Thursday, 23 December 2010

Walking In The Air

Yeah, I know, I know, just because we in the western world are celebrating something called christmas doesn't mean the whole world will suddenly be overflowing with joy and goodwill. But for a moment here, I would like to allow myself the liberty of not thinking about it. Of just being here, in the moment. Enjoying the scent of the Sweet Corn Casserole sneaking from the oven, the candles and the christmas tree lights, the heat of the radiator against which I'm sitting, and the warmth of my mulled cider. The Daughter is visiting a friend and will be back in a while, but right now it's just me, music and cooking. I'm quite sure I have forgotten something, but whatever it will end up being I think I will survive without. I predicted that I would end up being all sweaty and harassed come today, the 23rd, but weirdly enough I have not been quite this calm and happy in a long, long time. Strange. But lovely.

Yesterday was the fall season ending at the Daughter's kindergarten, and I made some cakes for her teachers as a thank you for their efforts during this time. I think they have done a lovely job with my indeed joyful but admittedly quick-tempered little girl, not everybody would have gotten her so well, since while I do not advocate brattish, impolite behavior, I also do not think children should be made into mindless, copycat drones of each others. So here are the cakes...

... which were decorated with your basic marzipan and sugar paste. Though I'm not a fan of marzipan myself, I ended up having to use it for the white parts since quite a lot of my sugar paste had dried beyond salvation. The cake itself is basic vanilla sponge, filled with vanilla custard and apple and cinnamon sauce for which I just cooked some chopped apples with cinnamon and sugar until mushy.

So, now I have stuck the Sweetcorn Casserole in the oven, and am just whiling away the time. Ooops. Just remembered I still have two presents to pack, one of which is for the Daughter, so I better get that done now before she gets back. See you in a sec. 

Ok, done. Books are such a joy to pack.

And now I'm going to turn on the heat in the oven to get a nice golden crust on the Sweetcorn Thingy and start preparing the Smoked Salmon Salad. All nice and easy. And when my Daughter gets back I'm going to watch this film with her...

...and munch on some Tuna Melts. And before you go all damn-that-woman let me tell you that during these past two days alone I have managed to set off the fire alarm four, yes, FOUR times because I have made something, errrr, smoky, in the kitchen. I have walked into at least three doors due to silly absentmindedness and poured one cup of coffee and one of tea on a tray instead of the cup as I simply forgot that the cup would be needed at all. And as I said before, I am certain that I have forgotten something, quite possibly quite a few things, but honestly, I don't care. My heart is warm and my mind is calm, for once, so maybe this, indeed is the long sought after Christmas Spirit? And on that note, my dears, gotta fly now, the smoke alarm is making strange beeps, I guess the casserole must be ready then...

Have Yourself a Peaceful Christmas, Everyone.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

You know, I had this long, thought-out post all ready to be sent out today, but right now I just don't feel like doing that. Maybe I will post it one of these days, maybe not, but not today. At this moment I am again sitting next to my Daughter's bed, waiting for her to fall asleep. She said to me that she's ' contemplating things'. My three-year old 'contemplates' things before she falls asleep a lot. Some evenings, this declaration is followed by the strangest of questions or comments, some funny, some so serious that I have to reach out to hold her while I explain to her whatever it is that has puzzled her that particular day. Not too long ago, after this 'contemplation' she asked me almost in tears about how can a heart die and turn to stone. Well, knowing that this was the direct result of a children's movie she'd seen earlier in the day, it wasn't too hard to soothe her and pretty soon she was indeed dozing off. But this is a child whose questions generally can not be dodged with some inane 'made for kids' answers, and quite often it is her questions that make me stop and think about the 'made for adults' answers to her questions. What makes a heart die and turn to stone indeed?

I took that picture today of my kitchen window. It is filled with these little icy flowers, and I am supposed to be having something done about it to stop it from getting so. But I don't want to nor do I intend to. I think it's beautiful. Nature's own work of art. My neighbors worry that us 'girls' are freezing in here, but really, it's perfectly warm. I grew up in an oldish wooden house in which all the windows froze like this in the winter, and in which the outer hall was so cold during the winter months that it could double up as a freezer. And for a long, long time, we did not even have a shower room in the same building, but had to run to the sauna across our yard. Wonderful in the summer when you could just sit outside and cool down after  bathing. Not so wonderful in the winter when unless you wrapped up your head in towels the end of your hair would turn into little icicles. And your eyelashes did that anyway. 

