Newfoundland Summer Adventures Photos of the Day

The alarm went off at 6AM, and for the first time since arriving in Norris Point, the sun decided to show off the glory of its morning rays. The sight through our windows made us a little giddy as we laced up our hiking boots, downed some tea, and whipped up some trail mix.

Our first stop on this hazy but bright morning was Western Brook Pond — why Gros Morne National Park was established. Today, the former fjord is a landlocked freshwater lake, surround by mountains that were once as high as the Himalayas.  Access to its base is a 3KM hike from the sea through a bog. Well-run boat tours of the lake operate daily. We managed to catch the 10AM…

a look down Western Brook Pond

From Western Brook Pond, we headed out to Woody Point (a 2 hour drive) for some fish & chips (so good!) before hitting the Tablelands — one of the reasons Gros Morne National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

fish and chips from The Lighthouse Restaurant take-out. Swimmingly fresh and delicious

appropriately greased up, hiking through the Tablelands (a visible section of Earth’s mantle) was a breeze. The Martian-type scenery and unique rocks scattered all around make it a geologist’s playground…

some of our planet's mantle, unearthed!

Our day ended at Java Jacks in Rocky Harbour. Our daily stop-off for lunch or a snack, it was a great place to end the day with some light fare and newly-made friends. Bearing witness to the most spectacular of sunsets wasn’t too bad either…

sunset, Newfoundland, Rocky Harbour

red sky at night, sailor's (and vacationer's) delight

What a way to end our stay on the island’s Western coast.

Tomorrow, a 700KM drive across Newfoundland and into St. John’s… good thing I picked up some date-squares

New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve given up on “traditional” and “be a better person” resolutions. They’re just too hard to make happen in a single year. Instead, I’ve embraced “how to have more fun  and self-educate” resolutions and they are as follows…

In 2010 I plan to:

1. Relearn to play the violin. Seriously, this year I mean it. I’m going to go back to basics to remaster all my favorite solos starting with Kriesler’s “Praeludium & Allegro”. The good news is I can still play the Preludium part … the allegro bit is a hot mess.

bowl much?

2. Go bowling more often. When Annie and I ventured into Bowlmor Lanes the other night, I hadn’t been bowling since an elementary school birthday party. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard… or broken so many nails… in one night.

3. Start going to gallery openings. I know I swore that I would never be one of those, but now that I’m thinking curator, I have to admit a new found interest in the way commercial galleries present their art works. The free wine isn’t a deterrent, mind you.

4. Read more Dickens. And James. And Dostoevsky. And Crow… oh, hell… just knock more titles off my to-read list.

5.  Start to cook my way through the Escoffier Cookbook. The cookbook has 2,973 recipes. A lot of them have foie gras. yum. So far, I’ve completed 2. That leaves 2,971 to go. I should add, that this book was written before the recipe was standardized — that means no formal ingredients list or step-by-by instructions. It’s written like a 1920s textbook and doesn’t have pictures. By the time I’m done (sometime in 2013), you’ll be able to send me off to the Bocuse d’Or.

6. Learn German. I’ve already purchased 3 teach-yourself books. They’ve been gathering dust since October. By this time next year, the VonRecklinghousen ancestors will be proud…

7. Get to bed earlier and wake up earlier. What was it that Ben Franklin said… about being healthy, wealthy, and wise? If I want to keep my toes in Prada and my brain in a PhD, I’m going to have start with the small things…

8. Go to the ballet and opera more. It’s just something I want to do… like train for a half-marathon

9. Shut my drawers and the kitchen cupboards. It’s a bad habit I have — leaving things open. And I often walk into things when they’re left open…

10. Drink more champagne. what could be wrong with that?

11. No to make a resolution to lose weight or find a boyfriend. Those are so 2009….

Holiday Hangover

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.  I have committed the Capital Sin of gluttony and encouraged others to join me in my sinning.

And guess what, Father? I don’t  feel the least bit guilty about it.

It took me 3 months to lose  those pesky 10 pounds. Thank You, Christmas, for I believe that in the 2 days spent celebrating you, I successfully ate all 10 back on… and then some. There were two glorious pounds of butter spread among the dishes consumed over two days, and if they’ve fallen to my hips, so be it.

Last year, I wrote a short blog about how Christmas turns me into a Victorian house wife, a worshiper at the altar of the Cult of Domesticity (that is, at the stove). This year I could more or less write the same post. On Christmas Eve, as the leg of lamb sat marinading in the kitchen, I took a short break to prepare the dinner menu. Yes, that’s right. I spent 45 minutes designing and writing out menus for my 8 dinner guests. Apparently, I missed the memo that it was 2009, not 1869.

