winter dream on cross-country skis

Lady Winter

A winter storm exactly three weeks ago created extraordinary weekend skiing conditions for us in West Michigan. With temperatures holding between 28 and 30 degrees, I took to the cross-country ski trails at Seidman Park in the sequestered woodlands of Ada, MI.

The park was pristine: all wrapped in snow, a mid-afternoon sun broke through and danced on the waters of Honey Creek. The surroundings were the flint that ignited the imagination, dormant after the holiday season. A series of images suggested themselves to me: of winter camping on the shores of Lake Superior; of returning home to a fire, beef roast, and red wine; of sailing the Great Lakes (the sun had already begun its trek to the summer solstice and was carrying my thoughts with it).

For about an hour, I allowed my skis to glide through the snow, warmed by the physicality of the activity and exhilarated by the fresh winter air. Each season beguiles, but this was an encounter with Lady Winter.

Christmas Goose

The Goose of Christmas Past

So much of the way we celebrate Christmas actually borrows from the Dickensian Christmas of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. And, at the center of that story is the Christmas goose. Who doesn’t love that scene in A Christmas Carol where Scrooge, animated by the yuletide spirit flings open his bedroom window on a crisp, cold Christmas morning and bids a lad passing by to run to the market, purchase the biggest goose, and bring it back—an act that Scrooge awards handsomely?

If turkeys are for Thanksgiving, geese are for Christmas. Cooked in the manner of a turkey, the meat is darker, richer, and some say “gamier”, a feast for a true gourmand. Paring well with figs, nuts, apples, and other Fall fruits, the goose best accompanies wine like a Burgundy or Cabernet, for example. Also served at New Year’s Eve dinner parties, the goose is beginning to make a comeback; sales are their highest since the goose’s heyday in Victorian England.

The Goose of Christmas Past, it appears, is on its way to becoming the Goose of Christmas Present, and–while we continue our work at finding a source for this water fowl–you can find goose meat for your holiday table this year by visiting Heritage Foods USA. Until then, for us it will remain the Goose of Christmas Future.

film

Maybe Not Your Conventional Valentine’s Day Movies…

I have never known a conventional Valentine’s Day. The first time I celebrated it was in Colorado. Both of my roommates, being in relationships, had dates the night of February 14th and were out of the house. I stayed behind, absent a date, ordered Chinese take-out, and popped in a movie. It was an act of kindness toward myself, and somehow deeply fulfilling. A few years passed before next observing the holiday. This time, while living in an old farmhouse just north of town, a Valentine’s Day dinner for a number of my single friends was spontaneously planned and executed the the day of. All told, there were upwards of 18 of us, eating lasagne and drinking wine in the soft glow of lamplight. Then, just a couple of years ago, married now, my wife and I–together with another newly wed couple–held a Valentine’s steak dinner in our home, surrounded by candlelight and by friends both single and married.

I suppose these are among my favorite ways to celebrate the holiday of love, by honoring another form of love beyond eros (i.e. romantic love): that of philia, the love between friends. And to that list, the Greeks added two other forms of love: storge (the love that exists in the family or in a community) and agape (self-sacrificial love).

If this Valentine’s Day involves dinner and a movie–with your significant other, with friends, or with family–consider viewing one of the following films, all of which inspire one to love better, to love more. Below is a “Top 10” list of Film for the 14th of February. Each notes the forms of love embodied in each feature. What would you add to the list?

To the Wonder: Agape and Eros

 

Braveheart: Agape, Eros, Philia, and Storge

 

Jane Eyre: Eros, Philia, and Storge

 

Crazy Heart: Eros

 

A Walk to Remember: Eros, Storge


The Sound of Music: Eros and Storge

 

The Notebook: Eros

 

Legends of the Fall: Eros and Storge

 

Les Miserables: Agape, Eros, Philia, and Storge

 

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?: Storge

 

The Daniel Gooch

Steak and Kidney Pie, O My!

When 89 of my classmates and I landed in London, England, for a semester abroad in January of 1998, those of us not yet 21 (myself included) could drink legally. After unpacking and settling into our flats, most of us headed to a local pub, the Daniel Gooch, to christen the semester with a pint (an unceremonious first pint for those of us who were 20 years old). The following month, feeling somewhat cheated and looking for a bit of excitement on my 21st birthday (almost 16 years ago, to the day!), I returned to “The Gooch” and ordered an English staple: steak and kidney pie, exciting because the “kidney” in kidney pie doesn’t refer to beans but to organ meat; exciting because we were in the wake of the “mad cow” disease in the UK. Eating beef, therefore, came with the rush of taking one’s own life in one’s hands, something that could have been achieved, come to think of it, by renting a car and trying to adjust to driving on the left-hand side of the road.

If the winter of 1998 was notable for the daring culinary adventures of a young college undergrad (there was also dining on haggis in a pub on Edinburgh, Scotland’s Royal Mile), it was also notable for being Britain’s warmest winter on record in nearly 300 years. Some sixteen years later now and enduring the coldest Michigan winter in decades, one begins to crave comfort foods. The mind returns, therefore, to hearty English pub fare. That is how, just a couple of weeks ago as the mercury hovered around 1 degree Fahrenheit (that’s -17 degrees Celsius, blokes), I busied myself preparing steak and kidney pie with Scottish Highland beef.

Working with kidney meat, one observes the surface to be slippery and its texture almost spongy–like a cross between steak and tofu. The raw kidney meat with which I was working smelled of earth and barn, attributes that may be credited to the fact that this was high-quality pasture-raised beef. It was wholly pleasant to the olfactory senses and had even an invigorating effect. Once the steak and kidney was cubed and browned, it was stewed in a mixture of carrots and onions with flour and beef stock. Seasonings were added and, after about an hour or more, the mixture was placed in a clay pie dish, topped with puff pastry, and cooked to golden brown. The meal was a thoroughly savory one, and one that we enjoyed in front of a crackling fire as we drank a robust Cabernet Sauvignon. Sir Daniel Gooch, that 19th Century Baronet, would have smiled approvingly upon the scene, I am sure.

