Solstice is Here!

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            As the years go by, and the longer we live in cultures outside of the US, the sentimental holidays that used to mark the calendar year have fallen from our interest.  Birthdays are still sacred, of course, and we also love Thanksgiving and Easter, especially when we are in a Catholic or Orthodox country at the time, but many of the other seasonal holidays pass by us without much observance.  What I can get truly thrilled about, on the other hand, are the solstices, perhaps partly because they coincide with our twice-yearly homecomings.  I love the cloaking darkness of the winter solstice in the Northwest.  It feels like the perfect time to gather inside a cozy house with dear friends and great food to appreciate the goodness of this moment in our lives.  Conversely, the summer solstice in June indicates to us, at least psychologically, that summer has arrived and that we have a few upcoming weeks to revel in the dizzying natural beauty of the Northwest and partake of the generous bounty the earth provides at this latitude.  I really can’t understand what can be considered pagan, or unchristian, about pausing a few times each year to notice and appreciate that we are on a complex, yet rhythmic, planet that abundantly gives us what we need. 
            My friend Beth is a Feng Shui consultant in Fremont, Washington.  Being tuned into the energy cycles in life, she wrote some insightful thoughts about summer. 
The larger purpose of summer is to allow us to expand our sense of Self so we have more to offer the World … The summer season in our part of the world is a brief window of a few precious weeks. As August winds down and we approach fall, all that we have gained personally begins to come into form in the shape of the inspiration we have to offer the world. There will be ample time for sharing later in the year. For now, make your JOY the priority! Have fun and celebrate your life!

            Fremont hosts a unique annual parade that is precisely about enjoying being yourself, outside.  You can Google it if you would like to see pictures, but there will be naked people on bicycles so be forewarned.
            My favorite solstice celebration ever was the summer we were in Norway.  Scandinavians have good reasons to be in awe of the earth’s rotation as it plunges them into nearly 24-hour darkness for part of the year and 24-hour daylight for another.  We were staying with Allan’s relatives in Allesund about ten years ago and were lucky enough to be there for Mid Summer’s Eve.  The tradition is for families and neighbors to build towering bonfires all around the fiords and then go down to the rocky beach to share food and drink.  The adults, wrapped in blankets, ate barbecued hotdogs and potluck dishes while visiting on the beach or in boats.  The children, including our Gabe, ever the seal, took dips in the near-ice sea then ran back to their parents to get warm and have a bite of food.  It was all rustic and elemental and communal.  I have wanted to bring this tradition to Lummi Island, but so far we’ve just kept the fire to our own backyard.
            I have developed a ritual meal that we have twice a year, called Solstice Stew.  It is an adaptation of the German-style Square Soup that Allan’s grandmother used to make.  The perfect ending to this meal is a hunk of gooey chocolate cake, eaten, of course, around a roaring bonfire with people you love.  Have a joyous summer!
Solstice Stew
Ham Stock
1 meaty, smoked ham hock
16 cups water
1 large onion, quartered
4 ribs celery, chunked
3 carrots, chunked
2 bay leaves
Simmer the stock for one hour.  Remove the hock, pull off all of the meat, and reserve.  Strain the liquid and discard the bone and vegetables.  Cool the stock, skim off the fat, and reserve.
Egg Noodles
3 whole eggs
Enough flour to form a dough
Pinch of salt
Crack eggs into a mixing bowl.  Add a pinch of salt and then begin adding flour until a soft, but workable dough forms.  Turn out onto a floured surface and roll to 1/8 inch thickness.  Cut into desired shapes, preferably with star or sun shaped cutters.
Simmer the ham stock.  Add the reserved meat and then the pasta.  Serve when pasta is chewy, but still tender.
Confession:  My family much prefers that I make this soup with a package of those Lil’ Smokey sausages that are nothing but fat, and salt, and smoke flavoring.  I continue to resist.

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