A Weary World Rejoices

Monday, December 24, 2012
O Holy Night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
'Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees,
Oh, hear the angel voices!
Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born.
Oh night divine, Oh night, Oh night divine.

Thursday's Child: Aarhus Cathedral, Denmark

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Aarhus Cathedral, in Aarhus, Denmark, is notable for a few reasons.  It is the largest church in Denmark and has both a stunning altar and a set of golden gates that separate the choir from the nave.  But its most striking features are the frescoes on its walls.  Only a few remain, but they indicate what this cathedral must have looked like in its prime.

We knew nothing about Aarhus before we disembarked at this port on our Baltic cruise last summer. The girls had begged to go to a beach somewhere on the cruise.  Most of the destinations gave us no time for a beach - even two days in St. Petersburg were barely adequate - but Aarhus was the one destination that had no must-sees, and thus it became our beach day.

But after a beautiful morning at the beach we still had a few hours left, and I remembered reading about the glorious cathedral that towered over the rest of the town.

Construction on the cathedral began in the late twelfth century, and was completed around 1350.  Later, it was redesigned in the Gothic style, and between the years of 1470 and 1520, the walls were covered in frescoes.  Many of these lovely frescoes were lost during the Reformation movement but a few remain.  Those that survived cover over 2000 square feet on the interior walls of the cathedral. The largest, shown at the top of this paragraph, depicts St. Christopher and St. Clement, the latter of whom was a pope in the early church and patron saint of sailors, and to whom the cathedral is dedicated. 

One of the beauties of travel is discovering the unexpected.  We've been fortunate enough to see some of the world's great cathedrals, and they truly are spectacular.  But once in a while, it's a joy to stumble upon a place that you never knew existed.  Built to glorify God, Aarhus Cathedral, with its vaulted ceilings and colourful frescoes, was a true pleasure to visit.

In memory of the victims at Sandy Hook

Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Blue Sky Mausoleum, Buffalo, New York
"When it rains it pours and opens doors
And floods the floors we thought would always keep us safe and dry.
And in the midst of sailing ships, we sink our lips into the ones we love
That have to say goodbye.

"And as I float along this ocean,
I can feel you like a notion
That won't seem to let me go.

"And every word I didn't say, caught up in some busy day
And every dance on the kitchen floor, we didn't have before
And every sunset that we'll miss, I'll wrap them all up in a kiss
And pick you up in all of this when I sail away.

"And as I float upon this ocean,
I can feel you like a notion
That I hope will never leave."

- from "When I Look to the Sky"

Thursday's Child: Church on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

Thursday, December 13, 2012

St. Petersburg's Church on Spilled Blood is one of the most stunning places of worship I've ever seen.  It also has one of the most dramatic histories; there aren't many buildings that have survived near-destruction as many times as this one.   

Even its beginnings were violent.  The Church on Spilled Blood, also known as Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.  And like so many great buildings in Russia, it was badly damaged in the twentieth century.  In the first world war, it was looted.  In the second world war it was used as a temporary morgue during the German Siege of Leningrad.  It was also used as a warehouse for vegetables, which explains its nickname "Saviour on Potatoes".

The exterior was built to resemble Moscow’s St. Basil's Cathedral, and it is striking.  But it’s the interior that really dazzles, as it is covered with over 75,000 square feet of mosaics.  Numerous biblical stories are played out on pillars, arches, walls and ceilings. 

Restoration work began in 1970 and finished 27 years later, although the church was never reconsecrated.  It is designated as a Museum of Mosaics.  But given its tumultuous history and breathtaking visuals, it could only be known by a moniker as dramatic as Spilled Blood.

Bucking the trend

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Every other blog in the universe is posting dessert recipes this month.  I’ve lingered over many of them – delightful confections featuring gingerbread, peppermints, chocolate and many other holiday flavours.  It’s the season to enjoy sweets in any form, and not think about the consequences until the New Year.

So why am I posting a recipe for soup?

For one thing, as the title suggests, I do like bucking a trend. I’ll probably post my dessert recipes next summer when everyone else is making salad.

