Friday, April 30, 2010

Busy

Tuesday's faculty awards ceremony and reception was just one of several interesting events that I attended this week--although it's the only one that gave me money (remember?). From the others, my reward was edification and entertainment.

Thursday: Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Conference -- This is an annual event for which students from several departments present the results of research that they have conducted throughout the year. Last year our daughters attended with me (remember?), but this year they were all busy with weekly piano and trombone lessons, so I attended by myself. First I listened to a keynote speaker address the entire crowd for a presentation on her nursing research.

Then I joined others in the adjoining ballroom to hear from individuals and small groups who stood beside posters representing their work and explained it to anyone who stopped by to listen. I myself had been interviewed by some students as part of their research project (on the electronic portfolios that are required of education majors), so I was particularly curious to hear about their results.

Friday: English Conference -- Seniors graduating with an English-related major must carry out a capstone project and present on it at the annual English Conference. One of today's presenters, an English education major, has been a student of mine a couple times: once when I taught a course for writing tutors (when she served as a tutor while I was running the university's Writing Center) and once in a course on curriculum and instruction (which I teach now as an education professor), so I wanted to be there to support her.

Her presentation was on teaching Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre. Three others presented in the session that I attended: one read aloud a nonfiction selection about his childhood in southwest ND; one shared her ideas for teaching world literature and world history in one "world studies" course for high school sophomores; and one read aloud her short story in the style of Edgar Allan Poe.

Friday: Senior Banquet -- I accompanied Susan to her high school's annual banquet for seniors, their parents, and school faculty. I know most of the faculty both by virtue of being a high school faculty member's spouse and because I work with many of the teachers when they host education majors from the university for field experiences in their high school classrooms. I don't, however, know many of the students, so I was there mostly to enjoy the tasty buffet and to serve as arm candy for Susan.

An entertaining speaker addressed the group: Terry Fleck, "The Attitude Doctor," whom I had heard speak at an event a couple years ago (remember?). There were also several students who danced or sang at various points during the program, and the last group to present was quite talented: one young man played the guitar while another young man and a young woman sang a duet version of John Mayer's "No Such Thing." Afterward Susan and I went out for beverages with our friends Dave and Leslie (who teaches with Susan and who brought Dave to the banquet as her own arm candy). We were celebrating Dave's recent promotion at work and my recent award at work . . . and just enjoying some time with fun adults outside of the workplace.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"I'd Like to Thank the Academy . . ."

Each spring the university holds an event at which it recognizes staff and faculty for achieving milestones in terms of years of service, honors those who are retiring after distinguished careers, and awards those who have been noted for excellence. People receive gifts for years of service and retirement, and they receive trophies and money for awards of excellence. Afterward several kinds of homemade pie are served with ice cream and coffee, so there is always a crowd in attendance (more so for the pie than for the gifts and awards).

Well, this afternoon my name was called to receive one of those awards: the Innovative Teacher of the Year Award! The gentleman announcing the awards kept the suspense going for each one by not saying who the recipient was until the very end of each introductory speech (e.g., "This next award goes to someone whom students describe as . . ."). When the Innovative Teacher category rolled around, the announcer read comments from colleagues and students of mine who described things I've done in the department and in the courses that I teach, so I figured out relatively quickly that it was I whose name he would be calling . . . and I was right!

The president shook my hand and presented me with the trophy (see below) and a check for the stipend, both of which are impressive and much appreciated. A number of people stopped by afterward to congratulate me and share kind words. Plus, I got pie and ice cream! What a great surprise and a wonderful end to the day.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Chocolate and Wine

First things first: today it was Susan's turn to cook with me for Scandinavian Saturday supper, but I worked at the office all day tending to some important tasks, meaning that she and I did not plan an ethnic menu or go grocery shopping or have hours of time to prepare several new-to-us recipes, as we usually do. I did still make supper (with Hillary's help), but it wasn't terribly Nordic. Well, this will help: I'll use Norwegian words:

from left to right: rug flatbrød med sjømat salat, friske grønnsaker salat med krutonger, epler, bønne og skinke suppe, og melk

We bought some rye flatbread and some seafood salad, and Hillary dished up individual servings for an appetizer. We bought a head of leafy lettuce, which Hillary washed and I tore up for a salad. I sliced red pepper, celery, cucumber, and carrot to add to the salad, and we topped it with salt-and-pepper croutons. We made a navy bean soup, and I thawed some sliced ham from our freezer, cubed it, and added it to the soup. We sliced a couple apples, which Hillary tossed in lemon juice, and they served as dessert. It was quick and easy and pretty tasty but a definite departure from our weekly Scandinavian culinary experiments.

