Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

I hope you all have a great 2009! 2008 turned out to be a year of changes and international travel and food for me. A short recap before the year is gone in less than 24 hours: I made international trips to Costa Rica (monkeys and crocodiles), Ecuador (volcanoes and rainforest), Vancouver (Pacific Ocean and Chinatown), and South Africa (winelands, Cape of Good Hope, and Table Mountain); the long and nervous process before Obama was elected president; growing chili peppers in our garden and burning wood in our furnace for the first time; lots of good food and food writing; some excellent reading; and trips within New Jersey (Sourland Preserve, Cape May, Brigantine, Ellis Island, Willowwood Arboretum, Pine Barrens, Grounds of Sculpture), Pennsylvania (New Hope Auto Show), and of course our big summer trip to Vermont and Maine. I started to use Flickr for my photos, and my most viewed photo is, unpredictably, a wine label with a stinkbug. AREA cut her hair short and colored it red, our cats kept their fluffy tails, my sister (EH) and mom (AnS) visited us, as well as several of our great friends. PP and I discovered the authors James Lee Burke and John Sandford (I know, crime novels and maybe not literature of the Nobel prize kind, but works great for the commute to work). Our favorite NJ restaurant is still Sergeantsville Inn, and our favorite US restaurant is probably TJ Buckleys in Brattleboro, Vermont, but we had many good meals at other places and we cooked lots of good local, organically grown food at home too. The weather was freaky with ice storms, floods, flowering dandelions at Christmas, and droughts in the summer (= no chanterelles in the forests here). The giant alpha male ground refused to be caught in our trap, and the moles ate all our beets (as usual, gardening posed its challenges). In the world and here in New Jersey the financial markets collapsed, Israel bombed Gaza, and no peace in sight in Iraq and Afghanistan either. But I am still hopeful for Peace on Earth, but then I suffer from perpetual hopefulness. After January 20, when Obama takes the reigns, things will be different, finally. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Happy New Year to all of you, and let's hope for the best for the Earth and its people for 2009.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Natural heat...

Ice storm outside and warm inside with the fire going in our furnace (värmepanna) in the basement. Here is one of our first wood fires ever in our combined oil-wood furnace, a great danish TARM firebox.

We have also bought the fantastic Swedish AGMA wood splitter to get the wood down to reasonably sizes. We also have a great ax from Sweden that my mom brougth with her in her suitcase a few years ago. No, not in the carry on :)

Now all we need is some solar electric power, solar hot water in summer and a heat tank, a diesel generator for emergencies when we have no power and the basement fills up with water, a new animal fence around our vegetable garden, and our Vermont Vigilant wood stove installed in the living room. Hmm, wouldn't all this be nice!?

How about some chickens for fresh eggs and a rabbit or two for rabbit stew? The best success this year in the vegetable garden was our chili peppers - we have never had so many before. They are now in Swedish Christmas sausage and homemade mustard, hot sauces, and pickles, and we still have lots of leftover dried ones.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Årets årgångsglögg- Blossa 08

This years glögg has a touch of blueberries, glögg is a spiced wine served hot with raisins and almonds. I will try to get a bottle of this one, it sounds terrific.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sankta Lucia

Merry Lucia everybody! Today is December 13, a very important day in Sweden's Christmas traditions. This photo is from last year, this year we are lagging behind. No tree, no decorations, no planning yet. It is time to get up to speed...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Santa Claus in the shape of kindergarten gnomes

Illustration: South African stamps: Jungle Bells

Today is Lucia at the daycare center for one of my boys. All the children dress up as small versions of Santa, Lucia and pepparkakor (ginger cookies ?) an sing christmas carols for the cheering parents and relatives. And of course, it´s raining instead of snowing...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Book Review: Berlinerpopplarna av Anne B. Ragde

Just after forcing myself to finish Heat, I picked up a Norwegian book in Swedish called Berlinerpopplarna (The Berlin Poplars) by Anne B. Ragde that I got from my best friend KV (it is translated into English, aren't you lucky!). What a joy! The story is about three brothers and what happens when they are called to their mother's deathbed. One, the oldest at 54, runs the old farm that is still owned by the mother. The middle boy is a undertaker, and the first chapter made me cry because it describes grief so well. The youngest son is gay and lives in Copenhagen and hasn't been home to his parents home in 20 years. The oldest son has a daughter, 37-year year old Torunn, that he has never met and nobody except his mom knows about, but calls he calls her when her grandmother gets a stroke, and she also shows up at the farm.

This is a great book, with vivid, descriptive language and it is obvious that the author knows a lot about people, psychology, and dysfunctional families. Despite all the despair in the book it ends on a positive note, and I really liked it. The author has a way of describing the complexity of people and their faults and strengths in a non-judgmental way I really liked. This could have been a real story, and I wonder if someone is planning to make it into a movie, since it seems to fit so well for that. Oh, I just found out it was made into a TV series by Norwegian public television. I always read when I go to bed to go to sleep, and most books I read 1-2 pages and then I am out. Not this one, I finished it in 5 evenings! Heat took me forever.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More bacon

There are other who also think about bacon, see here. A fellow blogger who have, found a can of Diet Coke and Bacon!
Is this a real thing or just a joke? For me, it´s really weird, so I say joke.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Book reviews: A different type of travel

