Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Solstice and Christmas

The days leading up to Christmas were really fun this year. On the Friday before, we had our first snowfall of the season in Seattle! It was barely more than a dusting and melted by late morning, but it was still beautiful and enough to give schools a late start.
Saturday was Winter Solstice. Luckily, my good friend Will was free for a few hours, and willing to help me extract honey from my backyard hives. I had already harvested the extra honey frames at the end of summer, and tucked the bees in for the winter. But the frames have just been sitting in a tupperware bin in the house until I finally got around to renting the necessary extraction equipment. I set everything up in the basement, Will opened a delicious Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale, and we set to work. The first step was to cut the "caps" off the honey comb with a hot (electric) uncapping knife.
When the honey in a cell is ready, the bees magically know that the moisture content is below 18%, and they put a wax cover or "cap" over that cell. Here you can see how the knife slices off the thin cap to expose the honey in each cell.
If parts of the comb are too recessed and don't get cut with the knife, you have to use a capping scratcher to scratch off the wax cap.
I had a 4-frame hand-crank extractor, so after uncapping 4 frames, we loaded them in. And then spun it! The centrifugal motion forces the honey onto the walls of the extractor, then it runs down the walls and out a spout at the bottom.
It was so satisfying to see enough honey extracted to start flowing out. Pure honey straight from the comb, with bits of wax still in it. And on the shortest day of the year, to reap the abundance of the longest days. In a post on Will's blog he mentions the process, and sums it up well: "It was a sticky, sticky business to be sure, and became completely hilarious when we both got a little buzzed and I dropped my phone in a puddle of honey, but dude, really, can you think of a better way to celebrate the winter solstice?"

No, no I can't.

The evening was also appropriately celebratory for the holiday, as I cooked up a Smitten Kitchen eggplant dish and headed over to the Feast of the Winter Solstice, put on annually by the Fremont Arts Council. It's the biggest potluck you'll ever go to, a true feast, with hundreds and hundreds of people bringing food. There were about 8 tables that looked like this.
There's food, art, bonfire, lots of live music, dancing, and even headdresses to borrow. 

On Monday, I went to my aunt's house and she taught me how to make lefse. It's basically a Norwegian flatbread made with mashed potatoes and flour. She was an awesome teacher with all sorts of tricks and tips that she has learned over the years in making this traditional dish for our Christmas Eve party on the Norwegian side of the family. She even had a lefse-specific electric griddle and a wooden wand, like the ones that you would use to flip a crepe.
Then she said, "While you're here, do you want me to show you krumkake too?" Krumkake is a cookie-like dessert where the batter gets cooked thin in a decorative iron, then while it's still hot gets rolled up. When it cools, it's light and crispy.
Christmas was pleasant and mellow as ever. Christmas is just one day though, and I like that there really is a "holiday season" that spreads things out. I know it's cheesy, but the beauty of being an adult is that we can celebrate this time of year how we want. For me, I did lots of cooking and eating and drinking, but also a lot of cold, misty runs around Greenlake. I saw a lot of family, but also spent time with chosen family of dear friends who were back in town. And on Christmas night when everything was over, cleaning the kitchen and putting away wrapping paper brought some wistfulness and also a small sense of relief.

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