Yep, happens in Alaska too...

But to this day, I hardly ever get cold, even at seriously freezing temperatures. Except, of course,  for my fingers and toes that suffer from Raynayd's and are usually very, very cold to touch, but then again, the saying does go...

My heart must be boiling then.

Today I had my family over for lunch. My other Sister is visiting from south and I just felt like this house needed some delicious cooking aromas, some chatter, laughter and the warmth of having it filled with people you love. So, perhaps to deal with the chill outside I decided to go for something decidedly more warm, Jambalaya, served with Corn Bread and a dessert of Mississippi Mud Pie. Or so was my intention. Well, the Jambalaya came out nicely and even my Father took seconds and thirds, and he is not known to be a friend of anything all that spicy. But the Corn Bread, well, it was not to be since I simply forgot to buy the corn. So in the end I made the Corn Bread sans the Corn, and just slapped some cheese on top. Interesting, my dears, interesting.... Usually I use this recipe because it has the actual sweetcorn in it instead of just the cornmeal, and Ido have to say that cornbread is one of my all time favorite breads. Highly recommended. 

And here's the Jambalaya...

... for which I diced 1 green bell pepper and 1 red bell pepper followed with 5 stalks of celery, 2 onions and 3 cloves of garlic. I then heated up around 60 grams of butter in a heavy bottomed pan, and added the vegetables stirring constantly to coat them in the butter. Next, I added some Cajun Spice Mixture for which I gave the recipe in an earlier post about crayfish, and followed this by adding 3 cups of uncooked long grain rice. Stir the rice, spices and vegetables well. Then I poured in about 500 ml of dry, white wine. You could obviously use stock, but having tried that I must say it really does not give the same kind of flavor the wine does. Again, stir well. Next, in goes a can of tomatoes, about 400 grams, chopped, and the cubed fish of which I used about half a kilo of. You can use any type of white fish, and seafood too, or just go with different sorts of meat. Now, leave to simmer until the rice is cooked, mixing every now and then with a wooden spoon. Enjoy.

For dessert, I was intending to make a Mississippi Mud Pie as per this recipe from my old and well dirtied up Cajun and Creole Cookbook...

... and my dears, that is the only picture you will ever see of that particular piece of cake. Sure, my cake did make it to the table, and sure, we did eat it and it certainly tasted delightful but frankly, it looked rather alarming, slightly extraterrestial one might say. Or just plain Out Of Space. But I do recommend it anyway, just take heed of my mistakes which are as follows...

For the bottom, instead of the one in my book, go with Martha and just replace some of the flour with dark cocoa powder. And by the way, one cup equals 2,5 desilitres.... Then, do NOT take the ice cream out to 'warm up 15 minutes before cooking time' or it will not be cold enough to handle the oven. Now, this was not the first time I have made merengue covered ice -cream in the oven and was frankly quite puzzled by this advise, which I should indeed just have promptly discarded. So, scoop the vanilla and chocolate (well, I used vanilla and strawberry...) ice-cream on top of the thoroughly cooled bottom. And BEFORE you do this, have the merengue ready. Sure, the merengue does not keep, but neither does the ice-cream. So, for the merengue, take 4 egg whites and around 3 cups of granulated sugar and whisk until STIFF. And I mean STIFF. You should be able to tip the bowl and not have the mixture immediately fall on the floor or it will indeed fall on the bottom of your oven. Next, scoop the merengue on top of the ice-cream and gently lift into the oven at 200C. Bake until the merengue is golden, 5 minutes max. Take out and serve immediately. This is one of those dishes that does not wait.  

NOTE! After having seriously wondered about this recipe myself, seeing as this was not the first time dealing with mudcakes for me, and after having some feedback from a friend who is somewhat familiar with them as well, I have come to a conclusion that there must be some sort of mistake in my cookbook here as this is much more like Baked Alaska than any kind of mudcake. 

So, the dessert was tasty but looked like some sort of nuclear fall-out mushroom. The Corn Bread was nice but it had no corn. Sometimes, I really do make rather epic mistakes in the kitchen and yeah, I improvise a lot but usually, it all works out in the end. Lovely lunch was had by all and regardless of some rather mad and messy moments in the kitchen it's been one of the most peaceful and happy days for me in a long, long time. 

