health-conscious eater, choosing organic fruits and vegetables and avoiding highly processed foods and those high in sugar. She is appalled by what is served to her students by the school lunch program, whose menus nevertheless meet the minimum standards established by U.S.D.A. guidelines. To raise awareness of this issue (i.e., to alert unsuspecting parents and other citizens to what is being served to school children in the name of "healthy school lunches"), she has chosen to eat dinner at her school each day, and she posts photos, descriptions, and reactions daily on her blog. Check it out: Fed Up with Lunch: The School Lunch Project. Do the daily meals at her school resemble those served at your local schools?

Compare the pre-packaged offerings shown on the former blog with the homemade, from-local-ingredients offerings shown on this blog: Mr. Ferguson's Classroom. The culture of food is quite different at his school (which, this year, is an early elementary school in Japan), where children assist with serving the food, everybody eats from real plates using real utensils at tables with table cloths and napkins, everybody says a "secular prayer of thanks" to those who cooked the meal before anyone begins to eat, adequate time is allowed for a relaxing pace throughout the meal, and each menu features lots of fruits and vegetables bought from the local market and made with care with a focus on nutrition rather than on herding the maximum number of students through the lunch line in the minimum amount of time for the minimum amount of cost of ingredients and labor. Students eat everything served to them, too, regardless of how little they may prefer a particular food item on the plate.

Have you ever watched any cooking shows featuring British chef Jamie Oliver? He happens to have just won the 2010 TED Prize for his plan to educate students and parents about healthy eating and home cooking and to improve the quality of school lunch programs as an effort to combat obesity and its resulting health problems (by the way, as a result of poor diet and lack of exercise, our nation's children are the first generation not expected to live as long as their parents). You can watch his acceptance speech here. This past Sunday, a new television show premiered on ABC: Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. It chronicles Mr. Oliver's efforts in Huntington, WV to transform unhealthy eating habits in the community and its schools.

A few times, I have eaten at our daughters' schools with them, and I rather enjoyed the food, which the girls say that they enjoy, too. I certainly haven't seen the children served trays of food in hermetically sealed carboard containers, as at the school featured in the first blog that I mentioned. There definitely is a rush to school lunch, though, as the adults move the children through the lunch line and then off to recess and then back to the classroom on a pretty tight schedule.

It would take a full-scale rethinking of how school lunch programs operate in order to slow down the pace of the noon meal and to focus on nutrition and social communion over efficiency and economy, and I don't know if this is on that many people's radar as an issue deserving of much attention (in light of other concerns that may seem more pressing) . . . especially for people in communities where a lot of families still sit down together each evening for a home-cooked meal. Would that that were the norm, though, and not the exception.

Monday, March 22, 2010

One Full Year of Cuteness

I have been remiss in not posting these photos sooner . . . but better late than never! A few weeks ago, our nephew Davis celebrated his first birthday! Here are some recent photos of him. Note how much older he looks even just three months after we last saw him at Christmastime. Cute little bugger!

Davis still enjoys bath time. When he was at our house in December and it was time for his bath, he would lean back or lie down (using his mommy's hands as a pillow) and kick ferociously, kind of like pedaling a bicycle as though his life depended on it! He looks much calmer here, but I'll bet he still likes to splash and put those leg muscles to good use.

Davis' grandma (mom to Davis' daddy Nick, husband to Susan's sister Cassie) flew from ND to SC to spend a week with them and was there to celebrate with Davis. He seems to have enjoyed her company!

Ah, a Sesame Street-themed birthday party with balloons, a cute cake, an angelic boy with a devilish grin, and a huge mess. Looks like a success to me! Happy belated birthday, Davis!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hardanger and Heifetz

It was another whirlwind day! While Abigail and Hillary attended Sunday school this morning and Susan tended to her Sunday school director duties, Suzanna and I participated in the second of three weekly classes on Martin Luther as part of the church's pre-confirmation program. This morning we learned about Luther's childhood, John Tetzel, indulgences, Luther's 95 theses, etc. Then it was on to church, at which the girls' choir sang a beautiful song in Latin featuring the little Mobergs in beautiful harmony. My eyes welled up in pride, I must admit.