After supper, Susan and I were off to a unique event for our city: a chocolate and wine tasting. It was called "A Chocolate Affair," and it served as a fundraiser for the Western Wellness Foundation. The Days Hotel recently completed an addition and remodeling project, so the setting was beautiful: one of the hotel's new ballrooms and the adjoining lounge areas. The ballroom was lined with tables at which sat chefs with delicious chocolate desserts and candies for us to sample. Another table featured two chocolate fountains (one milk chocolate, one dark chocolate) with fruits and sweets to dip and with trays of savory appetizers at the end for people to cleanse their palates once the chocolate overload set in! They also served water and two types of coffee for the same purpose.

At either end of the ballroom were tables at which people poured samples from several types of dessert wines. The sommelier overseeing the wine tasting took orders for any of the night's wines at a discount, so we ordered some of our favorites and look forward to getting a phone call once our wine comes in.

Elsewhere there as a station at which people could pay $20 to pull a number corresponding to a "mystery bottle" of wine; one wouldn't know ahead of time what wine one would win, but each bottle was worth more than $20 anyway. At another station, we dropped off our ballots for the best chocolate; and at the end of the event, they tallied the ballots and awarded the "People's Choice" award to the winning chef. At another station, we admired the gift baskets that were being raffled off. Each person's ticket to the event had a number on it and served as his/her ticket for the raffle. And guess what! I won a basket!

I won the "Breakfast in Bed" gift basket featuring biscotti, hot cocoa, a candle, flavored coffees, and a gift certificate for coffee from Serendipity Coffee House and Bistro.

We sampled chocolates and wines and chatted with friends and admired how well run everything was for a first-time event such as that. It was delicious and fun, upscale but casual (lots of conversation and laughter), and all for a good cause: supporting the Western Wellness Foundation's programs for children in the community. We left with a nice program from the night containing information on all the participating chefs and the businesses that sponsored the wine tasting and provided coffee, prizes, or other in-kind services and donations. Check these out:

featured chefs
  • Brickhouse Grille -- banana rum truffle with strawberry drizzle
  • Spaghetti Western -- marshmallow semi-freddo with hazelnut, apricots, and a chocolate liqueur sauce
  • Elks Lodge 1137 -- white Russian chocolate turban
  • Hawks Point -- chocolate truffle tartlet
  • Mulligan's Catering -- peanut butter truffle, crème de menthe truffle, orange chipotle pepper truffle, tequila chocolate truffle, and crispy bacon strips dipped in chocolate (hey, don't knock it until you've tried it!)
  • Simply Flowers and Gifts -- Sweet Shop USA truffles
  • Stix 'n' Twigs Cafe -- chocolate petit fours with chocolate ganache
  • Take-Home Chef -- peppermint devil cake [no Web site -- this is a young man still in high school who will come to your house and cook you a meal of your choice!]

wine supplier

  • Town and Country Liquor -- numerous tasty wines, including Banfi Rosa Regale, a sparkling raspberry wine from Italy that we loved [no Web site]

Friday, April 23, 2010

Treachery and Philately

Susan and I attended a play at the university tonight. It was a production of Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck. Mauritius is an island nation east of Madagascar, which itself is off the eastern coast of Africa--but the play does not take place in Mauritius, nor does it have much to do at all with the country. The play is about two sisters who inherit a stamp collection after the death of their mother, and in that stamp collection are two extremely rare stamps to philatelists (stamp collectors): the one-penny and two-pence "post office" stamps from Mauritius in 1847.

Enjoying the play doesn't depend upon one's being a philatelist oneself or even knowing anything about philately. One need only understand that these stamps are so rare that they're worth millions of dollars apiece, and immediately the context of the play is set. We watched characters engage in treachery to get the stamps for themselves, to get paid as much as possible for them or to pay as little as possible for them, destroying relationships and inflicting physical harm when thought necessary to possess those stamps.