And now it is time for me to wrap up this evening. A new week looms ahead. These past few weeks have been very tough, now it is literally and officially a whole new era in life for me. And you know what, I think I'm going to be just fine.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Learning A New Way To Sit Will Change Your Life...or something...

This weeks headlines from top womens magazines as seen while either queuing for the cashier in the supermarket or waiting to hear your name being called at the hospital lab...'' Two Weeks to a Happy Life''. '' Learning a New Way to Sit Will Change Your Life.'' And of course, the one that promised to tell me how to ''Have the Best Christmas Ever'' just by choosing the right nail polish color and suitably foxy lingerie. Now, I have nothing against new and mind-blowing ways of sitting, and as to the nail polish, well, it's just, you know, nail polish, it's not like we're going to build world peace by just choosing the right color or brand. And lingerie, well, I just realised that unlike in the English language, in my mother tongue we don't even have the division between underwear and lingerie. What does that tell you? No wonder they need to run these headlines in the magazines, the lingerie business would go bust if it were left to us practically minded ladies to choose our underwear. Bust, eh? Just call me the queen of the bad pun. And as to the first one, the one promising happy life in two weeks, I can not even begin to imagine what that would entail. It all reminds me of another headline I remember from last summer that caught my eye, this time it was one extolling the virtues of  ''Learning Your True Buttock Shape''. And then what? Or maybe I just really need to learn my true buttock shape in order to be able to truly appreciate the wisdom that goes into making these headlines. Right. I'll pass.

Bette Davis, 1939.
But I bet she had no delusions
about the miraculous
powers of her nail polish.

And as the endless queue in the supermarket was slowly inching it's way forward, another header for an article in an entirely different type of magazine loomed my way. '' Ten Steps to No Christmas Stress''. I bet the first real step in that direction would be not to buy that magazine and to not read those 'ten steps'. Come on now, we are talking about a stay-at-home-mum oriented family magazine here. And if you are a stay-at-home-mum prone to Christmas stress, then I bet buying a magazine otherwise full of things to make and do for Christmas, going through them, and then on top of that, reading a list of ten things more that you can do in order to avoid that said stress that I bet just got hell of a lot worse, would be really rather unproductive, to say the least. Phew. Now, I used to be a stay-at-home-mum, and loved it. I loved the time I got to spend with my Daughter. But I was not then, nor am I now, prone to Christmas stress. Granted, I still haven't gotten all the decorations up and will probably, again, send my Christmas cards on the 23rd or something, but in the end I know that the actual Christmas will be just fine. Who cares if my hummus and eggplant spreads look rather alarmingly like wall-paper glue, and everybody just looks all ''well, ahemmm, interesting, very interesting'' when you present them with your giant capers as starters. 

Thats me, right, 
getting ready to serve yet another
of my delightful Christmas Day

Yeah, sounds a bit strangely Middle-Eastern for a Scandinavian Christmas menu, doesn't it. You see, I am not too fond of the actual traditional Christmas Food that's supposed to be eaten on Christmas Eve, so I leave taking care of that to my Mother. And they leave coming up with something for a loooooong lunch on the 25th to me. Weehey. So, last year they got a vaguely Middle-Eastern spread. Don't get me wrong, some of it was actually pretty good and went down nicely, unlike the eggplant spread that I found still lurking in my Mother's fridge quite a few weeks later. I haven't yet decided what to do this year, but sushi, anyone? Just kidding. I think that might be stretching my family's open-minded Christmas spirit just a tad too far. 

That pretty much sums us up.

I've also been thinking about what attracts us to each others, again, thanks to that unbelievably slow queue. Another headline, I think this one was in Cosmo or something. '' You Fell for Your Man's Smell''. Okey dokey. Without going further into evolution biology, I can only say that the advertising agency responsible for those AXE ads must be behind this one. But what is it that attracts us to each other? I recently read an article in another magazine in which the woman being interviewed claimed to have two 'Men Types' that she always goes for. The skinny, artistic type, and the burly, beary sort of fellow. Her words, not mine... I never understood what was it that people mean by this. Are they implying that those outward characteristics come attached to certain personality types? That all 'skinny, artistic types' are the same? By this rationale, let's imagine a man claiming his type to be tall, green eyed blondes with big boobs and pouty lips. What do you think he's looking for? Well, he would most likely be in for one hell of a disappointment should he be unfortunate enough to mistake me for his 'type'. And trust me, many have.

