Sunday, January 31, 2021

The World is My Dinner Party: Kwanzaa

Coronapocalypse Christmas. Who knew years and years of not being with family for Important Dates would be a superpower. Sure, I miss home, but I am used to it. And this year, of all years, is THE year to not travel. Indeed, the grocery store was high preparation -- as it should be during the Coronapocalypse.

What to make for Christmas dinner? Usually we do North American Thanksgiving food, but we just did that at US Thanksgiving. However, we get Bon Appétit magazine, and the last issue of 2020 had a whole special on Kwanzaa! I feel the meaning of Kwanzaa for African Americans in particular, and this year the anti-capitalist aspect resonated with me in particular. The recipes looked amazing, so that's what we did! A bit more than a day of both of us cooking and hallelujah!

Yes, I made an effort. Thanks for noticing.

These are leek latkes - nope not actually part of the magazine's Kwanzaa dinner, but delicious! The Tzatziki was nice and spicy with garlic, and we do love dill....

Corn and crab beignets with Yaji (Suya spice) aioli. Just as delicious as it sounds. That Yaji spice is amazing on vegetables, curries, fish, you name it. We still have some, and I am OK with that. 

Some of the best beets I have ever had. Roasted beets with dukkah spice and sage. Again, that spice mix is delicious and I'm not sure it's not a controlled substance...

Roasted carrots with ayib (Ethiopian soft cheese) and awaze spice vinaigrette. That vinaigrette, people... I ate it with a spoon and have no regrets.

The recipe was beef rib tips or something, but we did it with venison tenderloin. We marinated it in a piri-piri marinade, sous vide cooked it, and then piri-piri sauce to top it off. Later, we put the suace on fried chicken and that was pretty good, too, but this, folks, was the BOMB.  

Aerial photo. Note the oils and extra spice mixes in little bowls. 

Gratuitous holiday pic with a hand made cross-stitch tablecloth and Moomin "pingelverk."

We loved these recipes so much, we went and bought the cookbook all recipes in the magazine we made, except the latkes, are from:

I am currently reading it out loud to the Fuzzband, and we have made more amazing things from it, like the best chess pie ever (in my opinion) and yummy chicken liver paté. The cookbook is divided into sections that have an introduction to various aspects of Black foodways in the USA, like the Great Migration, heritage, and trendsetting Black cooks right NOW. African American food is American food and has influenced American food in ways that has been obscured from history. Well, says Samuelsson -- an Ethiopian-Swedish-American food visionary -- no more! The recipes are dedicated to movers and shakers in the Black food world -- mostly African American, but also other Black folks - and there are short bios to introduce the reader to their work, history, contribution, experiences, and awesome. It is a lovely read and we are learning so much! I am also running out of bookmarks to flag all the dishes we want to make, but that is a good thing! 


The World is My Dinner Party: Andorra

 This here is escudella - an Andorran soup of amazing deliciousness. The cook, aka the Fuzzband, tells me it is the national dish of Andorra. It is eaten on Sundays, and today is Sunday! Pure coincidence. What is not a coincidence is that I want to eat it until I explode. Fact. It has cabbage, and chickpeas and (homemade) sausage, and chicken, and bacon, and pasta, and YUM! It all started, from what I could tell from my bastion of grading, with boiling stock from a smoked ham hoc. That baby boiled for ages. 

The recipe the Fuzzband used was by Notes from a Messy Kitchen. Five out of five stars, would totally nag him to make again! 

Now, anyone who knows me knows I love, love, love dessert. As I am fond of saying, my mother may be a pescaterian, but I could be a dessertarian. I present, in wonder, Crema Andorrana:

Crema Andorrana is a delicate lemony custard with a semi-cooked meringue on top. Instead of a caramel the Fuzzband spun some sugar into flames. Yes, peeps, that is spun sugar. He is cleaning the kitchen as I type. We didn't have a lemon to zest so we used limoncello made by friends, and vanilla essence made with bourbon by the same friends, and yes, it is exactly as good as your salivating mouth is telling you it is. The Fuzzband used, more or less, the recipe from Naptime Prep Cook, but with some serious consultation from a recipe on Cook the Cake (yes, it is in Catalan). 

Definitely also a keeper. But serve with spoons, not forks. Also, we have leftovers!

Andorra's location (source: Wikipedia)

Monday, August 24, 2015


When our friends told us they were expecting, there may have first been squeals and tears of joy on my part, but there was most certainly the search for the perfect pattern - a pattern that spoke to the Fuzzband and myself of our friends. They love nature and have an appreciation of crafting. They have a huge back yard where they can observe all kinds of wildlife from deer to raccoons to humming birds. Maybe frogs, too...