We really enjoyed the play. The characters' acts of deception kept us guessing at what would happen next, and the ending offered a few surprises that I hadn't seen coming. The actors did a fine job, too, portraying characters that seemed distinctly different from characters I've seen them play in previous plays . . . so I was impressed with the range that I saw from them. The technical elements were spot-on, including a set that rotated to reveal two different settings as well as appropriate costumes and transitional music.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Slides and Valves

Tonight the girls and I attended an instrumental music recital at the university. Two brass players (Alyssa on trumpet, Sam on trombone) prepared a junior recital to showcase their skills. I know them both as former students of mine, and the girls know them for other reasons: Alyssa was a counselor at the girls' summer Bible camp, Sam is Suzanna's teacher for private lessons on trombone, and they both were involved with Seussical: The Musical along with the girls.

Susan would have come, too, but decided to stay home to get some baking done for a bake sale on Saturday (a fundraiser for our Sons of Norway lodge). So I gathered up the ducklings, and we went to the recital. Sam and Alyssa alternated solos on their individual instruments and did well. Sam played one song that required him to use a technique I had never heard of: humming while blowing air through the trombone! It was unusual. For a music course last semester, Sam and Alyssa had each been required to arrange a song for a brass ensemble, and they ended tonight's recital by bringing out other brass musicians to play those arrangements along with them.

"Refreshments were served" after the recital, so while the girls had cookies and lemonade, we chatted with other attendees and congratulated the musicians. It's nice to have access to artistic events such as this and to let the girls see what they themselves could do someday if they continue to study and perform music.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nostalgia

After serving our church for over 30 years, our senior pastor is now retired; today was his "last day of work." Several months ago he announced his retirement, and he has been preparing us for it ever since, mentioning it in his sermons, including in the services time for "the transition team" to speak about the steps that it's taking to find his replacement, and announcing along the way, "Well, this is the last time that I'll . . . " do this or that church-related thing. It's not that he takes some perverse delight in reminding us that he's leaving; it's that he wants the transition to go smoothly, and that requires preparing for the reality of his departure.

The church was packed today. Pastor Steve's family came from afar to be with him, and many members of the congregation whom we don't see in church regularly did show up today for his final service. Both children's choirs sang, the adult choir sang, the bell choir played, and the two organists played duets (one on the organ, the other on the piano) for the prelude and some of the hymns. Pastor Steve gave a gospel-centered sermon that still was personalized enough to include emotional goodbyes to the congregation, and the line out of the church moved very slowly after church as people hugged him and shared messages with him instead of just the usual handshake before leaving.

Afterward there was a luncheon and program at the Days Hotel; the event was billed as "a farewell celebration," and it was upbeat and filled with laughter. The ballroom was absolutely packed with people! We ate and viewed a slideshow presentation and listened to some music and a very, very funny speech by a congregation member who has been one of Pastor Steve's good friends for three decades. Susan, Abigail, and Hillary stayed until the end, but Suzanna and I had to leave early because . . .

. . . we had a Sons of Norway lodge meeting this afternoon, too! As lodge musician, Suzanna had to arrive early enough to set up the keyboard so that the meeting could begin with the singing of the national anthems. We got everything set up, hooked up, plugged in, turned on, and ready to go right on time, and Susan and the other girls got there in time for the meeting, too. After the meeting, Suzanna and I led the group in singing "Kan Du Glemme Gamle Norge?" It's a Norwegian-American folk tune about remembering the motherland ("How Can You Forget Old Norway?"). It's the musician's duty to teach Norwegian songs to the lodge, and not everybody knew that song (although some did) (but not the Mobergs), so mission accomplished for today's meeting.

To summarize today: nostalgia (for church days of yore and for Norway of yore).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Surprises for Our Tongues

Last year Suzanna spent a half-day at Nurse Camp, an event put on by faculty and students from the university's Department of Nursing to promote medical careers for area school children. She had a great time and was interested in participating again today. Her friend Sheena spent the night with us last night and then went to Nurse Camp with Suzanna and Abigail (it's open to kids in grades five and six) today. They enjoyed themselves and now have surgical garb of their own to wear at home when playing dress-up!

Once home this afternoon, Suzanna served as my helper for preparing Scandinavian Saturday supper. I chose the menu and even did the grocery shopping without Suzanna because she was preoccupied with her overnight guest and with Nurse Camp, but she approved of my choices. In fact, the entire family did. It was a meal of surprising elements for our tongues--but surprising in a good way.

kveite i urter med rosmarin-sitron smør ["herbed halibut with rosemary-lemon butter"]

The featured item was halibut. We rubbed the fillets with salt and pressed garlic. We chopped up fresh rosemary, thyme, tarragon, and bay leaves and coated both sides of each fillet with the herbs. Then we covered the fish and let it refrigerate for a few hours. Closer to suppertime, we poured wine over the herbed halibut, covered the pan with foil, and popped the fish into the oven to bake (well, to steam). We made a sauce for the fish by simmering more fresh herbs in butter before adding the pan juices, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. We brushed most of the herbs from the fillets, strained all the herbs from the sauce, and let each person pour his/her own sauce at the table.