This afternoon we had a Sons of Norway lodge meeting followed by a memorial service for lodge members who passed away in the past year followed by an anniversary dinner in celebration of the Hardanger Lodge's 12th anniversary followed by a program on St. Patrick and the Norwegians in Ireland (i.e., the Vikings on both exploratory jaunts and pillaging raids). Yep, we were there 3.5 hours! Just as at the last lodge meeting, I helped Suzanna with her duties as lodge musician by joining her at the keyboard for the national anthems of Canada, Norway, and the United State of America at the start of the meeting. The lodge president had a plaque engraved for the keyboard, and she affixed it today so that people will know why the lodge is fortunate enough to own the keyboard (remember?).

After the meeting, we moved to the next room for the memorial program, a simple but sincere service to honor three departed lodge members, including Susan's grandpa Elmer. Susan's grandma Laura (Elmer's widow) used the shuttle service from the nursing home where she lives and joined us for the memorial service and supper afterward (crudités, roast pork, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green beans, and ice cream with mint syrup for dessert). Susan and Hillary sat on either side of Laura, holding her hands as she wept through people's impromptu stories about their memories of Elmer.

Hillary, Abigail, and Suzanna with their great-grandmother Laura. The family of each departed lodge member received a long-stemmed rose.

Some lodge scrapbooks and archival items were on display on a table in the back of the meeting room. This wooden plaque with rosemaling on it happens to have been painted several years ago by Laura herself!

Annika, a lodge member who wore a traditional Hardanger bunad for the service, sang some lovely songs in Norwegian and English (including, following the St. Patrick's-themed program at the end, a pretty Irish blessing).

As if our day hadn't been busy enough at that point, we still had a concert to attend this evening! Less than a month after the last concert (remember?) in the series, tonight's performance was by Jasper Wood, a violinist whose program was called "A Tribute to Heifetz." You can see video and hear audio of his past performances by clicking on his name in the previous sentence. One of our favorites tonight was "Banjo and Fiddle" by William Kroll. The piano accompanist was David Riley, who was not only impressive to hear but also fun to watch (his facial expressions and body movements while at the keyboard reflected his interpretation of the music and his sensitivity to the soloist's dynamics and tempos).

Much as we enjoyed the concert, we all felt as though we could have hunkered down in our seats and taken a lovely nap after such a busy day. (That would have been particularly tacky, though, given our penchant for sitting in the second row at a concert, well within the performer's field of vision.) So we're ready for bed and wondering why, in our household, the weekend is just as busy as the work week . . .

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Swimming, Shopping, Satiating, and Snoozing

We're back now from a long day in Bismarck. We got up at 4:30 A.M. (Mountain time) to get Hillary to the Bismarck State College Aquatic and Wellness Center in time for warmups before her event in the state swim meet ("2010 North Dakota USA Swimming Short Course Championships," that is). Recall that, back in January, she qualified to compete at state in the Girls 8 and Under 25-Yard Backstroke event. The qualifying time was 24.69 seconds, and she swam it in 24.00. Well, today she . . .

. . . warmed up . . .

. . . hung out with teammates and enjoyed a snack bag put together by some of the parents in our swim club . . .

. . . swam her event with a tummy full of those snacks . . .

. . . and swam more slowly than her original state-qualifying time in January!

Oh, well, there were many positives: (1) she had fun; (2) we enjoyed being there to cheer her on; (3) her Grandpa Gustafson and Uncle Jerrett both came to watch her swim; (4) we liked being able to see the impressive new swimming facility; and (5) her event was toward the start of the day, so we were outta there by about 10:00 A.M. (Central time), giving us most of the day to shop and to dine out.

And, boy oh boy, did we do both! We spent a lot of time at several stores having the girls try on clothes (Easter dresses, dresses for church, shoes to match Easter dresses and dresses for church, etc.), but there were a few other fun little purchases, too. At the Kirkwood Mall, we bought a couple of stadium chairs at Scheels Outfitters so that Susan and I can sit in the bleachers at swim meets with a little portable cushion beneath our butts and a little back rest behind us.

