Monday, December 23, 2013

A Little Night Music

Pat and Rett's first Winter Solstice Celebration at the Farm = 8 good friends + 5 assorted dogs (who got along famously for the most part) + a soggy, wet, windy weekend punctuated with fabulous food, a few cocktails and lots of laughter. Oh yeah, and a fantastic folk violinist from Kiev in the Ukraine.

Pat always has something up his sleeve. (Last year, for the "end of time" he greeted us at the front door in tux and tails -- if the world was going to end, he was going out in style, he said.) This year, we were just finishing up dinner, when out of the blue, a knock at the door! Enter, Arkadiy Gips, a classically trained violinist who emigrated from the Ukraine in the 1990s, winding up first in New York City and soon playing Russian gypsy music as a backdrop to Madonna's Sticky and Sweet Tour.

Gips, who lives in Columbus, played a handful of rich folk and holiday songs, performing with incredible skill and such passion, and making the lone violin sound like it was being accompanied by a host of other instruments. What a nice surprise!

But let's backtrack. The 8 of us had gathered in the late (wet) afternoon for our annual solstice celebration, and the best way ever of kicking off the holidays. That means great girlfriends.
Guy friends.

Perhaps a doggie friend.
Or two.

 Something shaken, not stirred.

A beautiful holiday table.

And Rett's always-amazing dinner. This year, she ventured to Carfagna's butcher shop earlier in the week for a luscious beef tenderloin, which she crusted with freshly grated horseradish root and served with three different sauces.

Truly delish! Especially with her roasted root vegetables and Mary Ann's beautiful salad. After dinner we had our traditional solstice readings; Pat always digs up wonderful prose for us to read aloud -- often something he's written himself! That evening, my reading was a fitting tribute to the farm:

"But May, or her mirthful spirit,
dwelt all the year round at Merry Mount,
sporting with the Summer months,
and reveling with Autumn, and basking in the glow of Winter's fireside.
Through a world of toil and care
she flitted with a dreamlike smile,
and came hither to find a home
amoung the lightsome hearts of Merry Mount."
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)

After dinner, we had our traditional gift exchange, and talked and laughed the night away.

Finally, we girls donned our jammies and had a nightcap before we all retired til the gray, gray morn dawned.
Rio and I were up early, but the sunporch (in name only that day) was cozy and cheery with flickering candles.
I'd brought a good book, too.
And the rest of the day? A little cigar and pipe action on the soggy front porch.

A cut-throat game of Scrabble.

And a nice afternoon for a nap. Or two.

Sandra and I cooked dinner (chicken marbella, brown rice with pine nuts, sweet potatoes, and a salad) and Dave made a scrumptious creme brulee.
And since Saturday really was the solstice, we had a few more readings. Here's a good one to end with:

The Shortest Day
So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away,
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshineblazed awake
They shouted, reveling,
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us -- Listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!
     -- Susan Cooper

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Solstice Preview: First Time at the Farm!

Ahhhh, it's my favorite time of the year. It's cold and brilliantly snowy for December in Ohio. The weeks are chock full of happy endeavors -- from decorating the tree with my 2 kids (tomorrow) and our cul-de-sac's annual progressive party (last night) to family gatherings, cookie baking, crackling fires in the fireplace. . . and my favorite outing of the season, Rett's Winter Solstice Party!

Rett and Pat have been gathering our group of friends together for darn near a decade for the Winter Solstice dinner on December 21. It's a night of fabulous food.

Great friends.

 Much laughter

 And some very thought-provoking, seasonal readings -- and an occasional voice performance -- from Pat.

Last year, in fact, when someone predicted that the world would end that night, he found (and in some cases wrote) prose that reflected on "A Message for the End of Time and Beyond."  Here's what I read after the dinner (written by Pat):

Poem for Winter Solstice 2012
If the Moon is in the Seventh House
and if Jupiter aligns with Mars
Will peace then guide the planets
And Love steer the Stars?

Will the Age of Aquarius
Bring harmony and understanding?
Will sympathy and trust be abounding?
Will falsehoods or derisions
Melt into heavenly visions?
wWll mystic revelation
Bring to humanity liberation?

On tonight's cosmogenesis,
Can we begin our metamorphosis?

But THIS YEAR, this year! Is the first Winter Solstice Celebration at THE FARM!

I can't wait -- Rio and I and 5 other guests (and 3 other dogs) will join Rett and Pat and their 2 doggies at Merry Mount, not just for a celebratory solstice dinner. . . but for an entire, joyous weekend together! Rett, in true southern fashion, already has her dinner planned for Friday evening. On Saturday evening (the solstice), I told her I'd pitch in and bring dinner down so she wasn't donning her apron two nights in a row.

My recipe of choice is simple and so yummalicious. You make it the day before, dump it in a baking dish and bake in the oven for an hour and everyone is in love! Here are the details:

Chicken Marbella
8-10 mix of chicken breasts and thighs (with bones and skin)
1-2 T chopped garlic
2 T dried oregano
salt and pepper
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted whole prunes
1 cup whole Spanish green olives and some of their olive juice
3 bay leaves
1/r4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
1 cup brown sugar
 1 cup white wine

The night before serving, combine garlic, oregano, salt and pepper, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives and their juice, bay leaves and cilantro or parsley. Mix well. Marinate chicen with mixture overnight (I use 1 or 2 big ziplock plastic bags).

Preheat oven to 350. Arrange chicken in single layer in 1-2 large baking pans. Spoon any marinade over. Sprinkle chicken with brown sugar. Gently pour wine around chicken. Bake for 1 hour or until golden brown. Serve with brown rice and green beans.

Will report on the merry Solstice Weekend at Merry Mount after the jolly weekend!