Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Special

Yes folks, it's still Christmas!! Happy Holy Family Sunday!! Happy Third Day of Christmas! Happy Happy!

What follows is a General Christmas Roundup--made especially for our American family and friends who--I know--were missing us terribly on Christmas Day...and who we missed very much in return. Despite a slight taint of melancholy/homesickness/loneliness in the days preceding the Nativity, Thomas More and I somehow scraped together a rollicking frolicking holiday for ourselves, thanks to (lots of) good food, (lots of) presents, and--not least--to our Lord, who was born.

And so, without further ado, a (brief as can be--and you know how NOT brief I CAN be!) account of the weeks festivities (complete with menu!).

First, our tree:
Christmas Spirit kicked off with a gorgeous blizzard which covered the Kingdom of Fife. TM and I grabbed the pooch and took off to see St Andrews in the snow:
Marley gathered snow balls which melted slowly on our car seats later.
Back home I initiated culinary preparation!! First I made the Kringle for Christmas morning--a tradition in my childhood home. I filled it with apples and butterscotch on one side and dark chocolate and orange zest on the other.
This was my first attempt at multi-layered butter pastry and I was very pleased with the result! Not perfect LOOKING but perfect tasting, nonetheless. Completed kringle with icing:
Traditionally, my family has Mexican food on Christmas Eve after going to the Pagent at church. Sadly, there was no pagent or Mexican food be had in Fife, so we made pheasant instead. Menu: Pheasant in Fruit; bulgar wheat pilaf; and pears, roasted with walnuts, cranberries and Stilton with a port wine sauce over a bed of arugula. Yum!
After dinner we read the Christmas stories from Matthew and Luke and headed off to a MIDNIGHT MASS in the next town. And 'twas a REAL midnight Mass, my friends--not beginning till AFTER midnight! I found myself quite sleepy by the time we stood for the gospel acclimation, and was looking forward to one of Father's "weekday" length homilies. "Surely," I thought to myself, "if I'm tired, FATHER should be really tired...he is over eighty, after all...Sheesh! he was ordained BEFORE Vatican II!!" But not so, not so! Father pulled off a doozy, full length, action packed and theologically nuanced to boot...too bad I was already falling prey to visions of sugarplums....!

After getting home after 1 in the morning, I in my Kerchief and Thom in his Cap managed a few hours of winters' nap. We arose bright and early to open presents and EAT KRINGLE (which was delicious!)
Since we couldn't find the traditional "little smokey" sausages (which are of dubious origin anyway...) we settled for good homemade Northumbrian sausage, bought fresh from the butcher in Northumbria. Yum!
And then to the presents! (Thanks to my Husband and my Mother for a very full tree!!)
Marley received Father Christmas squeak from his Mother and Father:
And an "Indestructible" rope toy from Mee-maw and Pa-paw.
Here I sport my Christmas wears (jacket and scarf), and my Christmas bag in front of my new poster, which is so quintessentially British, isn't it! So brilliant!
Then we toddled off to a lovely Mass in St Andrews, where I got to listen to Father's homily all the way through again! ...and, after sleep and coffee, was much better situated in my soul and intellect to receive it. After Mass we took a wonderful drive through the snow-covered countryside, the sunlight gorgeous! perfect! and went back to our favorite local castle to take pictures and let the dog try out his new toys.

Once the sun went down (at 3:30--but getting lighter every day!!) I prepared the Official Christmas feast. Menu:

-Stilton and quince jam on crackers
-Foie Gras and date puree on toast
-Fillet of Beef with tomato Madiera confit
-wild mushroom bread pudding
-a light salad with strawberries and toasted pecans
-a nice South African Merlot
And Finally:
-Flaming Plum Pudding! with Zabaoine sauce!

And then, my friends, we went to sleep, and slept the whole night through.

A very merry Christmas to you all. And a Happy New Year! May the peace of Christ grow in you.