While Susan took Suzanna and Abigail to one clothes store, Hillary and I stopped at Stabo Scandinavian Imports and bought a cookbook, a Swedish pancake mix, some Swedish spice mixes, a rømmegrøt mix ["sour cream porridge"], a couple bottles of a Swedish "winter soft drink" to sample, some Swedish lingonberry and cloudberry preserves, and some Finnish hand lotion. Even though we weren't home to make Scandinavian Saturday supper this evening, we definitely had that theme on our minds as we purchased all these items!

Oh, and we also tried on a Viking hat, complete with Aryan braids sewn into it!

At the Gateway Fashion Mall, we browsed an antiques shop called Not Too Shabby and bought a set of etched vintage glassware that matches some wine glasses that my sister has from our mom.

Pretty, huh?

Susan and I also stopped in Vintner's Cellar Winery to take advantage of their special: buy two bottles, get one bottle of dessert wine free. We purchased Bee Blush (a rosé flavored with honey and raspberries from ND) and Dakota Delight (a white zinfandel made with rhubarb and strawberries from ND) and were given a bottle of white chocolate port.

We were hungry for our late dinner at Red Lobster but not yet very hungry for our late supper at Texas Roadhouse, where we decided just to share a few appetizers amongst the five of us--and that was plenty. As wonderful as the food was at each restaurant, equally wonderful was the opportunity to sit down and rest our aching backs and feet. Shopping can be tiring! It's not surprising that the ride home was so very quiet . . . and sleepy . . .

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Three Ethnic Items

Last night we could have eaten corned beef, cabbage, and green beer for supper. Instead, because it was Watery Wednesday in our home, Susan made Irish fish-'n'-chips served with cole slaw, green grapes, and shamrock shakes (made with mint/chocolate chip ice cream). Did you eat anything Irish yesterday, Faithful Reader?

Look what I found: This Is Music from Norway. I stumbled upon it, actually; and since I wasn't deliberately searching for online sources of Norwegian music, I cannot say whether this is the best one available because I have nothing to compare it to. However, I have enjoyed randomly choosing artists and listening to samples of their singing and playing. Give it a try yourself!

Norway + Ireland
Wondering what St. Patrick's Day has to do with Norway? Would you like to know a little bit about the significant impact of Scandinavians on the Irish isle? Read this from the Sons of Norway blog. It gives an overview of Viking interactions on the Emerald Isle and then provides links to more details. Check it out!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Another Independent Cook in Da House

Faithful Reader, you may recall that Suzanna started last year to make meals for our family all on her own every once in a while. We have eaten some tasty items thanks to her. Well, tonight Abigail prepared her first meal for the family! She had Mommy to guide her, and I did hear Susan giving instructions occasionally; but I think that Abigail prepared the meal on her own, for the most part. She made turkey sausage (ring sausage) in sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and cream-style corn to use as a gravy for the mashed potatoes. For dessert she made use of the leftover pastry puffs and vanilla cream from last night's supper (remember?), topping the cream-filled puffs with a ganache that she and Susan made. It was quite a satisfying meal!

It was cute to see Abigail bustling around the kitchen with her typical song-in-my-heart, bounce-in-my-step approach to life; but the cutest thing was to see her attire. A few years ago, she and her sisters received from my dad and stepmom aprons to be used in the kitchen, each apron marked with the girl's name and the phrase "Grandma's Helper." Abigail just continues to grow, though, so the apron strings that used to tie around her waist now tie around her rib cage; and the bottom hem that used to touch her knees now hangs just below her waist. Wearing her too-small blue apron while cooking tonight, she looked like a character from a sci-fi movie who has been hit by gamma rays and grown into a giant while her same-sized clothes are left to dangle from her now-giant frame. Cute!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Potatoes" for Dessert

Susan was my assistant in the kitchen for this week's Scandinavian Saturday supper. This morning we consulted a cookbook by Trina Hahnemann and, because it is organized by month of the year, chose a few recipes from the section on March (and a soup recipe from February just because it looked tasty). With such an expert for an assistant, I felt emboldened to suggest a complicated item for dessert, and Susan was happy to oblige. Here is what we made:

Norwegian: spinat suppe ["spinach soup"]

Hahnemann recommends taking a thermos full of this soup (along with smoked salmon and avocado sandwiches on rye focaccia) to stay energized on a day of cross-country skiing in the mountains. We thought it would be a good re-energizing soup after an exhausting day spent earning "superior" ratings at the piano festival (remember?). We sautéed chopped onion and garlic in olive oil and then added cubed potatoes and water to boil and then simmer. Once the potatoes were tender, we added two pounds of fresh spinach, more water, ground mace, salt, and pepper. After the spinach was tender, we added cream, and then it was time to purée it all.

Because I did not receive the immersion blender that I requested for Christmas (ahem!), we could not use it as the directions recommended. Instead, Susan used her food processor, which did a sort of "rough chop" and left us with a soup with "texture." The girls really enjoyed it, and Susan and I thought it was fine. It could have used more seasoning, and swapping chicken stock for all that water would have helped, too--but it wasn't a bad way to begin the meal.

Swedish: biff Lindström [a spiced meat patty named after Henrik Lindström, a Swede raised in St. Petersburg who brought back this biff recipe with its Russian-inspired ingredients, including beets and capers]

stekt potatis ["fried potatoes"]

gröna bönor balsamiko ["balsamico green beans"]

We mixed ground beef with minced onion, minced capers, minced pickled beets, minced scallion greens, dried chives, egg yolks, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper and shaped them into patties that we fried in olive oil. I must have used a much larger onion than Hahnemann had in mind because we ended up with at least as much onion by mass in each patty as we did ground beef! It was pretty tasty, though. Hahnemann notes that biff Lindström "is sometimes served with a fried egg on top" and recommends the dish "as a Sunday lunch or as a hangover cure after a long night out." I don't see the hangover appeal, but I could get on board with the fried egg addition.

Hahnemann rounds out the menu with the potatoes and beans, both of which were pretty easy. We boiled two pounds of potatoes and then cubed them and fried them in butter and olive oil to crisp them. We seasoned them with salt and pepper. There were too many potatoes for our pan, so they didn't all brown evenly, but they were a nice mix of crunchy and tender--and a good counterpoint to the spiced beef.

Hahnemann's "balsamico beans" were super-simple: steamed green beans tossed in a dressing made of a little sugar simmered in balsamic vinegar. Although Susan would have preferred the beans plain, the rest of us liked the tangy addition of the balsamic vinegar--subtle but a good match for the beef patties.

Danish: kartoffelkage ["potato cake"]

Hahnemann explains that these traditional pastries, made to look like large potatoes (thus the name--no, potato is not an ingredient), are available in most bakeries throughout Denmark. Danish bakers must be very patient people. Susan agreed to execute this recipe on her own using her dessert-making expertise (while I quietly chopped onions and potatoes and molded ground meat). First she had to make a choux pastry. Then she had to use a pastry bag to pipe it into specific shapes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet before baking the pastries for a half-hour.

Then she had to make a vanilla cream filling. Once the pastries were baked and cooled and the cream was thickened and cooled, she had to split the pastries and fill them with the cream. Then she had to roll out marzipan, dust it with cocoa powder, cut it into shapes to match the pastries, and lay one cocoa-dusted marzipan oval atop each pastry to complete the soil-covered potato look. Whew!

The irony of it all is that the final result wasn't all that tasty. The pastry dough was unsweetened, so the not-sweet-enough-ness of the cream filling was especially noticeable. The cream, besides lacking sweetness, also lacked thickness--it was too runny. The unsweetened cocoa powder was overwhelming, but that was a moot point because we discarded the cocoa-covered marzipan coating once we got our first taste of the marzipan. Ish.

Hahnemann writes, "If you like to bake, then take the time one day to prepare this dessert. I promise: You are not going to regret it." I'll never believe another promise that comes out of that woman's mouth. (But I'll gladly make more of her recipes. One bland pastry filling among several tasty recipes must be the exception rather than the rule.)