I have not been into crochet for a while, although I have made snowflakes and some other small things. Our friend KR is a great crocheter, and her works has inspired me, so I had looked at afghan patterns for a while and saved several. The Etsy store The Hat and I has several marvelous patterns, and I have queued several on Ravelry. So that is where I ended up after my search. This is the one we picked for the little love on his way:
I had it in my Ravelry favorites all ready for purchase, so all I needed was the yarn. Luckily I already have a favorite cotton yarn. I went online and basically bought a ball of each color that was vaguely watery and froggy by Lily's Sugar 'n' Cream. I don't remember which website I got it from - apologies. I am too lazy to dig up the receipt. Bad crafter, bad! However, when not buying in bulk, I buy it from JoAnn's, so I will link that website...

Anyway. It was great to pick a motif (frog, lily pad or bubble) and then focus on those. Very satisfying! Here is a pile of finished frog panels:
One of the things I love about the pattern is that one froggy gets to be royalty!
I also got to go to a baby shower for the baby. I have very limited experience with this whole shower concept, but I figured out gifts are involved. Of course, where I come from home made gifts are key, but I could not finish the blanket! So I knit a cardigan as well:
This is the famous Presto Chango by Valerie Wallis. I have made several, and it is always as satisfying and fun! The mother is a botanist, so I made the panel leaf patterned:
And of course I added my "signature"
Fun times! And the shower was lots of fun as well. We got lost on the way, but thanks to mobile phone technology we made it in time for games and delicious food! I gather that men are not usually part of baby showers, but the father, grandfather, and the Fuzzband were all present, so way to go family B for opening up to the lads! I am also proud to announce that I won the games where the object was a blind folded diaper change on a stuffed animal! I am not competitive by nature, but I have to admit I am a little proud of this victory, especially considering the mothers and grandmothers present. I think it is the finger dexterity from handicrafts more than the number of diapers I have changed... 

I handed over the blanket just before we left on vacation, and it was so cool to think that the next time I would see my friends they would be a Mom and Dad! Exciting! 

And finally, the little darling was born on August 31st, happy and healthy at 7 pounds and 1 ounce! We were on vacation in Beautiful British Columbia, but I got to hold him when he was just over two weeks old. The cuteness is beyond words. He has THE most perfect little ears and upper lip on the planet! I cannot wait to see him grow and learn. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

I used to be a letter writer. I mean, a real letter writer. Long, handwritten letters. My godparents have a 24 page letter I wrote to them from Rome tucked into their two or three file cabinet sections dedicated to Stuff From Finnish Goddaughter. They have saved all my letters.

I also like writing cards. I used to write lots of them. Postcards, note cards, handmade cards...

Then I went to grad school. Then I got my first academic job. Yeah... But I have managed some holiday cards. Not a lot, but a couple. Typically based on responding to someone who wrote to me, but not always. Everyone I did not write to - I am torn between apologizing and figuring that those whose opinion is worth it will not mind at all.

The only people I consistently write to and even send Christmas gifts to - I am blessed with a family who is not very focused on gifts at all - are my godparents. It's sort of become a thing: my whole life they sent my family 4 Christmas tree ornaments, usually with the names of my family members on them. When my sister and I moved away from home we split them up and we all have enough handmade ornaments for a tree of our own. When my Fuzzband and I settle down permanently, one of the perks will be that I will bring my godparent-made ornaments from Finland. Since I moved to the US, my godparents now send me an ornament or two as there are two of us. Typically they are either handmade or unicorn themed. I love unicorns, and it has also become a thing between my godmother and myself.

And so, as my godmother and I both revel in crafting, and my godfather appreciates our skills, that is what I have been regaling them with for decades. I have made them garlands, balls, cross stitch things... Typically Christmas themed items, of course, but I have sent them handcrafted items out of season, so to speak. When I visit, their home is riddled with crafts I have produced over the years. It is amazing to have godparents like these, and it is such a privilege to be so present in their home.

This year I did not make them the traditional Christmas decorations as they have recently downsized and really don't need more stuff. Instead, I made a bunch of Christmas cards over US Thanksgiving weekend that they can send to family and friends over the holidays. The theme this year was basically origami Christmas trees: instructions from Flowerbug's Inkspot. Very addicting! OMG! So much fun to fold, glue, add sparkles, rhinestones, punch snowflakes... I made my godparents about a dozen cards - but forgot to photograph them. They looked so impressive all arrayed on the counter... Oh well...

