Happy New Year of the Blue Moon

Steve and I had a magical New Year’s Eve.

I have to start with dinner which was Beef Wellington as the main course (actually it was the only course – we saved our appetite all day long for this and didn’t want or need to be distracted by appetisers!).  It was a team effort, as is much of what we do.  Steve made a beautiful red wine sauce from oxtails, onions, carrots and celery.  It simmered for about 4 hours and reduced from three quarts of liquid to 2 cups.  I made puff pastry and duxelles, a finely chopped (minced) mixture of mushrooms, onions, shallots and herbs sautéed in butter, and reduced to a paste with cream and Amontillado added at the end.  We got a perfect piece of filet beef which we seared, wrapped in prosciutto, then duxelles, finally in the puff pastry and baked it until the beef was medium-rare.  The accompaniments were pommes Anna and haricot vert.  And, I made a very special dessert for a man who loves dark chocolate – pots de crème au chocolat.

It was a very special meal.  Besides celebrating the passing of the old year and coming of the new one, we celebrated our first full year together and our first New Year’s Eve in our home.  After our late dinner, we sat on the sofa, talked, listened to music, danced, had our luscious dessert with a goblet of Australian Merlot, called a couple of friends after midnight and stayed up until 3 o’clock; just so happy to be here and with each other.

Last night was also magical with the blue moon illuminating the heavens.  The old expression “once in a blue moon” has to do with something that is rare, special, uncommon, even absurd – but not impossible.  The most popular current definition of a blue moon is the second full moon in a calendar month.  The New Year’s Eve blue moon is more exceptional, happening only once every 19 years.

This New Year’s Eve and Day feel ‘everyday magical’ and it already seems as though 2010 will be filled with everyday rare, special, uncommon and – why not – absurd happenings.

Speaking of magic, I don’t think I’ve said but Steve and I are writing a blog together called ‘On the Way to the Wedding‘.  This link goes straight to his take on our New Year’s Eve.

Blue Moon image from Tamilshavai.com

A Child’s Christmas in Wales

One of our Christmas traditions is listening to Dylan Thomas reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales.  We spent last Christmas  in a cottage in Shropshire near the Welsh border.  I only had this recording on a cassette, so we went out to Steve’s car on Christmas eve and listened to it on his in-dash cassette player, with mugs of mulled wine and wolves howling in the background.

A Child’s Christmas In Wales is an anecdotal sketch of the festive season. This humorous, poignant, magical account of Dylan’s Thomas’s own childhood and of a Christmas Day in a small Welsh town has become a modern classic.  It is an exercise in storytelling and Thomas recreates the experience of Christmas as though it were a fairy tale.

Click here to listen:

LP cover - 1964 pressing

Incidentally this recording, made in New York City in 1952, was the first one made by Caedmon Records, a company formed by Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Roney to record the spoken word performances of famous writers.

At the time Holdridge and Roney pursued Thomas, he was ‘at least as well known for his drinking as his writing’.   Several missed recording studio appointments later, there stood Dylan Thomas, poems in hand. But not enough, it turned out, to fill a long-playing record. A catastrophe in the making, remembers Barbara Holdridge, since the B side had to have something on it or they couldn’t put out the record.

They asked the poet if he had anything else he could record. Holdridge says: “He thought for a minute, and he said, ‘Well, I did this story that was published in Harper’s Bazaar that was a kind of Christmas story.'” It was “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

They borrowed the only known file copy from the magazine. That was dusting off something that undoubtedly would have remained buried and that became one of the most loved and popular stories recorded in the 20th century.  Holdridge describes the Thomas recording as a “momentous” experience. “We had no idea of the power and beauty of this voice. We just expected a poet with a poet’s voice, but this was a full orchestral voice.”

Buy Nothing Day

No purchase necessary.  Spend a day without spending.  Click here for November 27 Buy Nothing Day events and shenanigans in North America.

And here for 28 November Buy Nothing Day in the UK.

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Buy Nothing Day (BND) is an international day of protest against consumerism observed by social activists. It was founded by Vancouver artist Ted Dave in September 1992 “as a day for society to examine the issue of over-consumption” and subsequently promoted by Adbusters magazine, based in Canada.

In 1997, it was moved to the Friday after American Thanksgiving, also called “Black Friday”, which is one of the 10 busiest shopping days in the United States. Outside North America and Israel, Buy Nothing Day is the following Saturday. Participation now includes more than 65 nations.