Superior Pianists

Faithful readers will recall that, since our daughters began taking lessons from their current piano teacher (Mrs. Vold), they have competed in the same annual music festivals as those that my sisters and I did as children. The National Federation of Music Clubs sponsors junior festivals under the auspices of its state-level organizations, and in this region of our state, the site for the annual festival is the university. We were there bright and early this morning (8:15 A.M. on a Saturday qualifies as "bright and early," right?) so that Suzanna could play in the first session. Hillary played next in a different building, and Abigail played in the same room as Hillary but not until this afternoon.

Suzanna played "Scherzo" and "Elegy in E"; Abigail played "Festival of Marrakesh" and "Dance"; and Hillary played "A Merry March" and "Grasshoppers." Each played with good form at the piano, nice rolls with her hands, expressive dynamics, etc.; we were proud parents. And the results?

Each girl earned a "superior" rating from her judge! A "superior" is worth five points, and one accumulates points from year to year in order to win gold trophies. The first trophy is earned after the first 15 points, a bigger trophy is earned after another 15, and so on. It used to be that there were four trophies total, so one had to take lessons for 12 years--and earn 12 "superior" ratings--in order to accumulate all the trophies. This is the third year of competition for both Suzanna and Abigail, and this is the third "superior" for each of them, so each has earned the first trophy! This is Hillary's first year of competition and first "superior," so she's just getting underway.

I've written before about how fun it is to see our daughters participating in something that was an important part of childhood for me and my sisters, too. It brings back a lot of fond memories. And my career as a piano festival performer may not be over yet! While waiting for Suzanna to perform, I was approached by a local music teacher who invited me to perform in April at a piano festival for boys; I suppose she's thinking that an adult male piano player would serve as an inspiration or role model for them. I'd better consult my collection of piano music from my festival days and start memorizing . . .

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Choirs in Church (not Church Choirs)

Tonight we ate supper at church. A group of high school students is raising money for a summertime mission trip, and each week during Lent, they're serving supper before the Thursday evening church service and accepting a "free will offering" each time. We ate a tasty soup supper before the Ash Wednesday service, and tonight we enjoyed slushburgers and chips.

Both these suppers represented contradictions to what I wrote in sentence two. The pre-Ash Wednesday service supper wasn't on a Thursday, of course, and tonight's supper didn't precede a church service . . . because there was no church service tonight. Instead there was a choir concert, which our family attended.

The first part of the concert was performed by the Chorale and Chamber Singers of Dickinson State University. They just completed a several-day tour of the region ending with tonight's performance "back home." I know many of the students who sang tonight (and have several of them as students), so it was especially fun to hear their solos and to watch them perform with the group.

The second part of the concert was performed by the Madrigal Singers and Concert Choir of North Dakota State University. They! Were! Terrific! NDSU has a large student body from which both music majors and others can audition for the Concert Choir, so the group is larger than DSU's and features many strong voices. They performed challenging arrangements with apparent ease and were impressive in their tight harmonies (and dissonance, when called for by the song), their dynamics, their expressiveness . . . everything one could expect from a choral performance. It was especially fun to watch the conductor's conducting actions, which were expressive themselves and showed full-body energy--she "felt" each song and let it show in the way that she moved her arms and torso and head.

It was a really great night of music, and I'm glad that our daughters could see/hear good vocal performers in action; the choir members were good role models for our own little songbirds!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Another First

Tonight Susan and I participated in yet another event that reminded us of how quickly our children are growing up: junior high school course registration for Suzanna. Yep, next year Suzanna will begin six years of secondary education, and that means having some say in the elective courses that she takes. We gathered in the gymnasium and heard from both the principal and the guidance counselor, who gave a brief orientation to how junior high school will be different from elementary school. They also explained both the required and elective courses and gave suggestions for how to select electives for our children.

Suzanna's required courses include English, social studies, science, phy ed/health, and a set of courses offered together in trimesters: technology, life skills (formerly "home economics"), and computers. A math course is required, too, but she may be placed in an advanced math (pre-algebra) based on her standardized test scores and her sixth-grade teacher's recommendation.