However, here are a few I either did not include because they needed a bit more work, or that I made later.

This one I made from one of my old thank you cards that depicts the Turku Cathedral - which is my favorite church in the world. I cut it out of its original, summery setting and added a snowy tree we can peek behind to see the magnificence of 14th century awesome. I am particularly pleased at how the snowflakes cut out from tissue paper have a slightly ethereal thing going on:

This one was missing something originally - it was one of the first I made. What it was missing was SPARKLE! I had heirloom sequins, but they really needed pastel Rhinestones added to them, and snowflakes. I love my snowflake stamper... 

An ode to tea at Christmas time. The true addict will drink tea from a cardboard coffee shop cup, a holiday themed mug, or a cup with a saucer, or - let's face it - a rubber boot. When I found this crafting paper, it SPOKE to me:

Mulberry paper and teeny heart shaped buttons. I love the buttons. It may be a problem in my life. They are so ADORABLE!

One of the great card inspirations in my life is CET over at Sartorial Sidelines. She makes cards every Christmas and they are works of art. How she manages the time is a mystery, but then she is one of the two most organized people in the world. As I said about the other organizational wonderwoman: If I was Jesus, I would hire her to organize my second coming. Yes, that's how organized these ladies are!  

And finally, because it is adorable: a glimpse of our Christmas Beaver:
We bought him a few years ago in Essex, CT, "The Best Little Town in America." The Fuzzband and I were visited by one of my oldest friends, the remarkably talented Tonja  and her partner T, and decided to get out of New Haven; do some sightseeing. So, we went exploring Essex for their Halloween Scarecrow weekend event. It was a nice little town with some eccentric scarecrows and the lovely, quaint and delicious Griswold Inn. There was also a Christmas shop, and one of the types of ornament was these animals made from bristles. Of course we got the beaver! Here Mr. Christmas Beaver is posing in the tree with our brand new Finnish flag string from Uniquely Nordic. 

So, Merry Christmas! God Jul!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Happy Halloween!

My amazing friend and colleague KR found a haunted house gingerbread decorating class at the local fancy tea and cake shoppe, The Bon Bonerie! In other words, give them money, show up to a ready made gingerbread house, icing, candies, etc. and  HAVE FUN! So, today, in the middle of grading, job applications, article rewriting and other less than relaxing activities, KR, her Mom, and yours truly spent a lovely afternoon of playing with sugar. This was followed by a late lunch, black currant tea (with milk) and a fat slice of tangerine cake, aka. Harvest Moon cake. I feel more relaxed than after a long night's sleep! Thank you KR!

If you would wander into my office next week, this is what you would see:
 Or from the side, where I usually sit when meeting with students:
Let's do a close up of the dangling spider web, shall we:
Ok, so my cellphone takes very poor quality photos, but the cobweb is only attached at the points and under the coco-puff (a kind of breakfast cereal, apparently) spider. I am ridiculously proud of it...

And lastly, when I go behind it to put the kettle on, in Dante's potentially miss-remembered words:
Now, back to work!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Beet cake for potluck

Back in 2013 I discovered that my family's carrot cake is perhaps even better when made with beets. The Benevolent Overlord thinks there is no reason to ever make carrot cake again unless made with beets. I have been hankering for a slice of beet cake, but given a desire to eat healthier, above all smaller portions and less sugars, I was not going to make a cake and have it hanging around the house. Bad idea. Bad. Luckily, the beginning of the semester came to the rescue: the Labor Day Departmental Pot Luck!

I love cream cheese icing, but decided I needed to jazz it up somehow. While the cake baked and cooled I did some happy Internet searching, and settled on a Honey Ginger Buttercream Frosting from as the filling layer. As you can see I slathered it on nice and thick.

For the actual icing that I would use to ice and decorate the cake, I went with Wilton's Cream Cheese Icing. Instead of the orange juice I used ginger liquor, and instead of the grated orange peel I used dried ginger - grated ginger would clog the icing tips. An issue I had was the icing was highly volatile and softened much quicker than usual, even given the temperature or the room. As The Benevolent Overlord pointed out, alcohol has properties that will soften butter. Note to self - ginger liquor gave a fabulous flavor, but makes icing harder. 

