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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Danish Ghosts of Christmas Past

If you had looked through a window of our Tacoma home on Christmas day, it might have appeared that only three of us sat down for the holiday dinner this year, but appearances can deceive. Along with the company of my husband and his sister, I could feel the presence of some unseen, most welcome, delightfuland delightedguests: the ghosts of our Danish ancestors.

In fact, we had invited them with thoughts and family legends. Or perhaps the powerful allure of pickled herring, lingonberries, and other Danish delights drew them forth. In any case, I hope they show up again next year.

This Christmas my husband and I decided to introduce a new dinner menu into the sweet nostalgia of our typical American baby boomer traditions and memories. We did so to honor our shared Danish heritage and his Danish mother. She died this past September, well into her nineties and far too frail to navigate all the stairs in our home to enjoy a traditional dinner that might have been served in the Old Country. But I am quite sure she easily found her place in the empty chair to witness our feast in spirit.

The appetizers included pickled herring, excellent blue cheese, and the best salami I’ve ever had, all from Denmark of course, purchased by my sister-in-law at Scandinavian Specialties in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. We served these delicacies with amazing, flaky but non-crumbling 27-layer rye crackers from the island of Bornholm. It is part of Denmark but closer to Sweden. Members of my husband's family lived there for years, operating a watch shop, and the relatives we correspond with still keep a summer home on the island, about two hours from Copenhagen by boat.

For the main course, we served pork loin with its center pierced lengthwise and then stuffed with prunes and pieces of apple, alternating. The stuffed meat was browned in a heavy pan in hot butter and oil, then oven braised in white wine and cream, the latter being reduced and thickened for the gravy, with a bit of black current jam added in place of red current jelly we didn’t have.

We  served it with a relish of lingonberries and a side of boiled baby red potatoes tossed with real Danish butter (oh my!) and fresh parsley. Some of that same creamy butter melted over a bowl of ruby red beets to mingle with fresh grated ginger root. A traditional cucumber salad added a crisp and refreshing contrast to the richness of the meal. Before being seasoned with dill and served with tiny shrimp, the sliced cucumbers had been chilled in a vinegar and sugar brine for 24 hrs.

Dessert, (not shown) simply had to be the traditional rice pudding. I cooked the rice in milk and a little sugar, instead of water, and then stirred in vanilla, slivered almonds, and quite a lot of sherry, before folding in plenty of whipped heavy cream. Served in my grandparent’s ruby glass dishes (a gift from their 1912 wedding) it looked especially festive with raspberry sauce topping each portion.

Among the cookies on the platter, only the spritz were of a typical Scandinavian type, but Danes know how to keep an open mind. We had no aquavit on hand, but the refrigerator did hold some Danish Elephant brand beer we forgot to drink, probably because we felt overwhelmed by all that food before us, food we seemed genetically programmed to enjoy.

And one of the nicest aspects of the whole thing was that each person’s meal came in at slightly under 50,000 calories! Imagine that.

My Danish  great-grandfather worked hard as a blacksmith, walked long distances well into old age and I'm sure he had a good relationship with bacon, butter, and cream. He lived to be 97.  I don't want to push my luck, but I do share the pleasure he found in life, and in real Danish butter.

As the old year ends and the new year begins in this world filled with war, pollution, toxic chemicals, and other things to fear, remember to not let fear rule your life. Do the best you can toward bringing about a better tomorrow, against all odds. That's what our ancestors did when they bravely crossed the sea and faced many difficulties and dangers to have a new life in America, just like others still do today. No matter where your own ancestors came from, honor them and try to live with the same degree of courage, imagination, gratitude, and joy.

Next year, invite the ghosts of Christmas past into your hearts and homes. And thank them. They left you much more than some family recipes. They left you the example of their strong character. They left you a proud heritage and a country that values equality, mutual respect, and the idea that many different cultures have contributed to the America we all share. At least I hope it still does.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dance Adds to Holiday Joy, Even in Troubled Times

I made the mistake of listening to the news while driving the other day, and there went my "holly jolly" mood, melted like a snowflake on the exhaust pipe of a garbage truck. But not for long. This won't be the first Christmas with our country at war, or the economy in shambles, and tragedy and illness take no holidays. So what can we do when we feel so powerless to do anything?