The fish was absolutely delicious. The surprise for our tongues was how richly flavored the fish was from the combination of fresh herbs and wine . . . as well as how firm and "meaty" the fish was, like salmon or even a chicken breast.

grønne bønner og erter med neper og mango ["green beans and peas with turnip and mango"]

The turnip was supposed to be celeriac, which isn't available in local grocery stores. Several online sources recommended substituting turnip and celery seed for the celeriac, which is what we did. We cooked the beans and peas separately and then tossed them with the raw turnip ("cut into matchstick-sized pieces") and celery seed in a dressing of olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt, and sugar. Just before serving, we topped it with chopped mango.

Yep, you've probably already guessed it: the surprise for our tongues was the mango . . . a tropical fruit in a hot vegetable dish . . . and a Norwegian dish, at that! I was thinking that the raw, crunchy turnip with the cooked, soft vegetables would be enough of a surprise for the tongue, but the recipe said that it's a common combination in Norwegian cooking. The mango is the most surprising element, but, although a modern addition to the dish, it's not so surprising to Norwegians; it reflects the influence of Norway's largest non-European minority: immigrants from Pakistan, a country that produces mangoes.

sitron mousse med kandiserte sitron krydder ["lemon mousse with candied lemon zest"]

We had quite the setup for preparing this dessert. In one bowl, we beat sugar with egg yolks until pale and fluffy. In another bowl, we softened unflavored gelatin in water, heated it au bain marie until thoroughly dissolved, added freshly squeezed lemon juice and some lemon zest, stirred the mixture into the beaten yolks, and set that bowl in the refrigerator. In another bowl, we whisked egg whites until they had stiff peaks. In yet another bowl, we whipped some heavy cream until it had soft peaks.

Are you still with me?

By that point, the gelatin/yolk/sugar/lemon mixture had started to set, so we folded in first the egg whites and then the cream. Then we poured the mousse into individual bowls and put them in the fridge to finish setting and to chill for a few hours. Then we added the bulk of the zest from the lemons to a pan with freshly squeezed lemon juice, water, and sugar to boil and then simmer. We spread the candied zest out on wax paper to cool and dry. Then we whipped more cream, this time adding vanilla extract and sugar, to serve as a topping for the mousse.

There were lots of dirty bowls and spatulas and beaters when we were done, but the result was a terrific dessert. The mousse was light and airy, but the surprise on our tongues was the lemon: so distinct and tart when we were expecting subtle and mild to suit the texture of the mousse. The candied zest made for pretty decoration but also added to the lemony goodness. The sweetened whipped cream was a necessary accompaniment to keep our tongues from curling up into the backs of our heads! So, so, so tasty.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Buena Comida con Buenos Amigos

Tonight Susan and I went out for supper with friends: her coworkers Cindy, Naomi, and Leslie and Leslie's husband Dave. We went to Lady J's, a catering business that is open for meal service over the noon hour and select nights of the week. Tonight they were serving a buffet of Mexican food, so we decided to try it out. It was really good!

Lady J's is in the building used by the former German Hungarian Steak House, the restaurant at which we had the groom's supper before our wedding nearly 17 years ago. Lady J's catering menu looks to be quite varied, so it's not surprising that the buffet tables were stocked with a large variety of dishes: three kinds of spicy soup, nacho chips and two kinds of melted cheese, tacos with lots of fixin's, and several kinds of burritos, enchiladas, chimichangas, and fajitas. The dessert table had four or five choices, too.

We got there around 5:30 P.M. and didn't leave until 8:00 P.M. Although we did eat our fill, most of that time was spent visiting--it wasn't 2.5 hours of nonstop gluttony! We had a good time with good friends eating good food in a new (to us) restaurant to which we will be happy to return.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

And the Bands Played On

Here's how school band works in our town:

Fifth grade is the earliest that a student begins playing a band instrument, and the elementary music teachers teach both general music to all elementary students and instrumental music to any fifth-graders wishing to be in band. There are five elementary schools: four of them house grades kindergarten through five, and one is for only sixth grade. That means that the four small fifth-grade bands combine the next year to form one large sixth-grade band.

