Archive for August, 2011

Feasting on Crayfish

August in Scandinavia means crayfish parties, traditionally held outdoors as an end-of -summer ritual. But not everyone is so enamored of these small crustaceans.

Growing up as a kid in the midwest, I knew of “crawdads” or “mudbugs” only as fish bait. Certainly nobody ate them – ugh! At our cabin in Canada crayfish are the preferred food of mink, who scatter remains on our dock after an evening’s dining.

In Texas and Louisiana crayfish boils are a popular social event. Farm-raised in large commercial operations, gunny sacks full of live crayfish are dumped into huge pots of highly seasoned boiling water in which potatoes and corn-on-the-cob have already been cooked. The resulting spicy platters will bring tears to your eyes (literally) and the need to reach for a cold mug of beer.

Things are done differently in Scandinavia. They catch crayfish at night in chicken wire traps with funnel-shaped openings – very clever! A more restrained mix of seasonings is used in the cooking – water seasoned with only salt, sugar and quantities of dill. The crayfish are served with bread and butter, washed down with vodka, aquavit or beer.

The Swedes are famous for their crayfish parties, though the Finns are not far behind in their passion for this delicacy. No matter where you are, eating crayfish is a messy business requiring hands-on attentiion. You must twist off the head, split open the shell and suck out the meat! Fortunately the results are worth the effort. Short of eating lobster, nothing else measures up to these little gifts of summer – a delicious treat. Enjoy them while you can. I’m even including them in the second book of my Women of Beowulf series.


Closing the Cabin

Summer at Lake of the Woods in Ontariio, Canada, is coming to an end for this island dweller. Days are shorter, nights are cooler, the white pelicans that once flocked to our rock have been replaced by black cormorants. It happens every year. So does another dreaded activitiy: closing the cabin.

Long experience has taught us to set aside three days for this project. We have a checklist of 77 items to be completed, and our checklist grows longer every year. Any item left unchecked can be a cause for grief when we return next spring. Here is a sample of our list:

* Pack and haul trash, garbage and recycling (this is an island, remember?)

* Remove temperature sensitive materials (-65 degrees last winter)

* Drain all supply side plumbing

* Turn off electric panel

* Fog all cylinders and carburetors on outboard motors

* Put stabilizer in gas cans

* Remove fire extinguishers from cabin and boats

* Clean ashes from parlour stove

* Fill firewood box with starter paper, kindling and split logs

* Set out mouse poison in cabin

* Tether floating dock to shore and boathouse

* Add wire covers to boat seats (to foil squirrels, etc.)

* Take down boathouse phone line

* Drain and store washing machine in workshop

* Take home sheets and pillowcases to launder

* Plug in cell phone night before departure

* Cancel Internet connectiion

* Leave cabin doors unlocked and post sign” “No alcohol, guns or electronics” (remember the -65 degrees?)

Whew! Time to get busy!


How I Came to Love Beowulf

Growing up in rural Indiana during the 40’s and 50’s, the world of Beowulf was as unknown and foreign to me as the dark side of the moon. It did not enter my field of vision until gradute school in the 60’s, when I had to take a course in Old English Literature. Bingo! Beowulf – in the original! I struggled through the epic, got my degree and moved on.

Years later I found myself in a high school classroom, preparing to teach Honors English to 16-year-olds. On the curriculum: Beowulf. I immersed myself in the Burton Raffel translation, papered the walls of the classroom to simulate a sixth century mead hall, and drew a life-sized Beowulf with blonde hair and chain mail to occupy it.

On the day I planned to introduce the epic, I brought in a friend who played hammered dulcimer. We dressed in long cloaks and turned out the lights. As she “harped,” I intoned the opening lines:

“Hear me! We’ve heard of Danish heroes,

Ancient kings and the glory they cut

For themselves, swinging mighty swords!”…

My dumbstruck students knew they had entered a different world, one possibly occupied by a crazy teacher.

Every year I looked forward to making a deeper acquaintance with Beowulf. My students memorized passages to recite before the class. We made facsimiles of the helmet excavated at Sutton Hoo, we learned how to write our names in futhork, the runic alphabet. We immersed ourselves in an ancient world of gods, heroes and monsters.

Sixteen years down the road, I was standing before another class reading Beowulf when I had an epiphany. I stopped in mid-sentence as the idea hit me, then declared out loud, “I’m going to write a book about the WOMEN of Beowulf!” One of my sophomore boys jumped to his feet. “Yeah, Dr. Rogers – you can call it The Babes of Beowulf!”

As it turned out, I used a different title, Faces in the Fire, but I did write that novel about the women of Beowulf. In fact I’m now at work on Book Two of the series. I still love Beowulf and the world it represents, a world of gods, monsters, heroes – and women.


Inhouse or Outhouse?

When you live on a rocky island, special attention must be paid to the matter of waste disposal, human and otherwise. We have a choice: inhouse or outhouse? Rain and darkness dictate the former, but in the interest of season-long septic system sustainability, it is often best to use the outhouse.

Ours is located about 60 feet from the main cabin. It’s a little red shack surrounded by wild roses and evergreens. A tree branch handle secures the door – which does NOT feature the stereotypical half-moon carving. It’s a one-seater. There is no unpleasant odor because the waste is property treated, biologically.

The interior is downright decorative. To the right of the “opening” (a regulation toilet rim and lid) stand rows of covered coffee cans containing rolls of toilet tissue. To the left, stacks of old Reader’s Digests – some with antique status – provide for leisure reading. The walls are adorned with calendars: scenic, floral, and girlie. Two pseudo-license plates record the travels of one occupant. The green and orange model reads “Rio De Janeiro, Brazil 2008. Another, in black and yellow from Australia, features a kangaroo, koala, emu, wombat and crocodile.

The most creative decorations are produced by the spiders. Daddy Longlegs are sociable companions familiar from childhood. Don’t be alarmed if you see a big, brown, hairy spider as big as your hand. These “dock spiders” don’t bite; they’re just looking for a cool, dark place to hang out – much like the human occupants.

Historical footnote: In Viking times, such as those depicted in my novel, Faces in the Fire, the “outhouse” was the only choice available. Usually a shed-like privy, it was attached to the outer wall of a family’s longhouse. Even in winter you still had to go outside!