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Various gatherings, shenanigans, and forms of protest have been used on Buy Nothing Day to draw attention to the issue of over-consumption:

  • Credit card cut up: Participants stand in a shopping mall, shopping center, or store with a pair of scissors and a poster that advertises help for people who want to put an end to mounting debt and extortionate interest rates with one simple cut.
  • Free, non-commercial street parties
  • Sit-ins
  • Zombie Walk: Participant ‘zombies’ wander around shopping malls or other consumer havens with a blank stare and marvel at the expressionless faces of the shoppers (their fellow zombies). When asked what they are doing participants describe Buy Nothing Day and explain its foundational principles.
  • Whirl-mart: Participants silently steer their shopping carts around a shopping mall or store in a long, baffling conga line without putting anything in the carts or actually making any purchases.
  • Public protests
  • Wildcat General Strike: A strategy used for the 2009 Buy Nothing Day where participants not only do not buy anything for twenty-four hours but also keep their lights, televisions, computers and other non-essential appliances turned off, their cars parked, and their phones turned off or unplugged from sunrise to sunset.
  • Buy Nothing Day hike: Rather than celebrating consumerism by shopping, participants celebrate the earth and nature.
  • Buy Nothing Critical Mass: As the monthly Critical Mass bike ride often falls on this day or near, rides in some cities acknowledge and celebrate Buy Nothing Day.

Tomorrow is Buy Nothing Day in the UK.  Steve and I plan to hang out with our friend John from Ohio by way of Norfolk who is coming for our Thanksgiving meal AND cook turkey and all the trimmings AND eat and celebrate with our dinner guests.

Tea for Two

One of the best things about being with Steve is that we both love to do wonderful things together and we really appreciate them.  The planning and anticipation can almost be as fulfilling as the doing, and we love to remember and talk about the experience afterwards. So it’s like we get to do something three times instead of just once.

Today, Steve and I went to Gidleigh Park for afternoon tea.  Gidleigh Park is a luxury country house hotel located on Dartmoor near the village of Chagford.  It’s a mile drive up a single track road so we really felt like we were getting away from everything.  We saw a heron fishing and two pairs of deer en route.

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Gidleigh Park

On our arrival, we were greeted and as we were early (afternoon tea is served at 4pm) we went for a walk around the grounds to build up our appetite.   The surrounding area is wild Dartmoor at it’s best – mature woodlands with the very same River Teign that I cycle along on my way to work running through it.

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Once we arrived back at the hotel, we were shown into the beautiful oak panelled library and settled in next to the fire.   In keeping with the period of the building, there are architectural and design influences from the Arts and Crafts Movement and the décor is understated, British elegance.  Owners Andrew and Christina Brownsword also run ABode Hotels, where Steve and I had our cheap date a few weeks back.  Once again the service was excellent and BTW Gidleigh Park has been named England’s Hotel of the Year. Gidleigh Park is renowned for its food and has earned two Michelin stars.  Definitely somewhere we plan to return to for a special meal sometime.

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In the library

We ordered the High Tea with smoked salmon, ham, chicken and egg & cress sandwiches (crusts removed, of course);  lemon, chocolate and carrot cake, an exquisite fruit tart; scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream and four types of cookies.  I chose Gidleigh Park blend tea, which was a mix of English Breakfast and Earl Grey and Steve had a cafetiere of very good coffee.

Afterwards, we were left to relax in front of the fire and stayed until night had fallen.  The drive home was lovely with the nearly full moon lighting our way.

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A proper cup of tea

Cheap Date

Steve and I went on a budget movie and dinner date the other night.  First stop was the University of Exeter library for a film.  When I used to work there, in another life, I cottoned onto the private viewing carrels and pretty extensive video collection spanning British, American, European and World cinema.

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We saw Rebecca; released in 1940 this was Alfred Hitchcock’s first American project.  Based on the Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name, it is a classic.

For dinner we had booked a table at Michael Caine’s Abode restaurant in the Cathedral Green.  At about £12-15 for a starter and £22-24 for the main course, this isn’t normally a first choice for a cheap date.  But we had taken advantage of an early dining offer at £14.95 for 2 courses if booked between 6 and 7 pm Monday to Friday.  It was fabulous.  The food was very good and beautifully presented and the service was exquisite.  At no time did we feel like hoi-polloi because we were there on the early bird special.  While we had a pre-dinner drink in the Champagne Bar, our waiter took our dinner and wine order.   The dining room was beautiful, decorated in dark wood with bright orange notes from Gerbera daisies on the tables and details on the menu.  From our table, we looked across the green to the beautiful Exeter Cathedral.   As I mentioned before, the service was 5 star.  Each dish was described to us as it was served and our waiter kept our bottle of wine to one side and never let our glasses get empty.

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To begin, Steve had pickled fillet of sea bream with soused onion and fennel and a fennel cream sauce.  I chose ham hock terrine with a grain mustard emulsion and pickled vegetables.  Both were very savoury and delicious.  I was a bit disappointed with my main course of Jerusalem artichoke and truffle risotto with parmesan and an artichoke broth.  It was just a tad too bland for my taste, although the risotto was cooked to perfection.  Steve hit the jackpot with roasted local Creedy Carver duck leg with roasted celeraic & garlic, savoy cabbage and a lightly spiced jus.  The meat fell off of the bone and the vegetables were a perfect accompaniment to the richness of the duck.  We shared a bottle of Le Petit Jaboulet Viognier which cost as much as our meal, but what the hay!

The early dining offer is a great idea, either to keep dinnertime business  coming in at a time when folks are cutting back or to lure people in who may normally not pay upwards of £35 for a meal.  The menu is seasonal, local and changes weekly.  I know where we’ll be going for our next cheap date!