In preparation, each spring all the fifth-grade bands combine to perform a few songs as one band at the All-City Band Concert. Each fifth-grade music teacher prepares her own students beforehand, and then the sixth-grade band teacher takes over conducting duties for the combined band of fifth-graders the night of the concert. We got to hear Abigail, our fifth-grader, play her saxophone in that group at this year's All-City Band Concert tonight!

video

Here is Abigail playing saxophone with the fifth-graders on "Regal March."

As a fifth-grader, Suzanna performed in last year's concert playing percussion rather than her trombone--here is why. As a sixth-grader this year, she got to play her trombone. Her band director was slated to conduct both the fifth-grade and sixth-grade bands, but he has been out of school on sick leave, so a substitute teacher got the honor of conducting those groups! (And he did a fine job.)

video

Here is Suzanna playing trombone with the sixth-graders on "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?"

We listened to Abigail's band perform, followed by Suzanna's band, followed by the seventh-grade band, the eighth-grade band, and two different bands from the high school. The final number on the program was performed by all the students . . . grades five through twelve! The elementary students sat together, the junior high school students sat together, and the high school students spread themselves out, joining one or the other group of younger students to play along with the corresponding sections (i.e., high school flautists with the elementary flute section, etc.). Considering the massive group, spread out over a large space, composed of such varying levels of expertise, that last song went pretty darned well!

video

Abigail and Suzanna play "We Will Rock You" with the combined bands: grades five through twelve.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Catablogue: Animal Review

Animal Review

The "About" page at this site says simply, "This site reviews animal species objectively." The brevity and intentional inaccuracy of that description are clues that those who write this blog are out for humor, but so is the silliness of the mission itself: to review animal species as one might a movie or a novel or a theatre production. It's ridiculously awesome.

In each blog entry, the bloggers choose a species and write about its merits and drawbacks, finally coming up with an arbitrary grade to summarize their "review." One species might be extremely dangerous and get an A from them just because they don't want to get on that species' bad side; another species might have evolved certain characteristics that the bloggers don't think are that impressive and thus get an F from them essentially for being boring. Sometimes "cute" gets a species bonus points, but looks alone don't cut it in most cases.

One of the joys of reading the blog is discerning the fact from the fiction; both are interspersed throughout each entry. The scientific name of each species is given, but the English translation of the Latin words is never reliable (e.g., the sidewinder rattlesnake's name Crotalus cerastes is translated as "Have you see this thing move????"). Footnotes are provided but more often direct the reader to a made-up "fact" or some humorous commentary than to a scientific citation.

Still, you will learn while laughing. Fiction may make each review fun to read, but fact is the basis--so you can laugh at the bloggers' description of how an alligator is like the old coworker who refuses to learn how to use new office technology, but at the same time you'll learn facts about the alligator's lack of significant evolution over the past however-many years, how it kills its prey, why it has upward-facing nostrils, etc.

It's fun to read, so it's easy to overlook the learning that's happening while the entertaining is going on. I laughed out loud throughout the entry on the sea cucumber, but now I shall forever remember its unique (and incredibly ridiculous) defense mechanism. I recommend this site to any child who is learning in school about animals, or to any adult who has an interest in animals, or to any human who can read, who has a sense of humor, and who likes to get smarter.

(What is a catablogue?)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Artsy-Fartsy Weekend

Friday night, Susan and I attended a performance of the play Arsenic and Old Lace produced by the local community theatre group, Sneak Pique Productions. We saw that group's first-ever production in November (remember?), which was quite good, and so was this one. Do you know the play? Famous as it is, I had never read it or seen a production of it before, so I was surprised by the plot twists and the jokes throughout. Everything was very polished, from the directing to the acting to the set and props and costumes to the publicity. I'm sure most people would be surprised to know that this is a brand-new theatre group!

Saturday afternoon, Abigail and Suzanna performed in the 2010 Trinity Junior High and Elementary Solo and Ensemble Music Festival. Last year was our first experience with this event when Suzanna, as a 5th-grader, sang a solo (remember?). This year, Abigail, as a 5th-grader, was old enough to perform, too, so she played a saxophone solo, and she and Suzanna sang a duet. Abigail's band teacher helped her prepare her instrumental solo, and Susan and I helped the girls with their vocal duet. Wanna hear?

video

Abigail just started playing the saxophone last summer (remember?), so keep that in mind as you listen. She was working on using breath support to get all the notes to come out while still observing dynamics (i.e., blowing enough air to hit the notes even while playing soft during the parts marked piano).

video

When Abigail's music teacher (who taught Suzanna last year) heard this song at a music workshop, she thought of it as a possibility for our daughters to sing for this event. So they did! Note that, just days ago, the girls came down with some kind of cold, so they were singing with stuffed noses and draining sinuses (graphic, perhaps, but true).