There’s mistletoe hanging in our kitchen. How idly it sits. The chefs move too fast and with too much concentration on the tasks at hand to make use of it. As for the guests… even if they wanted to steal a kiss, there isn’t room for them in our pre-20th century farm house kitchen. They’ll have to wait for the post-party clean up.

That reminds me, mistletoe is one of my favorite holiday traditions. There’s something cute about it — it represents a sort of innocent romance that seems to suit the Christmas season (a hell of a lot better than Victoria Secret Angles in Santa hats (bleh)). It’s supposed to be used by courting couples. Do couples court anymore? Maybe they should.

I didn’t finish wrapping presents until 4PM Christmas Day. There’s a rule in our house about presents — they have to be under the tree 24 hours before they can be opened, and then all members of the household have to be “in the mood” to open them. Usually, this means we don’t open gifts until the 28th. This year, it was Boxing Day. And then I remembered that I forgot to wrap two more presents for my dad. Oops. New Years Day for those ones I guess…

Christmas comes and goes too quickly. We keep the tree up until Jan 2. And the lights outside our house are allowed to hang there until February. The gifts and dinner parties may be over, but we try to hold on to the holiday spirit for as long as possible… the holiday pounds, well, those we run to lose as quickly as possible. See you at the gym tomorrow?

Christmas Eve Dinner 2009

In case you were curious about what I was cooking for my guests…


Three-Lettuce Salad

With golden beets and dried cranberries

J&J’s Shrimp Cocktail

~

Herb-Roasted Leg of Lamb

Au jus and wine sauce

Housemade Butternut Squash Raviolis

in pancetta-sage brown butter

Sautéed Mushrooms

~

Rum Cake

Apple-Cranberry Crisp Pie

Assorted homebaked Cookies

with whipped cream

The Three Ghosts of Christmas

“I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant, C.D. December, 1843.”

putting up the Christmas tree... an epic tradition

And it was with this little letter to his readers that Charles Dickens began his classic “A Christmas Carol.”  Whether it’s through Mickey Mouse, or Kermit the Frog, or Jim Carrey, or Bill Murray, or Dickens himself, you’ve heard the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge’s transformation from frosty miser to merry man of charity. Dickens warned us, his novel is a ghost story, a merry moralizing ghost story.

A century an a half after Dickens published the novel, his great-great grandson, tours the world reading the tale aloud to throngs of holiday merry-makers. Dickens’ story is so well-loved because it speaks to the power of Christmas to warm the heart. Ultimately, “a Christmas Carol” is exactly what its title says it is — a joyous song about the many miracles of Christmas. Though, as I’ve grown a bit older (only a bit) and a bit wiser (only a very, very little bit), I’ve come to realize that it is not only the Scrooges of the world who are haunted by the 3 Ghosts of Christmas. For all of us, the Christmas present teams with the spectres of Christmases past and Christmases future. Truthfully, Christmas is more haunted than Halloween.

I’m lucky. Most of my ghosts of Christmas past are Caspers. They’re friendly and warm memories of tree-hunting, dinner parties, caroling in front of the fire, and the exciting exchange of gifts. This is not to say every Christmas past was as perfect as a picture print from Currier & Ives, but I have been more fortunate than most to be able to spend my 24 Christmases with the people I love most. As for the ghost of Christmas Present? He promises to bring another Eve and Day passed in good cheer.

But the Ghost of Christmas Future, whether for Scrooge or for us, is less friendly. With his inevitable visit (which usually comes once all the guests have gone and I’m alone in front of the fire), comes a sense of uncertainty. For how much longer will I be this lucky? What will my Christmas look like 10 years from now? Will I still be preparing dinner for my family? Will that family be bigger? Smaller? There’s always a pang of fear with the thought that one day I might spend Christmas alone. Without the benefit of siblings or family in this country, it’s not a total stretch of the imagination. I think of the many things that have happened since last Christmas — of my friends who married, of my friends who broke up, of my cousin’s passing, of my family’s reunion. Uncertainty is the one certainty that comes with every new year, and it’s the post palpable at Christmas.