That leaves her with 1.5 credits of electives from which to choose. She chose band and literature (an advanced course for students who, again, have high standardized test scores and the recommendation of a sixth-grade teacher). She wanted to take choir, too, but didn't have time in the day for it; so, instead, she will join honor choir, an extracurricular activity that meets before school.

Once we had the course selection form filled out, we turned it in and left--the whole process didn't take very long. At some point this spring, each class of sixth-graders will go to the junior high school for a tour, so Suzanna's fears about finding her way around the three-story building should be allayed by that. (She's also nervous about getting to her locker, trading books, and getting to her next class on time. I remember having similar questions and fears when it was time for me to make the move from my elementary school to the junior/senior high school in Tioga.)

I can still picture our bringing our newborn Suzanna home from the hospital, placing her on a crocheted afghan on the living room floor, and just watching her, marveling at every detail about her. It's hard to believe how quickly time has flown . . . and to imagine that our baby is almost a teenager. I have to go weep now.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Dolphins and Donuts

This was an unusual Sunday for us in that we skipped church! Well, Susan didn't; as Sunday school director, she had to report for work as usual. But the girls had a swim meet in town today as part of the Dickinson Dolphin Swim Team (the last meet before the state swim meet in Bismarck March 19-21), so I took them there (to the West River Community Center), and Susan joined us when she was done at church. I brought school work to do while I waited during pre-meet warmups and between events, and I got quite a bit done. The girls had a fine day, but we think that none of them qualified for state in any of today's events--although Hillary had already qualified for state in the 25-yard backstroke back in January (remember?), so we know we'll be attending state for her.

We didn't stick around to see the final results posted because we had another event to get to: a birthday party for our family's friend Monica. She has an apartment in an assisted living complex, and she reserved the dining room for a party today to celebrate the March birthdays of her neighbors and herself. There were lots of people there! Susan brought her grandma Laura over from the nursing home where she resides (which is attached to Monica's apartment building). Susan's aunt Kathy helps Monica with errands and has become a good friend, too, so Kathy came with some of her family: husband Pat; daughter Tina and grandson Kylan; and son Todd and daughter-in-law Trista and grandson Trae.

Abigail, Suzanna, and Hillary surround their great-grandmother Laura

There were balloons and snack mix on each table, and Susan and the girls helped to pass out cookies and donuts and to pour coffee and punch. After Monica said a few words of welcome, the girls sang a Norwegian table prayer, and then I accompanied them as they sang the song "He Is Good." Monica asked me to play some more, so I provided background music on the piano while people visited and ate. After most of the guests had gone, we gave Monica her birthday present: a scarf that Susan knitted for her. It was a very pleasant afternoon event.

Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary sing the religious song "He Is Good" by memory as I play the piano behind them.

Susan had the girls find out from Monica her favorite color, and then she bought some pink yarn and knitted this scarf for Monica . . . over the course of four days! Yep, Susan's quite the knitter now (remember when/how she began this hobby?).

Abigail, Suzanna, and Hillary with their "foster grandma" Monica!

P.S. I met a most interesting woman, one of Monica's neighbors whose name I didn't get but with whom I visited at the end of the party. She complimented us on our musicianship and told me a bit about her career as a music teacher. We also talked about international travel and about Italian cuisine (she's full-blooded Italian and differentiates between "real" lasagne and "North Dakota" lasagne, which invariably includes cottage cheese instead of ricotta and no vegetables when it should include Swiss chard).

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Improvised Pølse

"Let's make pølse!"

That was Suzanna's response when I asked her if she had an opinion about what should be on the menu for this week's Scandinavian Saturday supper. In Norway, pølse ["sausage"] is very popular and prepared/served many different ways. Suzanna and I decided to go with the chopped-and-fried method, but we couldn't find any recipes for a dish that featured pølse made that way. So we made it up! The InterWebs offered us salad and dessert recipes to round out the meal.