This afternoon, our family drove to Richardton, ND to perform for the residents of the nursing home there. A couple months ago, a woman who works there phoned us to say that she had heard about our family's singing, and she wondered if we would sing for the residents (part of her job is arranging for people to come and provide music for the residents on Sunday afternoons). So we offered a musical smorgasbord: I accompanied on the piano as the five of us sang, as Susan and the girls sang, as the three girls sang, as Abigail and Suzanna sang their duet from yesterday, as each daughter sang a solo, as Susan sang a solo, as I sang a solo, and as Susan and I sang a duet. Each daughter played several piano solos from memory, and Abigail (on saxophone) and Suzanna (on trombone) each played an instrumental solo, too. Afterward we joined the residents for coffee and cookies and visiting.

Afterward, we drove back to Dickinson in time for me to perform in "Guys Get Funky," an all-male piano recital sponsored by the Badlands Music Teachers Association. The group puts on this recital to let boys who take piano lessons see all the other boys who take piano lessons--as well as men who play piano--in order to encourage them to stick with piano. There were beginning pianists, high school boys who were quite good, a university student who was outstanding, and a few adults, too. I was last on the program, and I played a song ("March" by Hansi Alt) that I had played for a piano festival when I was a kid competing each year the way that our daughters do now. Who would have guessed that I'd ever perform again in a piano recital with my own piano lesson days so far behind me?!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"These Are My New Favorite Meatballs"

Hillary was my helper today for Scandinavian Saturday supper. We were off to the grocery store in the morning because we knew we'd be busy mid-afternoon with Suzanna and Abigail's music festival (I'll write more on that tomorrow); and we got right to work as soon as we returned from the festival. Hillary was an excellent assistant today--she often gets distracted by her sisters and disappears for spans of time to join them in their playing, but not today! Here's what she and I served:

Wanna know what everything is? Read on!

ristet pumpernikkel ["toasted pumpernickel bread"]

We found this loaf amongst the specialty breads in one supermarket. The dark bread seemed very Northern European, and it's coated with seeds and salt and garlic, making it deliciously savory. We toasted and buttered each slice before serving.

bakt fennikel og karve-bakt pastinakk ("baked fennel and cumin-baked parsnip")

These recipes came from Andreas Viestad. We don't usually see fennel in the produce section of the local grocery stores, but today we found one--count them: one!--fennel bulb, so we snatched it up. When I sliced into it, it released the clean, sharp aroma of anise; and even the baked version was a bit like eating layers of black-licorice-flavored onion. We drizzled the fennel slices with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice and sprinkled them with salt before baking.

We buy parsnips pretty regularly (although the woman working the check-out lane in the grocery store had to ask me what they were before she could ring them up) (and she asked me what the fennel bulb was, too), but we've never had them prepared like this: drizzled in olive oil and fresh lemon juice, like the fennel, but also sprinkled with cumin before baking. While they were in the oven, Hillary noted that they smelled like "Mexican beans" (refried beans), but Viestad writes that "cumin and its cousin, caraway, have been common in Scandinavia since the 13th century." Well, there ya go.

We were nearly done with the meal before I remembered that Hillary and I had made a sauce that was supposed to be served on the parsnips . . . but that we had put in the fridge and then forgotten. I remembered it in time for us to try a dab of it on the last morsels of parsnip. It was made of olive oil and chopped parsley and garlic, and the raw garlic made it very pungent. Tasty, yes, but a little bit went a long way. The cumin and lemon juice themselves provided great flavor for the parsnips.

köttbullar ("Swedish meatballs")

One of my Beatrice Ojakangas cookbooks has this Swedish meatball recipe that was a hit with the entire family, causing Susan to proclaim them as her "new favorite meatballs" (yes, as Midwesterners and Lutherans, we have tried many a meatball recipe over the years). Hillary and I soaked whole-wheat bread in cream and then added sautéed scallions, ground beef, ground pork, an egg, fresh parsley (which Hillary took quite some time to mince, demonstrating her fastidiousness while using a knife), salt, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg.