This book, Heat by Bill Buford, got quite a lot of press when it came out, probably because it is written by a former editor at The New Yorker. The book is long and with small text, so it lasts for a long while, too long in my opinion. This is the true story of Bill quitting his job to go and work in superfamous Mario Batali's restaurant kitchen (at Babbo, superfamous place in New York), where he describes a million details and happenings in minuscule tidbits. After a year he is allowed to make some pasta, the most important station in the kitchen, and after that he decides to go to Italy and learn the real thing - pasta and butchering in Tuscany. The book is full of great portraits of people, and descriptions of scenery and interiors. But it is too long, too long-winded, too scattered, and several times I could not get the timeline right. A lot is written about Batali of course, not always in a friendly way, but not mean either. More observant, standing outside it all. The book detours into story dead ends (or maybe just distractions) of why there is egg in pasta, if the French cooking all comes from Tuscany, why not to become a chef, how to slaughter a pig in New York City (including how to get it up the elevator), and the good and bad of being a cattle and winegrower in Tuscany. There is not one recipe in the whole book, but you might want to read it if you want to know a recipe for restaurant kitchen disasters. It was an OK read, but maybe unfortunately nothing I want to read again. For great food writing with a real feel in fewer words, pick up Ruth Reichl, MFK Fisher, or Julia Child's biograph My Life in France. We have a good expression in Swedish that I thought of a couple of times when I read this book " full av ordbajseri och svammel", but I don't know how to translate it.

And then there is a completely different biographical book. A book full of life, of love of people and places, a book that makes you think, believe and trust in the common good and people's goodness again. The book is Tales of a Female Nomad, and is written by Rita Golden Gelman. It is the story of her life when she in upper middle age is faced with a divorce and realize that she wants to learn Spanish and visit foreign countries. She takes off on a whim and end up in Mexico for a few months and lives with local families, learning their way of living and their languages. Rita is a children's book writer, and by writing a few books a year and her royalties she has a small income, but enough to live abroad for months at the time. She lives in Central America, Bali, New Zealand, Canada... The book is a description of her travels, but more so a description of her fears, loves, adventures, and life - in a very realistic and colorful way. I strongly, strongly recommend this book. I loved it - read most of it on the plane to Africa (17 hour flight... ). Rita is still a nomad, she moves around and you can read more about her on her blog. After you have read this book, it is like you found a new friend.

Good morning!

This is post number 1001 on this blog. Bacon is still the theme.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Stamp of the Day: I found one! (two actually)

I found a stamp! Here is Lord Bacon from UK! The stamp is 6 cents from Newfoundland, commemorating Francis Bacon. He seems to have lived a very interesting life. Lord Bacon wrote the novel The New Atlantis about an utopian place, and some think this was meant to be North America.

It seems like bacon is not named after Lord Bacon, and he wasn't named after the meat either. Bacon might come from a german word. Now, what is bacon in Swedish? Sidfläsk? That means 'side flesh'. As usual, the swedes just say it straight out, no fancy words there.

While looking for the bacon stamp I also found another pig stamp. I think this speaks for itself. ("Grymt, sa grisen.")

By the way, "the USDA defines bacon as "the cured belly of a swine carcass", according to Wikipedia. It tastes better than it sounds.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Theme of the Day: Bacon

Why is bacon so good? And it is really good, in 'lagom' doses! And not only humans like bacon.
I wonder if there is a stamp with bacon for our Stamp of the Day series, I have to go out and look on the internet. But first, Saturday work around the house and errands... (PS. The LOLcats are from here).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Handmade jewelry

Some things I´ve made. For cellphones/bags and a necklace for myself. Necklace design is graciously stolen from Snö of Sweden, very fancy and popular in Sweden right now.

Bathroom no more!

We are a week into our bathroom renovation and this is the progress so far. They have spent a week breaking down and tearing up the old floor and putting in new pipes. Yesterday they put the first concrete back into the grooves with the pipes and maybe, tomorrow they will raise the new walls to the extended bathroom.

It´s the old floor and roof that is standing in the lower part of the pic to stop the children from playing with the tools.
It´s a fine dust in our house, but we´ve used a lot of plastic to stop some of it. It works pretty good.
Before they started we sawed through the bedroom wall and made a new door opening, since the old one ends up in the new bathroom. This is what it looked like before they started to tear down everything.
See the line on the floor? This is about where the new wall will be. The washing machine will be in a niche and we´ll have 2 sinks and a bathtub. The window will be smaller, to fit a future shower corner.

Our new bedroom door ...without door and the old door opening.

To be continued.

Flock of seagulls

Test if you can count how many birds that fly by in this Finnish game.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Stamp of the Day: Jupiter

Jupiter is not only a planet, but was also the name of one of the locomotives that were involve din the building of the first transcontinental railroad in America. This was no easy feat, and involved Indians, buffalos, deserts, disease, canyons, rivers, mountains, tunnels, quicksand (at least in the movies), and probably also too many flies and mosquitos. This stamp memorizes the moment when the last spike, The Golden Spike, was hammered into the railroad, at Promontory Point in Utah. One day I want to visit this place, out in nowhere and with great views of the desert, but now without a railroad.

The gods of the skies: Luna, Venus and Jupiter

The Moon with Jupiter and Venus
photo by Anthony B in Australia

I saw this last night - A new moon, Venus and Jupiter, all together. It was amazing. Let's hope it is clear tonight again so the kids can see it too. It is a rare event that they are so close.