After Sonnenwende: me + December light

I’ve been trying to write this post off and on since the second Sunday in Advent. I had to go grocery shopping today, of course, and realized it’s Lille julaften (the day before the day before Christmas for Norwegians, who ate lutefisk today). Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the first night of Chanukkah and in México and parts of the United States, the last night of Las Posadas.


Here I am singing a quintessential Chanukkah song. (Not fishing for compliments. I like to sing more than I’m a good singer. That was my office in 2010.)


Venison recipe (for Christmas Eve, from a recipe my father’s mother wrote on the back of an envelope, found in her hymnal of all places)

Ma’s venison. Salt backstrap all over. Set aside, a half hour. Fry in lard, both sides, till done. Set aside. Slice a small onion thin. Fry till brown on edge, douse with gin. Add stock and a spoonful of crushed juniper and cook down. Add cream. Slice meat and cover with sauce. Serves 4.

[I use butter rather than the homemade pork lard grandma had, but you have to watch it b/c it can burn easily. I’m shooting for medium to medium rare — it doesn’t taste good well — so you need the strongest sear you can get from butter. Maybe four minutes on a side. Then the meat rests on warm platter while you make the sauce. I taste the gin to make sure it hasn’t spoiled — a shot for me over ice, a shot for the pan. I prefer to use venison stock if I have it, but if not beef will do (the stock you can get on the web is usually from cornfed deer anyway, so not much different), about twice as much stock as gin and again as much cream, I prefer sour. If you don’t like the juniper flavor, use a more expensive gin and leave out the additional crushed berries. Or you could try substituting rosemary. When you put the sauce on the plate, stir it around a bit to incorporate the juices from the meat — there won’t be much. Four is optimistic — grandma served much more different dishes on Christmas Eve than I do. It was just a taste for her guests along with ham and poultry. A typical backstrap is a good pound and is probably yields enough for three as a main course.]


Lewis Black joke: “I wasn’t raised to eat game. As Jews, we hunt for buffets.”



LadyButterfly’s been posting pictures of the light, from her perspective: sunset in November; a sunrise (“the day has risen“); some more December sunrise.

There are two places where I usually sit in the afternoon now, both looking west.

Two days ago was the solstice; the radio woke us with the news that it was the first day of winter. I’ve always liked the German term, Sonnenwende, even though the sun does not turn.

The angle of the sun, when it struggles through the clouds, seems critical, seems feeble. Just as the sun does not turn, despite appearances, it is not failing.


Here we start to wear our hunting clothes, we put on our Packers outerwear, we drink more to make our cheeks warmer, we wind the loopy progress of cars on unplowed roads, when we get out, we limp in the strange, tentative gait for crossing terrain with ice and snow, we eat more, we eat fattier. We put on sweatpants, we argue about whether to turn the temperature up one more degree, we turn it up, we do not turn it up, we put on another sweater, we snuggle under afghans.

We do not complain, we do not swear about the cold. Cold enough for ya yet? The sun has turned, the proverb says it will get colder now.

Still I am happy the light is not failing anymore, even when I do not see it, even when all we have is the reflection of the overcast on the snow.

The nieces still pummel each other with snowballs. How much longer? Dad puts on his Carhartt and plows the driveway with his tractor. I meet him at the door with a very hot cup of coffee, I help him unclip his overalls. You remind me of your mother, he says. I remember asking her why she always did it, after plowing, and she said, because it’s cold out there and he’s not the youngest anymore. That was thirty years ago. How much longer?

Perihelion takes place on or about January 3. We’ll be the closest to the sun we can get on Earth in just a week or so.


I realized I did not have the fortitude to bath in Sufjan Stevens this year, but the café has this song on its infinite loop anyway.


I’ve been here a year. Home. It was the right decision.


I saw today that they have re-advertised my last job — at an $8,000/year raise. My replacement lasted a year at my salary before moving on. You really don’t get anything for being nice.


I don’t usually make latkes quite this way anymore — I learned it from The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, in the 1990s, but then I started dating the physicist and he preferred a sweet potato latke with Indian spices. However, that won’t go with the venison. So here, with apologies to Joan Nathan.

For about 18 latkes, take a pound of russet potatoes, peel and put under water, and then grate either by hand (watch out for your knuckles) or shred with your food processor (they will be a little creamier that way). Or, you can also buy them ready grated in the store but they don’t hold together as well, so you will need some additional potato starch. (That’s why you’re getting a russet potato, you want the starch — lower starch varieties don’t fry or stick together as well.) Grate a small yellow onion and mix with the potatoes. Press the grated potatoes and onion through your strainer to get as much water as possible out. Do this quick b/c the potatoes will turn an unappetizing color if you dawdle. Mix with a generous pinch of salt, an egg, and tablespoon of matzoh meal (if you don’t have, use flour — the more meal and egg, the fluffier. If they’re not sticking together, add a little bit of potato starch). Take a cast iron skillet and put a generous amount of vegetable oil in until very hot (it’s hot enough once a strand of potato sizzles when you put it in). Don’t be afraid of the oil — the hotter the crispier and if you fry too slowly, the latkes get soggy and unpleasantly greasy. Put a generous spoonful of batter in the hot oil — at least two tablespoons — and flatten it out a little with your spatula. Fry about two minutes or until dark brown on the first side, then flip and fry on the other side until brown. Don’t flip them a million times or they will get too oily. Drain on a paper towel and keep in oven till ready to serve — as soon as possible — with sour cream and cut up fresh scallions, and/or applesauce. Serves four as a main or six as a side.