Carrot cake is very crumbly, so I started with a thin layer of icing just to seal in the crumbs:

I edged the cake with a cheerful yellow basket weave - always fun to do! - and topped it with beets:

The color is obviously off, but here's a close-up of the beets:

I am particularly pleased with the beet tops. And you know, the beets I peeled for this cake did have a bumpy look, even if not quite so "dog turdy" in appearance as these. While doing the veins in the leaves, I managed to brush the piping at the top of the basket weave, which was already compromised by the heat/alcohol. There was no saving the edge without mussing it up, so I added a helpful caption in case someone was wondering what kind of cake it is:

Hah! The hosting professor's daughter was quite fascinated with how I got my elbow in the cake, so I got a story out of it as well. 

Over all, it was a truly delicious cake, even if I do say so myself. The beets and the ginger married beautifully, and everyone liked it. We got to take leftovers home, so we ended up having only two pieces, which is plenty. Yes, we had it for breakfast the next day. Decadent!

And here's the full view: 

I will definitely make this combo again, and am glad I discovered the ginger icing!

Monday, September 8, 2014

What to do with lots of squash? Part 1.

We love delicata squash! So, now that we live in a house (the landlord said we can do anything we want with the yard), we decided to plant some. We put them in a plot behind the cedar trees. However, only a few of the seeds in the package are actually delicata - most are butternut squash. We love butternut as well, so we are only slightly disappointed. Over the summer the plants have grown, and above you see how they are growing up over the cedars and around the cedars.  It is hard to capture in a photograph, but it is pretty awesome.

The first butternut squash was emergency harvested as a deer had nibbled on it. Here is a picture of it from its non-nibbled on side, along with (left to right) everclear being infused with a mint variety nicely called "julep" (I'm looking at you TMV and LH!), everclear infusion based on Samovar Blend tea (KT, this one is for you!), and my felted teacosy. The beer in the background is leftovers from a departmental pot-luck (more on that later. Maybe). When I cut into the squash a few days later, it smelled more fragrant and delicious than any butternut squash I have ever purchased.

One day a week or so ago the Fuzzband - although I think we decided to call him Benevolent Overlord after Doug Berman, who is titled thus on Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! (The best radio show in the 'verse!)... So, Benevolent Overlord declared we need to find at least ten butternut squash recipes. Well, I did. I went through our cookbooks, because I am a cookbook person. We have a pretty exciting lineup of butternut squash and pumpkin recipes!

Here is recipe #1 (complete with an attempt at food photography):

This is perhaps my favorite cook book: 400 Best-Ever Soups,
edited by Anne Sheasby (Hermes House, 2008). The recipe is on p. 150.

Squash Soup with Horseradish Cream

1 butternut squash
1 cooking apple
2 Tblsp butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1-2 tsp curry powder - I used hot + extra for garnish
900 ml / 3 3/4 cup vegetable stock
1 tsp chopped fresh sage - I used dry
150 ml / 2/3 cup apple juice
lime rind, shredded, to garnish - I did not use this
salt and black pepper

Horseradish cream:
4 Tbsp heavy whipping cream
2 tsp horseradish sauce - I used freshly grated
1/2 tsp curry powder - again, I used hot

  1. Peel squash, remove seeds, chop the flesh. Peel, core, and chop apple
  2. Heat the butter in a large pan. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes until soft. Stir in the curry powder. Cook to bring out the flavor, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the stock, squash, apple, and sage. Bring to boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the squash and apple are soft. 
  4. Meanwhile, make the horseradish sauce: whip the cream until stiff, add the horseradish and curry. Refrigerate until ready to serve on soup.
  5. Puree the soup. Return to pot and add apple juice. Season to taste. Reheat gently, without bringing to boil.
  6. Serve the soup  in bowls topped with a spoonful of the horseradish sauce and a dusting of curry powder. Garnish with shredded lime rind, if you like.

It was delicious! Seriously. And it was even better the next day. While "best ever" is an absolute I don't like to put in writing outside hyperbole on Facebook, this book sure does live up to its name. Benevolent Overlord said it was the best squash soup he has had - and we've had some darn fine ones. I would rate it at a solid 8 out of 10, Benevolent Overlord at 9/9.5! Regardless, we are remembering this one.

If you try this, I would love to hear how yours turns out, how you modified the recipe, etc.

While my food photography is crappy, to say the least, here is one more shot:

P.S. The drink shown above is actually worth a note in and of itself. It is a mudslide with banana... (Ooo! The webpage has some other promising recipes, too!)We made our own creamed whiskey for the mudslide, since we had the ingredients for it, and did not want to go out and buy Bailey's, the most famous creamed whiskey and staple in home-bars as well as commercial bars. I have to say, the home made turned out more to our palette than then purchased version. What is left of the creamed whiskey now stored in an old everclear bottle in the fridge waiting for further adventures.