Mary of Egypt

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Northumberland Trip

In my capacity as a student, I am (supposedly) working on a writing project dealing with ruins (namely, ruined houses, churches, salt distilleries and ruined poems). This project will help to fulfill the requirements of our (mostly superfluous) "Research Seminar," which the university administration has decided is essential to our soul or some such thing. Thankfully, said administration leaves us pretty well alone otherwise and doesn't stipulate what specifically must be included in a "research" project. Thus, I am writing poems about ruins and "researching" ruins by taking trips to see ruins. Hurray!

Last week Thomas More and I journeyed to a foreign country! (namely, England), to look at 1. the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, 2. Hadrian's Wall, and 3. Iron Age hill forts--ruins all. Hadrian's Wall didn't happen, due to coldness of weather and laziness of student/husband, but much other joy happened to make up for it. Here follows a brief photo account with commentary.

We rose in the morning here in Fife, greeted by a thick blanket of fog which covered the whole county and all of Edinburgh. When we finally got past the city we drove out of the fog--like driving out of a dark house--into a perfectly clear world, the sun piercing (if thin), the fields diamonds in frost. Gorgeous light! (Note: this incident may seem of small importance to you who dwell in more southerly climes. But for those of us who live in the Northern Wastes where the day hardly happens in the Depth of Midwinter, where the sun is either just rising or just setting, dawn and twilight blending, and any clouds or mist blocking the tiny white coin as it narrowly clears the this kind of world, sunlight is a major event, and clearing the fog a Triumph.)

After entering ENGLAND we went immediately to Alnwick, where the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland have their Great Big Castle and where (more importantly) there resides one of the BEST BOOKSTORES IN ALL MERRY ENGLAND: the famous Barter Books.

After wandering blissfully amongst the books we drove off to our romantic holiday cottage in a nearby hamlet. (The cottage is owned by the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland.)

The next morning we rose freezing with the frosty dawn (which isn't really that early) and drove to Lindisfarne to catch the tide.

Lindisfarne, for those of you who don't know, is a tidal island which is connected to the mainland by a sand bank or causeway which is covered in water at high tide. We crossed the causeway in fog (very spooky!) just before the waters returned--trapped now on the Holy Isle until 2 pm. Little did we know that EVERYTHING on the island was closed (because what fool comes to tiny Lindisfarne in the middle of winter??). Fools indeed to come to this place in subzero temperatures--on the coldest day I have experienced in Britain. And not a shop open. Alas, no espresso.

We wandered around the ruins of the Norman era abbey (in ruins) and looked in the old parish church (with Saxon stonework), and then walked out to the Elizabethan fort on its dramatic crag rising from the sea:

Lindisfarne has a very old and venerable tradition of holy Christian communities dating back to 635 when St. Aidan went there to found a monastery at King Oswald's request. Later St Cuthbert, an ascetic hermit and (unwilling) bishop, made the island famous (see the Venerable Bede). The Lindisfarne Gospels were made in honor of Cuthbert and contain some of the most sublime examples of English art. Here are two pages from the gospels (though it's impossible to see the detail and artistry in these tiny clips):

Going to Lindisfarne was a strange experience. I was expecting to feel all sorts of emotions and have brilliant insight into the lives of holy medieval saints (and speakers of Old English!), but mainly I just felt cold.

But--I suppose this is how St Cuthbert felt in November in the 7th century--freaking freezing! in the winter with no heating and no food (he was famous for eating onions). So...I guess...insight gained.

The next day we went in search for Iron Age hill forts! But as we drove we started seeing these tantalizing signs which announced the presence of WILD CATTLE just off our path. And who could resist Wild Cattle? So we went in search and ended up in a vacant little town with a thirteenth century church, no humans, no cattle, and a castle, mysterious and dark, just visible through the forest:

Though we didn't see any wild cows, we did get to meet the Warden of Cattle:

Intrigued by the castle hulking through the trees, we set off through the enchanted wood to investigate...and we found this:
After gaping a bit we noticed a man approaching from behind one of the 3-feet-thick rampart-wall things. He spoke to us kindly and asked if we knew we were trespassing (No...) and did we know that Sir Humphrey Wakefield and the Duchess of Northumbria were staying in the castle and could we please bugger off and all that... (Yes we could!). The man (who was the estate manager) soon realized that we were harmless and ignorant Yanks with a cute dog (hurray for the cute dog!) and asked if we would like to see the Italian Garden (yes!) if we promised not to go around the the Front of the house (so as not to sully the view for the Duchess). He took out a huge iron key and unlocked a huge oak door in a huge stone wall and we wandered forth into the very bare but very grand and Exclusive-looking formal garden:

Then we left.

After Not Finding Wild Cattle, we journeyed on to find the Iron Age hill fort. This was the best part:

We didn't exactly find the ruins...which are so much in ruins as to be invisible to all except areal photographers, but we looked out at the Iron Age view and admired their taste:

After this we went home, lit a fire in the stove, ate Northumbrian lamb and dozed in perfect bliss. The next morning we headed back to the Kingdom of Fife. And thus ends my post on Northumberland!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Mr. More

Oh and did I mention----Thomas More is IN RESIDENCE!! Here in Scotland!! Hurray! Marley the Dog and I went to Edinburgh last Sunday to retrieve him from the airport. He was much jet-lagged but alive. It's good to be alive, you know!!

He's sitting next to me now researching restaurants and coffee-shops in Edinburgh--some things never change, thank Heaven!

We have so many plans, it's so great. We're going to Northumbria this weekend to see Lindisfarne and Hadrian's wall (blog-post to follow!)

Then we're going to have Christmas with a goose, figgy pudding, etc. (blog post to follow!)

Then we're going to Edinburgh for HOGMANAY and the New Year!! with old North Carolina friends (whose confirmation names I can't confirm...) (blog post to follow!)

Then--after Mary O' Egypt finishes various school projects--we will be going somewhere WARM and SUNNY. Any suggestions? We were thinking Greece--or Morocco!

Anyway--fun fun fun.

Recently we have been exploring St Andrews, the East Neuk and Edinburgh together, eating in good restaurants (miraculously, they exist even in Scotland!), making lots of food, drinking port, decorating Christmas trees (pictures coming) and watching the BBC. Last Sunday we took some pictures of ourselves around St Andrews--just to prove that we were here!! A select sample:

The Winters in St Salvator's Quad

Marley in front of the Catholic Chaplaincy

St Saly's Chapel

Cheesy Christmas Card Picture!!!
(in the Ruins)

Sarah in Graveyard: notice BOOTS, please. My British Boots.

Saltire Cross: flag of Scotland and St Andrew (see link)

From the West Sands

Back to the Blog

Apologies, apologies, apologies. I have committed the ultimate blog sin, I know. My readership! My readership! I have responsibilities to my readership! And so on. I know you are all forgiving. That I do not need to explain my various reasons for not blogging for *a whole month*. But for the peace of my own blog-soul I will list reasons in no particular order:

1. My computer stopped working.
2. THEN I went back to ye olde Winston-Salem to visit Thomas More who DISTRACTED ME!
3. THEN I brought home another non-broken computer that WOULDN'T CONNECT TO MY BRITISH INTERNET.
4. Then I had an essay (and it was sortof like having a disease...)
5. Then I had writer's block (i.e. Very Bad for Creative Writing degrees as well as blogging...)
6. Then I had 1,000 brilliant ideas for blog posts but got overwhelmed with their sheer number and my own inchoate genius and the fact that all my ideas were in note-form and not in complete sentences and how in the world was I going to do my own genius justice and when was I going to find enough time to write all this stuff and when was I going to write poetry too....AAAAAH.

So--the genius posts will have to wait. I'm starting small right now and I will probably be posting alot of pictures because they don't require me to use up my creative genius (which should be used for poetry at this point in time...). But that's okay, because everyone likes pictures. At least I do.

Thank you for reading my blather, I love you all.

Now I needs must go
to stir the lamb-shank ragu,
and write a sonnet or two...
or maybe only
a haiku.