So you think you know what she's like?
You sure?

And maybe it is precisely because of this that I find this  'my type' business based on looks so absurd, unless, of course, you really do not care one whit about what's on the inside. To me, some people just 'have it', regardless of their looks, and I have had the weirdest of incidents in my life to prove that. Case in point. Quite a few years ago I was sitting at the Brussels airport, in Belgium, waiting to board a plane to Lisbon, minding my own business, when I saw a pair of sneakers appearing on the floor in front of me. ''Mam, would you mind taking part in our survey? It would only take a few minutes?'' said a voice on top of the sneakers. I lifted my eyes from my book already mouthing the words ' no thank you' when suddenly I found myself smiling from ear to ear as I could not help but stare into the eyes of the increasingly red faced young man in front of me. To this day I could not tell you what he looked like, only that it was certainly nothing out of the ordinary, but we ended up doing the survey while grinning like idiots and I boarded the plane feeling all giddy and light. Attraction, pure and simple. But what was it that I was attracted to? His looks? Hardly. His personality? Very unlikely. So, what was it then?

And to further prove my point. This time at the Frankfurt airport. What is it with me and airports... Well, at one time in my life I seemed to be spending so much time at airports no wonder I ended up meeting all sorts of curious characters there. Well, this time I was approached in a cafe by one super confident, super smooth man asking if he could sit at my table. Seeing that most of the chairs at most of the other tables were taken, I said he could. The result? A full on flirt attack. That left me just plain bored bored bored and wishing he would just go away already. Sure, he would've ticked all the women's magazine boxes for a stereotypically handsome, stylish and witty male, but there was just simply nothing there. Nothing. Maybe, based on my outward appearance he thought I was something I am not. Well, tough. 

And it's been a tough few weeks here for me too, like I said in the previous post. Eight years ago at the end of November I got married. This year, about the same time, the divorce decree came through. I have changed my name, and am finding it rather weird to look at my new, old name. It's going to take some time before I get used to signing it again. People being born and dying. Falling ill and getting better. Life, I guess you could say. My youngest sister brought this angel cookie cutter set from her recent trip to Berlin, and I have yet to put it to use. Maybe tomorrow I should just bake some sugary sweet vanilla cookies for the Daughter's kindergarten class. I've already taken them a batch of gingerbread and another one of gooey chocolate chip cookies, and let's just say they were not complaining. What can I say. I like to cook. I like to bake. The kids like to eat what I bake and there always seem to be some adventurous souls who are willing to brave my cooking. Perfect.

Thanks, Sis. 

And yeah, I just realised that I have actually bought one Christmas Present. One. And I don't think I have the faintest of ideas where my address book is. Hard to send those cards without addresses. Blimey. And no, I haven't made a single present yet either. So how many days was it again until Christmas? Ten? Oh, but no worries then, it'll all sort itself out. I'll just make myself a nice cup of hot cocoa, dunk some marshmallows in there and just sit and relax. Isn't that what the 'holiday spirit' is about anyway? And I bet I won't be saying that come the 23rd...

Monday, 6 December 2010

Song of Peace

Today is our Independence Day. On the 6th of December 1917, our country became independent from Russia, and has been ever since. This day is not celebrated by parades or parties, but rather with quiet contemplation, this independence was not won easily. 

And this suits me today. This morning I received sad news, and don't mind just spending the day enjoying the little, ordinary things in life. Playing with my Daughter. The gingerbread men in the oven. The quietly falling snow and the ice rink waiting for us outside. Today we're going to try ice skating. My Daughter for the first time in her life, and me for the first time in years. I hope my ankles won't mind too much. And I'm going to be thankful for my life. It is certainly not all that I wanted it to be, but it's life, and I still have it. And today, that's enough.

Hug your loved ones. Give them kisses to last a lifetime. Tell them how much you care.

And to you, my love, from here to eternity.

Joan Baez sings Finlandia by Jean Sibelius.