But in a month of occasional decadence, I also wanted to remind myself that eating simply can often mean eating very well.  Take this Cream of Mushroom Soup with White Wine and Leeks.  It’s delicious and surprisingly quick to make.  And it’s filling enough that, after eating a bowl, you might make one less trip to the dessert buffet.

Speaking of which, don’t worry – I’m pretty sure I’ll post at least one dessert recipe this month.

Cream of Mushroom Soup with White Wine and Leeks

4 Tbsp butter
1 cup sliced leeks
1 1/2 pounds sliced mushrooms (I used cremini, but button mushrooms would also be good)
3 Tbsp flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup white wine
1 cup half and half

Melt the butter in a large skillet.  Add the leeks and sauté for 3 – 5 minutes until tender.  Add mushrooms and sauté until they just start to soften.  Do not overcook.

Remove 1/4 cup of the mushroom mixture to use for garnish.

Add the flour and mix with remaining leek and mushroom mixture.  Cook for 2 – 3 minutes.  Add chicken broth and white wine, and bring to a gentle boil to thicken.

Reduce heat and add the half and half, cooking just until warm.  Garnish each serving with a spoonful of the mushroom and leek mixture.

Thursday's Child: Helsinki Cathedral

Thursday, December 6, 2012

This month I’ll be writing about some of the beautiful places of worship we’ve seen, and I’ll start with Finland’s iconic Helsinki Cathedral.  Known in Finnish as Tuomiokirkko, the cathedral began its life in the mid-19th century as an Orthodox church. 

When Finland was annexed by Russia in 1808, much of Helsinki was destroyed in a fire.  The Russians took on the job of rebuilding it, and a major part of that reconstruction was this church, built as a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.  As a result it was known as St. Nicholas’ Church, until Finland gained independence in 1917.  It has since been renovated and renamed Helsinki Cathedral, and is now a Lutheran church.

Although the church has some interesting historical significance, it really is its beauty that makes it a standout.  As we cruised into the Helsinki harbour, the elevated cathedral was the first thing we saw.  And it’s the first place most people visit in Helsinki.  These photos are completely unretouched – the sky really was that blue, and the church really is that white.

Helsinki was a city that I knew almost nothing about before I started planning the trip, and it was one of the loveliest surprises I’ve had in my travels.  I’ve written about Helsinki’s Rock Church and Sibelius Park, both of which were breathtaking and utterly unique.  But it was the beautiful Helsinki Cathedral that first welcomed us to the city.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

luminous flask,
your beauty formed
petal by petal,
crystal scales expanded you
and in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grew round with dew.”

-       from “Ode to the Onion” by Pablo Neruda, translated by Stephen Mitchell

One of the reasons I love Pablo Neruda is because he writes so beautifully about the most common items.  His ode to onions is one of his best, praising the simple vegetable that is both accessible to the poor and essential to the finest meals.

Onions might be the ingredient I use most often in my cooking.  They are humble, indispensable and delicious.  And I can’t think of a worthier subject for a poem.

“Star of the poor,
fairy godmother
in delicate
paper, you rise from the ground
eternal, whole, pure
like an astral seed,
and when the kitchen knife
cuts you, there arises
the only tear
without sorrow.” 

Balsamic Onions and Blue Cheese Salad

3 small red onions
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp good balsamic vinegar
1 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbsp minced shallots (2 large)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup good red wine vinegar
3/4 to 1 pound crumbly blue cheese
2 heads red-leaf lettuce, washed, spun dry, and torn

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the onions in half and slice 1/4 inch thick.  Place on a baking sheet and toss with 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the onions are tender.  Remove from the oven, toss with 2 more tablespoons balsamic vinegar, and let cool to room temperature.

To make the dressing, whisk the shallots, mustard, red wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a small bowl.  While whisking, add 3/4 cup olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. Mash 1/4 pound blue cheese with a fork and add it to the dressing.

To assemble, toss enough lettuce for 6 people with dressing to taste.  Place the lettuce on 6 plates and arrange the onions on top.  Coarsely crumble the rest of the blue cheese on top.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.