(Remember how last week Hillary spent the entire time in the kitchen working on just one part of the meal? Well, that was Suzanna's experience this week, too! Read more about it when you get to the dessert below.)

Skandinavisk salat ["Scandinavian salad"]

I put some eggs on the stove to hard-boil and then made the dressing: plain yogurt, Dijon mustard, curry powder, salt, white pepper, and dill. The dressing chilled in the fridge until it was time to assemble the salad. In each bowl I arranged Romaine lettuce, wedges of hard-boiled egg, sliced English cucumber, and cooked shrimp, and then I drizzled the dressing over it all. It was a fine salad, but it wasn't my favorite dressing ever . . . a little bland. At least there was plenty of shrimp in every serving--yum!

pølse med grønnsaker ["sausage with vegetables"]

In the morning, in anticipation of making this dish, I baked three potatoes and let them cool. By suppertime, they were ready for me to cube and add to a huge bowl of other chopped ingredients: leeks, celery, carrots, mushrooms, red peppers, and pølse. In a large electric frying pan, I browned the slices of turkey sausage and, as they started to release their juices and fat, I added the other ingredients to fry. I seasoned the mixture with salt, ground pepper, coriander, and crushed caraway seeds.

When the vegetables were done, I removed the mixture and added beef stock to deglaze the pan, releasing all the tasty bits from the bottom of the pan back into the liquid. In a separate pan, I sautéed some minced garlic in butter, added tomato paste, and then poured it all into the frying pan with the beef stock. I stirred in sour cream, nutmeg, and dill to thicken the stock and create a gravy. Then I returned the sausage and vegetables to the pan to coat them in the sauce.

Um, yeah, there was nothing untasty about this dish! Sausage generally brings plenty of flavor all on its own, but that was enhanced by the presence of the caraway and the combination of the other seasonings. The savory sauce was creamy and rich but not overpowering, and the vegetables were sweet and had a good texture that kept the dish hearty and substantial.

Norske jordbær grøt ["Norwegian strawberry pudding"]

When we got home from the grocery store, Suzanna set to work immediately on dessert. Little did either of us know that it would keep her occupied the entire time we were in the kitchen! She cleaned and sliced a pound of strawberries and cooked them in water with sugar until soft. She let the fruit cool a bit and then poured it into a strainer over a large bowl so that she could "use the back of a spoon to push the berries through a sieve," as the instructions told her. This step took her a very, very, very long time. She never complained, though. She just kept mashing and mashing while chatting with me.

Finally it was time for her to discard the strawberry solids and return the juice to the stove top. She mixed in some cornstarch, brought it to a boil, and then reduced the heat for the final cooking step. She poured the mixture into bowls and put them in the fridge to chill for dessert. Unfortunately the rest of the meal was ready before we even got the strawberry pudding into the fridge, so it had no hope of being either cooled or set by the time we were ready to eat dessert. We even waited an hour or so after supper to return to the table for dessert, by which time it was cooled--but it was definitely more of a thick soup than a pudding. It was delicious nevertheless: a simple, clean, fruity delight.

(And Suzanna admitted to having added more sugar than the recipe called for because "it just wasn't sweet enough." Atta girl!)

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Native Voices

This week I enjoyed attending two of the events that were part of the university's Native Voices: Conversations on Culture. At the luncheon yesterday, I heard Diane Hall Glancy speak and read some of her poetry. Afterwards she signed a copy of her poem "Grandmother Library" to be displayed in the library on campus.

At today's luncheon, I heard Joseph M. Marshall III speak and viewed a clip from a movie in which he acted and for which he served as an advisor. Afterwards he provided everyone in attendance with an autographed poster that is a gorgeous photo of bison with an excerpt printed along the side from one of his books.

It was so relaxing to sit, eat, and listen. Yes, it has been a hectic week that followed a hectic week last week and that precedes a hectic week next week. So I enjoyed clearing my brain of my enormous "to do" list and just letting the speakers' eloquent words and thoughtful messages fill my mind. Events such as this are a terrific perk of working at a university. I hope this will become an annual event (to join the numerous other literary and cultural events that the university sponsors annually).