We beat it in a mixer until it was fluffy, and then we formed the meatballs and fried them in butter until browned. We removed the meatballs to drain on paper toweling and used flour to make a roux with the drippings in the frying pan. We whisked in beef broth until we had a thick sauce, which we seasoned with ground pepper and seasoned salt. We put the meatballs in the gravy and allowed them to simmer until fully cooked. They truly were delish: light and fluffy in texture, savory with the mix of spices, each morsel perfect when dipped in the salty sauce. We're looking forward to having leftovers for tomorrow's dinner!

rømmegrøt ("sour cream porridge")

A few weeks ago, while shopping in Bismarck, Hillary and I found a packaged mix (made in Norway) to make rømmegrøt, a dessert that I remember fondly from the Norsk Høstfest ("Norwegian harvest festival") held annually in Minot, ND; from Red River Valley friends who served it at each child's high school graduation reception; and from Norwegian camp last summer. I do NOT remember it fondly from when I tried to make it from scratch one year ago. The packaged mix made tonight's version much, much better than my homemade effort.

We opened the package and added the powder to cold water, whisked in sour cream, brought it to a boil, and then simmered it for seven minutes while Hillary stirred continuously. It thickened nicely, and she dished up the creamy pudding into everybody's dishes. Everyone was in charge of adding her/his own sugar and cinnamon at the table. The joy of rømmegrøt is not in its flavor because, without the cinnamon and sugar, it is like vanilla pudding without the bold flavor of vanilla--which is to say: completely flavorless. But it's warm and creamy and tastes just fine with the sugar and cinnamon added. It's a comfort food more than a gourmet dessert choice.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Norwegian History Lesson

Did you know that today is a significant day in Norwegian history? I didn't . . . but now I do. And now you do, too!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Welcome to Their World

Easter vacation continues today, and the girls are spending the day engaged in an elaborate role-playing game utilizing the entire basement. I popped downstairs at one point to ask a daughter a question and was amazed at the setup, so I asked each girl to explain. Behold:

video

Suzanna took over the family room.

video

Abigail used her own bedroom.

video

And Hillary set up shop in one of the storage rooms.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter: A Photo Diary

Abigail (in blue), Suzanna (under the covers), and Hillary (on top of me) came in to wake me up. They were oh-so-sweet, but they had an ulterior motive: they wanted to search for their Easter baskets (hidden by the Easter bunny), and Mommy had said they had to wait until I was awake.

It didn't take long for them to find their baskets, each of which was stuffed with two pairs of flip-flops, nail polish, a Webkinz stuffed animal, gum, a mini-gumball machine, and Hawaiian Punch flavor packets for water bottles. The Easter bunny also brought three other items for our daughters to share: a nail art kit, a box of sidewalk chalk, and a new game for their Wii: Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 3. Determining names for the new Webkinz animals was an important part of our morning, and the new Wii game was an important part of their afternoon!

We found one of our bowls stuffed to overflowing with candy. And the Easter bunny must read my blog to know that we needed (translation: I wanted) an immersion blender!

We went to church this morning dressed in our new Easter outfits. No, your color monitor didn't suddenly turn to black-and-white--those are the actual colors of our clothes. When we were shopping for Easter dresses for the girls, the prettiest, best-fitting, and most age-appropriate (i.e., non-slutty-looking) ones that we found were in black and white, so Susan and I went with that theme, too. (Thank you, tripod and timer function on camera, for making these family portraits possible.)

Aren't they cute?! (And look: no more snow in our front yard!)

And aren't we cute?!

After church, we ate brunch in the fellowship hall. It was served by teenagers at our church who are raising money for a mission trip that they're going on this summer, and it was tasty: pancakes and syrup, sausage links, scrambled eggs and cheese, fried potatoes, Butter Braid pastries, fruit juice, and coffee. It tided us all over until our Easter supper around 5:00 P.M. Susan set an Eastery-looking table and prepared a number of super-delicious foods. Read on!

We drank strawberry bellinis: fresh strawberries puréed and combined with either club soda (for each daughter) or spumante (for each adult).

For appetizers, we ate more fylte egg from last night (Abigail and I made enough for both meals) as well as this salad: mixed greens and herbs, grape tomatoes, red onion, and cucumber in a red wine vinaigrette, topped with sunflower seeds toasted on the stove, and garnished with a Parmigiano crisp baked from grated fresh cheese.

Susan made buttermilk biscuits for our bread.