Steak & Kidney Pie

The Michigan Winter Beer Dinner Menu

Last week, you read about the Michigan Winter Beer Dinner (at least one angle of it). This week: the menu from that memorable night.

The First Course:

Vintage Beef Bone Marrow Tartine

Vintage Beef Bone Marrow Tartine

This course featured bone marrow of vintage beef with marrow bones procured from Crane Dance Farm. The marrow was first extracted from these bones by roasting them in the oven and then mixing with a little butter. The mixture was spread on crostini made from a Wealthy Street Bakery baguette, toasted with olive oil. Garnished with fresh thyme, it was served with Brewery Vivant’s hoppy red ale (Big Red Coq). Strictly speaking, tartine refers to an open-faced sandwich. Read more

Eastown Abbey

Downton Abbey–now in its third season–chronicles the life of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants at the lavish estate (Downton Abbey) of which the Crawley family is a steward. And that’s what’s so fascinating about the series set in post-Edwardian England: the exploration of two separate worlds–nobility and servants–living together under the roof of a grand estate (itself virtually a character in the series). Our own home in Eastown, Grand Rapids, was chosen as the location for the 2013 Michigan Winter Beer Dinner on Sunday, March 3. Like Downton Abbey, this post offers a behind-the-scenes look at the throwing of a dinner party from the perspective of those orchestrating the event. Read more

Michigan Beer Dinner Party: A Photo Journal

In an event that followed on the heels of the 2013 Michigan Winter Beer Festival, my friend Dan Mattson and I hosted a Michigan Beer Dinner last Sunday. The big idea: getting a bunch of good people together on a winter evening to beat back what many consider to be the most difficult weeks of cold and snow, and to do so with food and drink. The theme: pairing dishes with Michigan beers in an attempt to enhance the enjoyment of both (many of the dishes, in fact, contain beer as a key ingredient). For those dear friends who missed the event (and whom we so wanted to invite), take heart! We will do this again. In fact last night the ideas were starting to come for our next event (Dan: I can’t wait to share them with you), keeping me up way later than was good for me, considering my day started with a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call. My favorite food magazine Flavor 616 joined us for the event, so you’ll get another angle of the affair in an upcoming issue of that publication. Offered here today is a photo journal of the 2013 Michigan Beer Dinner. Enjoy!

Perhaps the best that could be said of the evening came from one of the guests who wrote, “The dinner was unforgettable. What a lovely night of hobbit-style decadent feasting and merrymaking.” Well put.

This post is dedicated to the night’s “unsung heroes”: Mike and Mechele Duba, whose behind the scenes support made the evening flow flawlessly. Love to you!

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And special thanks to Jonathan Timothy Stoner of Jonathan Stoner Photography for capturing the evening’s story on film

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Brave Heartburn with a Scottish Chili

Scotch Highland Chili3

This week, a Scotch Highland Chili I’ve been working on tied for first place in a chili cook off. Impressive though it may sound, there were really only four other chilies in the running. On the other hand, the competition did take place at a local brewpub whose staff knows a thing or two about cooking–and tasting–good food. This is the story of a chili that begins with a wager some fifteen years ago now in “a land of timeless beauty,” (it’s hard to think of Scotland without also hearing the trailer to Braveheart in my mind). The year: 1998. The bet: to eat an entire serving of haggis (exactly why that’s a bet should become abundantly clear as you read on). And hanging in the balance: a bottle of Irish liquor. It was Scott, one of my 14 flatmates in London, who threw down the gauntlet just prior to our leaving on a week-long furlough. He was off for the Emerald Isle (where Irish liquor could be procured) and I, for the enchanted city of Edinburgh and the Highlands (where haggis appears on the menus of local pubs). Read more

The Silent Partner

Christmas Candle

This post was originally released at Midnight on Christmas Day. As we observe the Twelve Days of Christmas, this post–here re-released under a new title: “The Silent Partner”–takes the place of the regularly scheduled Thursday post. Our regularly scheduled Thursday posts will resume on Thursday, January 10, 2013.

To open, this except from Andy William’s “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year“:

“There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago”

I’m with the “parties for hosting”, the toasting of marshmallows, and the caroling out in the snow–those resonate as ways we celebrate the Christmas Season–but “scary ghost stories”? Here, a bit of background would be helpful. The ways that we celebrate the Christmas Season in America are, relatively speaking, fairly recent. We owe no small debt to the “Dickensian” Christmas as captured by Charles Dickens in his A Christmas Carol. And what A Christmas Carol is, is a ghost story. Written for a Victorian audience this was only natural: the Victorians loved ghost stories. Read more

On Longing and Desire: In the December of Our Years

Bilbo and Gandalf

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New Line Cinemas, 2001)

There’s a scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring that haunts me. Bilbo and Gandalf, both very old friends (those are the best kind, aren’t they: those that have lived life together, have shared adventures, and have endured even a few scars along the way), sit in an evening twilight overlooking a scene of festivity: the illuminated tents pitched in the lush countryside, which are setting the stage for the celebration of Bilbo’s 111th birthday. These two souls, in complete repose, smoke a pipe together. And what this scene reminds me of, among other things, is this: similar such nights with a good friend: Scotch and cigars on the back deck of a home in Columbus, Ohio; and of a similar moment in time in Denver, Colorado, on the second story patio one Memorial Day weekend while all the world was hushed. They are moments of unlooked for, unexpected, and undeserved contentedness: a reaching back, as it were, to the beginning of all things. Read more