Thursday, December 24, 2009

5 years ago to the day

... my first article was published in Annapolis' own Bay Weekly on the vacancy of the Market House - a sad day for this town.  Today my second article in this newspaper has been published, this time profiling a great Annapolitan Michael Silitch, who has become a world reknowned mountaineer in Chamonix, France.  Read more at


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

We'll Have a White Christmas

A forecast of snow - feet of snow no less - has never before upset me. In the cold winter months when I was in school, I'd go to sleep not only with my pajamas backwards, but also inside out, for that extra effort. Sleepovers meant elaborate snow dances followed by a rush to the window the next morning. We usually discovered nothing but the bare, frozen ground. But our hope never diminished.

the official measuring stick measured 24 inches Sunday morning

When we finally did wake up to a white storm, whether an inch or a foot, my brother and I would race into our layers of snow gear - at least five layers under bib snow pants, turtle necks, long johns, and a head piece with small holes for our eyes. We'd waddle out the door before breakfast, tirelessly sledding down our steep street, the bulkhead to stop us from flying straight into the creek at the bottom.  Depending on the snow's depth and consistency, the neighborhood kids would join forces to build a snow fort.  We'd take hot chocolate breaks every couple hours, an excuse to heal the painful burning from a cold snowball thrown squarely in the face. 

By afternoon, we were ready for more serious slopes.  The hill at St. John's College, a monster of a hill, was wide and steep - and completely worth dragging our sleds across town for.  After hurtling ourselves down the drop countless times, we'd head home and play board games while our toes thawed.  The next day, we'd wake up and do it all over again.  This cycle continued until the bottom of the news screen no longer posted Anne Arundel County in its list of cancellations and we wearily trudged back to school, the sidewalks flanked by mounds of dirty snow.  Even as I passed the age of sledding all day, snow days were wonderful for their novelty.  There was always some change of plans, and usually this meant no classes or work. 

But last Saturday morning, as the snow fell in thick flakes and the Weather Channel predicted over two feet, I sat on my couch wishing for the opposite, whatever that might be.  Anything that wouldn't hinder people from coming to my family's annual Christmas party.  The party is a tradition that started in 1992, and has continued with only one hiatus last year.  I can proudly say that although the blizzard of 2009 shut down the state of Maryland - and probably the entire Mid-Atlantic region - for the weekend, the Dodd family did not reschedule.  Instead, we went ahead with our party.  Maybe there were only 12 guests (slightly fewer than the usual 90 or so) who made it, and perhaps the carols were sung in a cappella style instead of with a piano accompaniment, but there was still singing, cookies, good company, and Mrs. Dodd's meatballs.  And what else matters in the end?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mushy Peas are the Caviar of the UK

December in London is a beautiful time of year. The cold hazy days are cozy, whereas by February they'll feel more bleak and depressing. Green garlands of decorations adorn every possible surface and post, and Christmas trees line the streets, begging to be carried home. In the midst of all this holiday spirit, I find myself sitting in my old flat, on the new, marvelously comfortable couch, waiting for.... the dishwasher repairman. Not a very romantic picture of my 2-week visit to London, but I must say I actually appreciate the excuse to sit on said couch, doing literally nothing but watching Sky TV, for once the sole decision-maker of which of hundreds of channels to watch.

view from the living room window

It is in this 5-hour window of waiting time that I have discovered my new favourite British cook, Nigella Lawson, whose Christmas Kitchen show makes me want to get up this very second and start carving those frustratingly tiny pastry molds for mince pies. There is one thing, however, which confuses me about this traditional fare: the mincemeat. Does not contain any meat. The pies consist of a gooey combination of apples, cranberries, and other dried fruits, steeped in a mix with spices. So why is it called mincemeat? Listing the ingredients, and even watching the pies' creation under Nigella's watchful eye make them seem so irresistable; and yet, I never have actually enjoyed the taste of these holiday treats. What can you expect from a country where mushy peas are a staple food?

Another British treat (not particular for any specific time of year) is the Maryland cookie. Supposedly the recipe for these "biscuits" was brought to the UK from the US over half a century ago, and has been pretty successful because whenever I tell anyone here I'm from Maryland, they say "Ooooh! Like the cookie!" That and "Do you live near Baltimore? Only 40 minutes away?! Within spitting distance of 'The Wire'! WHAT??! YOU'VE NEVER SEEN IT??!" And so it goes, continuing with my explanation that I really don't watch much TV at all, and yes, I know I need to watch it because I'm from Maryland, and ending with a promise that they will lend me their copy. Which hasn't happened yet. And so I still haven't seen it. Maybe in my time waiting for the dishwasher repairman I'll be able to .... and there's the doorbell now.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Oh, Christmas Tree

The Annapolis City Dock Christmas tree, in all it's splendor, all but a stripe of unlit lights circling the top.  This year the city chose to decorate the tree with musical instruments and ribbons; saxaphones and trumpets are scattered amidst it's branches, adorned with small red bows and scrolls of notes.  A few years ago I remember the theme was gardening tools, the tree littered with rakes and shovels.  That was quite a tree.  It's always a surprise what will show up on the City Dock tree - I wonder who's job it is to decide this?  I can imagine a man behind his desk in City Hall call out to his secretary "What should the theme of the tree be this year?" and she yells back "hmmmm... my daughter just started violin lessons - let's make it music!"  And so it is.  This year the tree is certainly a sight to see, whether or not it's fully lit.