It's simple: Make the conscious choice to be happy.

Look at these folks participating in the Killer Diller Weekend of swing dancing that took place in Seattle recently. The Northwest's tap dancer extraordinaire, Tim Hickey (wearing a dark suit and hat) isn't doing tap in this video, but he invites you to join in the fun right at the beginning when he looks at the camera and lifts his hat. Then watch for him to appear again on the left side of the screen with his swing dance talents on display. The band is Casey MacGill and his High Five.

Did you know that during the Great Depression a frenzy of dancing swept the nation? Right here in the Pacific Northwest, right now, opportunities to watch or participate in dance abound. As part of my campaign to encourage readers to BUY AMERICAN and BUY LOCAL when it comes to their Christmas shopping, what could be better than tickets to a live performance or a certificate for dance lessons? These gifts enrich lives and bring lasting joy. With that in mind, I offer some excellent suggestions for enjoying dance this holiday season, and beyond.
Toys with Clara & Drosselmeyer Gregory Peloquin, Dave Evans, Amy Dusek, Allison Zakharov,
Anastasia Suave, Lauren Trodahl       Photo by Maks Zakharov

Dance Theatre Northwest, Melanie Kirk-Stauffer, Artistic Director Presents
The Nutcracker
at Mount Tahoma High School Auditorium on Saturday, December 17th at 2:30 & 7:00 PM and on Sunday, December 18th at 4:00 PM. Tickets are available
or by calling 253-778-6534. Mount Tahoma is located at 4634 South 74th Street, Tacoma, WA 98409. Parking is free and the theatre is handicapped accessible.
ADMISSION: $21-$26 Adult $11-$13 Senior (over 60) ~ Child ~ Student
Dream Passes $45 Adult & $25 Seniors ~
Military Discounts and Group Rates also available

photo courtesy of Tim "Taps" Hickey, shown here

Old Time Holiday Show
350 Kirkland Ave • Kirkland, WA 98033

December 16, 7:00PM
December 17, 2:00PM, 7:00PM
December 18, 2:00PM
Tim Hickey and many other talented musicians and performers have a delightful evening planned for you. Enjoy a classic variety show with live music, singing, dancing, and more, all with a holiday theme. This annual favorite sells out quickly so order tickets here.

DANCE THEATRE NORTHWEST offers lessons in ballet, tap, and jazz dancing
But there are so many more. Naturally, Good Life Northwest has just the link you need, a directory of all of them.  Washington Dance Studios Directory

Now switch off the news, turn on the music, and start dancing!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tacoma Shop Owner Sets Example for the Nation

Today, the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of our country's involvement in World War II, we ought to be thinking about the strength of our nation. It is not what it used to be. If you are one of the millions of Americans joining the movement to help rebuild our economy and create job, by buying holiday gifts made only in the U.S.A., you should know about The Pacific Northwest Shop in Tacoma's Proctor Business District, whether or not you live in the area. This bustling business on the corner of 27th and Proctor could make you believe in prosperity again.

The last time I stopped in to do a little shopping, in addition to plenty of customers, owner Bill Evans had stacks of packages as high as his counter ready to ship to destinations all across the country, or possibly the world. "That's just from today," he told me. And the day was far from over.

This business success couldn't happen to a nicer guy. But the best part is that what is good for Evans, is also good for many others here in the Pacific Northwest. His sales certainly impact the 250 or so regional artists, artisans, small scale food producers, authors, vintners, and those who run cottage industries, all of whom supply his wares, and all of whom he knows personally. 
He hopes they, in turn, will spend their profits locally. Keeping money circulating in the Northwest economy puts a smile on his face, and mine too, especially when I find the perfect gift. That could be homemade soap, food items, art glass, books, pottery, jewelry, smoked salmon, Washinton State wine, or any of countless other high quality products he sells. You can see them all on his website, here.

Just as ABC News reported in a story this week, (watch the video here,) people all over the country are taking this Buy American movement seriously, with tangible results: newly created jobs. If we start to realize the impact of our choices and our collective power as millions of consumers, maybe things will turn around. We're a nation of strong, smart people, and change will come thanks to grassroots efforts. Let's all make it a point to buy American goods, thereby creating American jobs. It all starts in your own home town. Evans does his part with enthusiasm.