Luckily, I tend not to dwell for too long on the darker spectres that loom in the future. I prefer to start planning my menu for next year’s Christmas banquet… maybe, I’ll bake a pie. Everyone loves a pie.

~~~~

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited…Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time…as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know if, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” – Scrooge’s Nephew

The Unwashed Phenomenon Decks the Halls

I couldn’t believe it either. Bob Dylan has released a Christmas album. 

The definitive voice of America’s counter-culture, the definitive voice of the anti-establishment had gone the way of the shimmering smooth pop-prince and recorded a Christmas record. Could you imagine anything more of a stretch? And Dylan is no crooner a la Frank Sinatra or Michael Buble. Would the croaking drawl that elongated syllables and fell in unexpected cadences butcher such loved carols as “Little Drummer Boy?

Skeptics, take note: there is no singer in this day and age more suited to sing “Here Comes Santa Claus” than Bob Dylan.

“Christmas in the Heart” is easily one of the best holiday albums recorded in the last decade by a popular artist. Dylan is as much a historian of traditional American folk songs as he is a creator of them. His early years were spent chasing Woody Guthrie, Odetta and John Jacob Niles — learning their songs and attempting to capture the visceral, genuine qualities of their voices. He is an archivist of sorts and deeply rooted in music’s past. Christmas carols are folk songs — songs that tell a story, that are revived year after year and passed from one generation to another. Who better to sing them than the King of Folk?

One of the great successes of “Christmas in the Heart” is that it’s a paired down, no-frills album. The only embellishments to the 15 well-known tracks are a few sleigh bells and backup singers that could easily be the company in “Holiday Inn.” The fact that Dylan’s Christmas album sounds more 1942 than 2009 only makes it more believable as a holiday album. Let’s face it — the American vision of Christmas has been shaped by Irving Berlin, “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) and Jimmy Stewart. That said, a good Christmas album should evoke the age of Gene Autry, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Personally, I can think of anything worse than an over-popped, poorly “updated” carol. Actually, when it comes to Christmas songs, there’s a lot of things that are pretty terrible… [click here]

Dylan has compared his musical journey to an Odyssey… “I had set out to find this home I’d left a while back,” he said in an interview for the documentary No Direction Home. “I couldn’t remember where exactly it was, but I was on my way there. I was born very far from where I was supposed to be, so I’m on my way home.” It seems appropriate then that my favorite track off “Christmas in the Heart” is “I’ll be home for Christmas.” Everything about it is just sooo Bob Dylan.

Art for your Mamma

Mother’s day is less than 48 hours away and you haven’t bought a card yet. ooops. Just like I did for Valentine’s Day, I have scanned the collections of major museums and print makers and rustled up a handful of artworks worthy of a home-made mother’s day card.

Mary Cassatt was famous for her images of mother and her child. Of Cassatt’s painted portraits, these tend to be my least favorite. But none the less, their tenderness and the atmospheric effect of Cassatt’s brushwork makes these heart warming Hallmark worthy scenes. My favorite is the Banjo Lesson. Mother is a teacher and the daughter leans over her shoulder eager to lean. Give this one to a mom who’s taught you everything you know.

If this Cassatt doesn’t do it for you, google her and you’ll find dozens of prints and paintings that depict mother and child (her most famous center around bath time).

Adam Shattuck’s
1850 painting, The Shattuck Family, Mother, Grandmother and Baby William is a beautiful image of ideal 19th century femininity but also of the timelessness of motherhood. Corsets may go in and out of style, but motherhood is always in. I think this is a great one to give to both your mother and her mother. (The actual painting is in the permanent collection at the Brooklyn Museum — a place worth taking your mum if you have the day)

Blessed art thou among Women is a beautiful photograph from the turn of the century. A mother’s tender kiss, the doorway and image of the annunciation on the wall referencing the western world’s ideal mother (a Virgin named Mary), the soft glow around the subjects — it’s just beautiful. The photograph lives at the Met and is the work of an American Photographer, Gertrude Käsebier.

When Edward Curtis traveled across the US photographing Native Americans in the first quarter of the 20th century, he captured several dual portraits of mothers with their infants. Assiniboin mother and child ranks as my favorite — beautiful natural light, the forest blurring in the background. For Curtis, this was an image of the next, and most likely last, generation of a disappearing race. For today’s viewer, it’s a warm vintage photograph of a new born and its loving parent.

For the mother to be? How about Demi Moore’s famous cover shot for Vanity Fair? Her stomach is huge (she looks like she’s about to pop at any second) but she’s still as sexy as can be — and you know your favorite pregnant friend is feeling pretty far from sexy right now as she watches her butt expand.

The last is my favorite — a New Yorker cover by Danny Shanahan published in 1992 for mothers day. It’s cute and reminds us that motherhood is universal among earth’s creatures (as should be an appreciation of mothers!). This is going on my card.

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