This! Was! The! Best! Ham! Ever! It was a bone-in ham, so right from the start it had that automatic tastiness going for it. But Susan coated it in toasted spices (fennel seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, red pepper flakes, chili powder, thyme, salt, and cinnamon), drizzled it with honey, and basted it as it baked on a bed of celery stalks. I am so looking forward to ham sandwiches this week and ham-and-split-pea soup Thursday evening.

Susan drizzled fresh asparagus in olive oil, sprinkled it with salt and pepper, roasted it, and topped it with freshly grated Parmigiano cheese.

Susan made red, white, and blue mashed potatoes: smashed potatoes and garlic with crispy bacon, butter, heavy cream, ground pepper, and bleu cheese. Awesome!

(Yep, that's a Jell-O gelatin egg near the glass of spumante. It brought balance to an otherwise potentially too-classy meal.)

We were too full for dessert right after supper, so we cleaned up the kitchen and helped my sister Sandy (who lives several states away) get her Web camera and microphone set up for Internet telephone conversations via Skype. Once it was working, we got to see her, see her cats, and see her rushing out of camera range to chase after her cats. Finally we were ready to enjoy a sweet treat. Susan baked a lemon/sour cream pound cake and topped each slice with homemade lemon curd and homemade whipped cream that she had folded together. She topped each serving with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. It was heavenly!

Here's hoping that your Easter was as wonderful as ours was!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Påskeaften Kveldsmat

(Before we get to the food, wouldn't you like to know something about Norwegian Easter traditions? Or about Easter eggs in Norway? Of course you would; click those links!)

Today it was Abigail's turn to be my helper in the kitchen for Scandinavian Saturday supper. I consulted my ethnic cookbooks for Easter recipes and found quite a lot . . . most of them featuring lamb, however, which isn't Susan's favorite and which we couldn't find in Dickinson anyway (not even at the butcher's shop). So we mixed-and-matched several Easter recipes from Beatrice Ojakangas (and one from Trina Hahnemann) and served this Påskeaften kveldsmat ["Easter eve supper"]:

Norway: fylte egg ["stuffed eggs"]

Some of the eggs were urt-fylte ["herb-filled"]: tarragon and chives with green olives for a garnish.

Some of the eggs were sitron-fylte ["lemon-filled"] with shrimp and red onions as a garnish.

Some of the eggs were sennep-fylte ["mustard-filled"] with smoked salmon and dill as a garnish.

Denmark: krydret svinekam ["pork piquant" or "spicy pork"]. We coated these pork spare ribs with whiskey mustard, fresh horseradish, anchovy paste, brown sugar, and seasoned breadcrumbs and then roasted them in the oven.

Norway: spinat med muskatnøtt ["spinach with nutmeg"], made by wilting fresh spinach in hot butter and seasoning with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Sweden: tomatisallad ["tomato salad"]: sliced tomatoes sprinkled with scallions, drizzled with a white pepper/allspice vinaigrette, topped with cucumbers, and sprinkled with dill and chives.

Sweden: Smålandsk ostkaka med hjortron ["Småland cheesecake with cloudberries"]. The cheesecake was made with ricotta and finely chopped almonds, giving it a grittier texture than the smoothly creamy cheesecake that we're used to. We added more sugar than it called for as well as vanilla extract, which it didn't call for, but its flavor was still pretty mild. The cloudberries have a unique taste that is difficult to describe. They also have hard, fat-teardrop-shaped seeds that are not fun to deal with in the mouth.

Susan and I tried this German ice wine with our dessert, and it was very good. I included the bottle in the photo so that you can go buy yourself a bottle to try!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Dolphins with Awards

I forgot to mention that we attended an end-of-the-season banquet for the girls' swim team Monday evening at the Elks Lodge. We ate a delicious meal of crudités, salad, bread sticks and garlic toast, spaghetti, marinara sauce, al fredo sauce, chicken breasts, parmesan cheese, corn, and soda. After we had eaten, the coaches gave out various awards; our girls brought home participation plaques for the season and ribbons from the last swim meet of the season. Also, Suzanna and Abigail had their names drawn for door prizes and each got a T-shirt.

At the end of the evening, one of the coaches announced that he is stepping down in order to spend more time at his son's own extracurricular activities; and one of the high school-aged assistants reminded everybody that this is her last season helping, too, because she'll be moving away for university next year. The girls are sad to see each of them leave, but otherwise they felt that the banquet was an upbeat ending to a fun season.