Long before "Buy American" became a slogan and a cause, Evans actively advocated not only this idea, but also the "Buy Local" movement.  But no matter what your motives, the goods he sells offer enough reason to shop there, regardless of where you live. In addition to the brisk mail order business he does through his website, where orders over $100 ship free, local shoppers can make their selections and have him ship the package for them.

So, does Evans have a trade secret? How does the Pacific Northwest Shop do so well in today's economy? The answer is simple, and it's no secret. In fact, he flaunts his philosophy to the world.

"Hey, did you see my sign in the window?" he asked me. Since I'd approached the building from the east, I had not, but I went outside and around the corner and there on the side facing 27th I saw the reasons for his success spelled out, along with the attitude of gratitude that attracts so many customers to his store.


You're welcome. And here's my thanks to retailers like Bill Evans and all of you who are choosing to BUY AMERICAN AND BUY LOCAL. I can't think of a better way to show your patriotism.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Vashon Island Art Studio Tour Continues Dec. 10-11

We all hope to have meaningful holidays, but beyond religious and cultural meaning, how about making your purchases more meaningful too? Your support of local artists, artisans, food producers, craftspeople, and the shop owners who sell their wares helps not only your home town but also our nation's economy. And you end up with better merchandise.

Welcome to the first in a series of posts about ways to BUY AMERICAN  AND BUY LOCAL when selecting gifts this year.

Pottery pitcher and tumblers by Liz Lewis, who also provided the photo.

Start the month of December in a delightful way with the Vashon Island Art Studio Tour, only a short ferry ride from either Seattle or Tacoma. Held every May and December, the self-guided tour takes place from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday this weekend and next, Dec. 3 - 4, and Dec. 10 - 11. It includes dozens of different studios to visit, some with more than one artist, selling things you would never find at a mall. Each one contains the essence of another human being's creative vision and interpretation of their world and its beauty.

Two views of a handmade bell by Gordon Barnett

Meet and speak with these artists. In some cases you will see them at work. Ask questions. When you can tell the recipients all about where their gifts came from, how, and by whom, they were made, those gifts become even more special.

I asked a few questions myself, of island potter Liz Lewis, who is promoting and participating in the tour.

"This Holiday Tour will be the biggest ever!" she said. "The Tour has been a regular event on Vashon for over 30 years, morphing from a potters' tour, to the Barnworks watercolor show, and then the combining of resources to produce an art tour that includes whoever is making art and wants to be involved. On Vashon, that's a lot of artists!" Indeed. You can take a look at an interactive map and links to individual artists on the event's website, here.

Lewis told me that the twice-a-year tours provide the framework for her production cycles, meaning she has a great selection to offer customers. "I love to present my pottery for sale directly from my studio," she said. "For one thing, it is direct and personal. And for another, it gives me great motivation to hose down the studio! I try to be available to do wheel demos during the Tour which makes the process come to life for visitors."

Vashon Island, less than 14 miles long and about three miles wide, remains a rural and peaceful place just minutes from the urban lifestyle of the mainland, the kind of place where a creative person can find the quiet and inspiration they seek. That might be why its population of not much over 10,000 people includes 1,500 individuals who dedicate their lives to the arts, in one form or another. You will find the quality and sophistication of their work equal to anything a big city can offer.

If you don't live nearby, you can plan your visit as a weekend getaway. Stay at one of several B&Bs, found through the link below. Hungry? No problem. The island offers many distinctive eateries that offer healthy, delicious food.

On behalf of all the artists, Lewis extended a welcoming invitation: "It is a fun excursion to come over to the island with a carload of friends to tour the many unique art studios, talk to the artists, and do some shopping." I never need an excuse to visit Vashon, but the Vashon Island Art Studio Tour would make a good one. Remember, the link gives you access to the sites of individual artists and views of their work.

Other helpful links--
Ferry Schedule:
Dining and Lodging on Vashon Island:

Copyright 2011 Candace J. Brown     All photos courtesy of the artists and not to be used without their permission.