Saturday, November 27, 2010

Seventh Word: Thank

thank: O.E. ├żancian "to give thanks," from Proto-Germanic *thankojan, from *thankoz "thought, gratitude," from PIE base *tong- "to think, feel.




I'm writing this post as I eat some Thanksgiving left-overs and look out at our snow-covered castle. For anyone who knows me, these left-overs would not be on my list of favorite foods (greenbean casserole, sweet potato casserole, haggis) but the comfort and nostalgia they bring (besides the haggis, I guess) are what make these Thanksgiving foods an exception.

Alex and I hosted seven other people for dinner and two others joined us for dessert. We managed to fit eleven people into this tiny flat! Much to my surprise, the dinner went by with out any significant disaster. Ok, we broke the bowl all the mashed potatoes were in, the turkey was done an hour before all the guests arrived, and Alex forgot to take out the giblets :) But everything tasted so good! Here's a basic rundown of the foodstuffs:

-a 9-10lb turkey, not dry and very delicious
-mashed potatoes and gravy
-excellent green bean casserole
-sweet potato casserole
-corn pudding
-stuffing
-rolls

We were blessed with a diversity of cultures at our meal: American (Jason's from Mississippi which is definitely a different culture than ours up north), Scottish, English, and Belgian. Our Scottish landlords' son brought some haggis. It was so tasty! It went perfectly will all the other flavors we had. If we can find some good stuff in the US it might make an appearance at next year's feast (beware, families!). For dessert, I made a pumpkin pie, Jason brought chess pie, which as far as I can tell is like a butter tart, and pecan pie (we had trouble deciding how to pronounce "pecan." pee-can, pee-canpee-cahn, or pih-cahn).

Our Belgian friend made delicious truffles, and Sydney (an American) brought marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey's chocolate. Our British friends brought whisky to add to black tea (apparently a typical Christmas drink where they are from...not even the Scots had heard of it). Every non-American there was given a s'more to eat :) I think they liked them. I know they thought they were ridiculous and messy. Also, none of them believed us about why they are called s'mores!

We played a few rounds of Telephone Pictionary and Balderdash (remember, we're in a Linguistics program!), which was full of raucous hilarity. And the best part of the evening? SNOW! It was the first snowfall of the season and they were beautiful fluffy flakes! I went out to the roof right below us and made a snow angel :) It was magical:


The best part is that the snow is still here! (I'll admit, I listened to Christmas music this morning.) And we're supposed to get more tonight.

Thanksgiving is such a great holiday, especially for the food, but last night, five cultures came together and shared food traditions and stories of holiday feasts and I think we all felt pretty thankful for being together. Most of us were displaced from our families back home and it felt good to be a part of a family again. Alex and I missed our families, of course, but our family over here is pretty cool too. 

My "Say What?" in this post comes from an interesting cultural difference that was mentioned last night:

We were all talking about childhood memories and Alex brought up "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." Ben, who is from England, noted that Brits must be more cautious about tv violence than Americans because when he was growing up it was called "Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles."


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sixth Word: Dessert

dessert: c.1600, from M.Fr. dessert (mid-16c.) "last course," lit. "removal of what has been served," from desservir "clear the table," lit. "un-serve," from des- "remove, undo"


You will get the joke once I've told my stories. 


I grew up making Christmas cookies with my mom every December. There were at least five or six kinds. When you're a kid, you like the "cut-out cookies"; sugar cookies that you get to decorate with frostings of various colors and myriad kinds of sprinkles. You laugh when your sister shows you her one-eyed snowman or at the Santa who's only "wearing" undergarments. Snow-top cookies, Russian tea cakes, spritz, magic cookie bars, peanut-butter kisses. Cookies. 


Last year was my first year to attempt the Christmas cookie spree solo (Al and I had a place of our own then, remember?). All went well...I guess the snow-tops were a little hard...and I didn't add enough sugar. In my defense, the oven we had was a ruthless monster that gobbled up your fare as soon as you stopped paying attention. Running roughly 50 degrees hotter than the dial was set at, one had to keep a keen eye the little morsels lest they turn black. That doesn't explain the sugar though...


Something I can't blame on the oven, is something many of you have heard me tell of before. Alex's dad and I both love pie. So for one of our birthdays (can't remember), I decided to bake a cherry pie. My mom cans cherries every summer and I noticed that we had a jar of them in our pantry. I also had a few left over in the freezer. As I'm stirring the cherries on the stove, I add in the frozen ones and notice that they are a much brighter red than the ones that I was stirring. I figured it was either because they were frozen or that they were two different kinds of cherries. The mixture took a long time to thicken up and wasn't even that thick in the end. I poured them into my pie crust, made the top crust look all pretty, and carefully placed the pie into the oven. I watched that thing like a hawk. I was not going to bring a burnt pie to this party. Let me tell you, it looked beautiful. I carried it so carefully on my lap in the car and then into the Masons' house. 


I cut into the beauty after all the candles had been blown out and stuff oozed everywhere. Actually, "ooze" implies some form of coagulation. The thing was a mess. I cut Alex and me slices and we bit in. The flavor was pretty good. The crust was too, but...we kept crunching down on something every bite. Did the cherries still have their pits? It was so weird. I've never had a cherry pie crunch before. Realization dawned on Alex's face sure as the sun does each morning. The previous week he had gone to pick concord grapes at his friend's house and put a can of them in our pantry!


Well, to make a long year short, that was pretty much the end of my mess with baking. Then Edinburgh came. New country, new oven. Ok, nothing beats the grape pie story, but US-metric conversions aren't easy as pie (if you know what I mean). To sum up, milliliters and grams are NOT the same thing. Yes, you need to invest in a scale. No, you can't just eyeball it. I have ended up with several, paper-thin, mushy cookies (oh yea, add baking soda!).  So making cookies one day, the consistency of the dough was completely wrong because we didn't understand that 250g (1c) of butter and 300ml (probably less than 200g (2/3c)) of flour would make a soggy batch of cookies.  We had to add almost a half bag more of flour. But they turned out well. It was a big accomplishment figuring out that one :) 


So now, I'm sitting here smelling the wafting aroma of cinnamon and treacle (molasses, to you folk) as our cookies bake away in our perfectly-on-temperature-although-it's-in-Celsius oven. mmm...I can just taste them. 


Say What?


squidgy: squishy (although, to me it sounds a little denser than something squishy). Alex says, squidgy can also be "soft" as in a "squidgy neck pillow." See: