Southern Maine, Season by Season

Saturday, December 17, 2016


The Black Month

Do you associate months, or days of the week, with colors? It's a form of synesthesia, and it's probably quite a common thing. One neurologist, the late Dr. Oliver Sacks, speculated that synesthesia may be developmental; that is, perhaps sensory pathways may be connected in a young child until time and learning separates them into different categories of memory and experience. Perhaps those pathways remain tangled in some ways, in some people, into adulthood. You'll probably gather from this introduction that I do experience a type of synesthesia, and it does involve color. Among other things, I do associate months closely with various colors. And December is definitely black.

That's not to say that I think of the color black when I think of December. It's that the month ... IS black. It feels black; it is opaque, and has a fragile, almost powdery texture. The feeling is a little like melting into a chalkboard. It means that on a snowy December day, like today, I feel the black bark of the trees, instead of the white flakes that cover them. Too weird? New Year's Eve is always a sensuous experience for me, as black December gives way - quite suddenly - to the dazzling white, ethereal, and icy texture of January. And only then can I feel the snow.

But enough about my weird sensations of the month. Because it is black, December is the perfect background for the night constellations and the changing moon. It means also that I have real preferences for the colors and textures of Christmas decorations. Bright red and green don't do it for me. But small, icy lights echo the stars' presence in the velvet black sky. And muted colors - blues, silvers, pinks, natural greens - contribute a sophisticated and satisfying palette. Like this:

Our magnolia, adorned with "white" incandescent and LED lights. Really gold and blue, respectively. Maybe a few more lights, next year?

An illuminated snowflake on the front of the house. And yes, I really love the fact that the arms surround a Star of David.

Greens, birch poles, and incandescent white lights fill a snowy urn by the front door. You can glimpse a small tree on our back porch through the side light windows.

Mantel arrangement. Natural greens from the yard: boxwood, fir, and winterberries arranged in recycled glass jars covered with salvaged birch bark. The sleigh is a cardboard construction, and the banded rocks come from the nearby beach. The small hemlock cones that are tied to packing twine in the garland were windfalls on the deck of the house at which we spent a memorable week in Cape Breton this past October.
A small wire reindeer figure alongside individual bulbs of paperwhites.

Small Swedish dolls and a little tree with Swedish horses flank an old-fashioned clock on a vintage doily. 

A dark photo of the tree, flanked by snowy windows. OF COURSE it's the Perfect Tree! It always is! 

Some favorite ornaments



A trip to Boston

One of the nice things about being semi-retired is taking a trip to Boston (aka The Big City) for pleasure, and not for work - not that the two could not be combined! They often were ... 

Paul and I have a tradition of walking around in the city sometime in early December, to see what we can find. Often, it's a visit to a museum, and almost always, it's a walk around the Boston Common and the Public Garden.  This year, instead of staying at a hotel for a day or two, we decided to make a day trip by train. We left Wells in the early morning, and arrived well before noon at North Station. We enjoyed a brisk walk to the nearby Museum of Science, and took in the current exhibit on Leonardo da Vinci (which was great) as well as a smaller permanent exhibit on local birdage. 

Then we strolled down the Esplanade and Charles Street to the Public Garden to visit the ducklings.  Mrs. Mallard was  - as usual - adorned with her Santa hat, but this year, the ducklings had their own cold-weather gear!  

Here's Jack, the first of the ducklings

And here's Quack, bringing up the rear (queep!!)


 After a traditional New England dinner at Durgin-Park, we made the trek back to North Station and a homebound train ride in the dark - the perfect way to view the outdoor Christmas light displays of many, many homeowners and municipalities in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and southern Maine.


 A couple of arrangements for Christmastime

Here's a loose arrangement of amaryllis flowers and some eucalyptus leaves in a plain gray pottery vase. The soft colors and exuberant forms of the flowers make an exciting, if unconventional, holiday focal point.

A Christmas arrangement to complement my "good" china, which is white and light blue. White tea roses, blue sea holly, and seeded eucalyptus are nestled between blown glass ornaments. It's all placed in a footed silver bowl.


 A Holiday Appetizer

Christmas is a time for getting out favored recipes from years past and enjoying the results with family and friends. It's ridiculous that I haven't done a Christmastime blog post before, and so have not shared some of my favorites for this time of year - Cinnamon Crescent, Mint Meltaways, Baked Alaska, Oxtail Consomme, Country Pate, Cheese Gougeres, Miniature Tourtieres, and - of course! - the entire Menu for the Feast of Beast, including Strawberry Sorbet and (yes!) Fruitcake for dessert. 

It'll all get shared - eventually. But here's a terrific, easy appetizer that you can share with just one other person. It comes together pretty quickly ... IF you remember to take the pastry sheet out of the freezer. Do so! 

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tarts

Serves 2, but can be doubled. Or tripled. Or fourpled. 

 Unfold one sheet of thawed puff pastry. Use Pepperidge Farm, and save the all-butter Dufour puff pastry for another time! Use 1/3 of the sheet (it will probably break that way, anyway).  Cut the pastry sheet in half and prick both pieces all over with a fork. Place the pastry squares on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet (or substitute a Silpat sheet) and bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for about 12 minutes, or until golden and puffed. 

Meanwhile, thinly slice a sweet onion (Walla Walla, Vidalia, or Maui) and saute the slices in 1 tablespoon of butter until light brown. Add 1/4 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme to the pan, and cook until onion is fully caramelized, stirring frequently. Don't let it burn! 

Place the hot pastry squares on plates and immediately crunch the centers. Spread each pastry square with about 1 ounce of goat cheese, and top with caramelized onion. 

With a salad, this would make a lovely light lunch.  And, yes - add a glass of wine! After all, it's Christmas! 

May it be a merry one!