If you want to jazz these up a little, I would suggest googling “aloo tikki” and picking a mixture of the spices you find in those recipes and roasting them before adding them to the batter. Serve with a mint chutney.

We’ll be eating ours with the sauce from the venison, and apple sauce.



A Jesuit friend of mine told me that he decided to apply to enter the novitiate after reading St. Ignatius of Loyola’s contemplation on the Incarnation. During the meditation, the person practicing the Spiritual Exercises tries to see in his mind a series of images that focus one’s faith. The Incarnation is the first meditation in the second week of the exercises.

This is to ask for what I desire. Here it will be to ask for an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely.

This will be to see the different persons:

First, those on the face of the earth, in such great diversity in dress and in manner of acting. Some are white, some black; some at peace, and some at war; some weeping, some laughing; some well, some sick; some coming into the world, and some dying; etc.


I’ve never been very apocalyptically disposed, but since the election, every morning the news makes me think I might be. Let Moshiach come speedily in our days, or as I said to a friend sarcastically the other day: Come already Lord Jesus.


And I know a father who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he had done

He came a long way just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and he headed home again

Slip slidin’ away

Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away


I still don’t think I got anywhere, writing. The days will get longer, soon. But it still feels like the light is failing.

In the spirit of Mary and Joseph: may everyone find their posada. May the refugees find shelter immediately. May all who wonder if this sun is failing or we are sliding away from our destinations, who are without answers — may all of them, all of us, find what we’re looking for, soon.

Best wishes of the season to all readers and their friends and families.

~ by Servetus on December 24, 2016.

52 Responses to “After Sonnenwende: me + December light”

  1. Dear Serv,
    I wish you and yours peaceful holidays.
    Lots of love and hugs from Germany!!! (not that much light around here too at the moment 😦 )

    • That thing where you squeeze the peeling of your clementines across the candle light always used to cheer me up … Hugs to you, too.

  2. Liebe Serv,
    auch dir ein hoffentlich ruhiges und vor allem friedvolles Weihnachten.
    LG Claudia

  3. A post filled with spirituality and food, nice! 🙂 Loved hearing you sing and your American-Hebrew accent when you do. I also love the idea that the days are getting longer again.
    Like you, for the first time, I feel apocalyptically inclined too (good term!). I really hope things won’t get worse in the world. A new year, a new hope?
    Happy Chanukkah and best wishes to you as well, Serv!

    • I read a Chanukkah meditation somewhere this morning that we could think of the holiday as about holding out — that there is enough to get us through, somehow. (We’re not used to thinking of it that way because we are so accustomed to abundance — but I like the idea of thinking we can hold on for four years or however long it needs to be).

      I think there’s a star Wars film subtitled ” A New Hope,” no? Happy holidays to you, too.

      • Yes, that is a Star Wars movie, I just watched it the other day (which is probably why the phrase sprung to mind).
        4 years holding out and hoping things don’t get even worse here in NL with our elections coming up in March… Yes, we will survive… somehow…

  4. Lovely, and thanks for the latke recipe. I’ve gotten a lead on where to find russets here. It’s aways wise to taste the gin in case it’s “spoiled.”

    • Definitely would not want to add any spoiled gin to our Christmas Eve meal. It’s a huge risk, but I’m happy to take it for me and dad.

      Incidentally, I just heard this song and learned that some people put baking powder in theirs! Chag Sameach. I hope your frying festival goes well.

  5. Eine friedvolle und gesegnete Weihnachtszeit wünsche ich dir und deiner Familie.

  6. Somehow, all the different episodes come together to create meaning – stories of sating hunger, staying warm, of home, work, youth and old age, family and future. Like Christmas, too, or any end-of-year celebration. Your recipes sound wonderful, even for a decided non-domestic goddess. Or domestic non-goddess? In any case, wishing you a lovely family Christmas!

    • I hope you and your assembled family have a merry Christmas, too.

      i was thinking while writing this that it’s all in knowing how, which no recipe really teaches you. My grandmother’s recipe is written for someone who already knows how to prepare the meat so things like “how you know when it’s done” are left out. There’s a metaphor there, I think.

      • Thank you, Serv, and I hope you have the same today with your family.
        Totally true re. recipes. It’s all about practice, I guess, and maybe about intuition. Metaphor indeed.

  7. Happy holidays, dear Serv! ❤
    Wishing you and your family all the best!

  8. Thank you for all you have done for me this year, you have been a beacon of hope and friendship. I wish you and yours (and everyone else) the very best of everything, as I always do. xxx

  9. How beautifully written, dreamy almost. I can see you tucked in a chair by a window, blanket over your feet, steaming cup on the sill, tapping away on a laptop.
    Perhaps not at all realistic, but the dream I dream😉

  10. Thank you so much!
    Best wiches too

  11. Thank you for the music, here and in all its other incarnations. “I’ve been here a year. Home. It was the right decision.” – A lovely feeling to close out 2016.

  12. You can really hit those high notes, serv! Happy Christmakkuh!

    • This song is like the Star Spangled Banner of Judaism. Easier to sing if you’re drunk. Happy Chrismukkah to you, too!

  13. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and the music. Have a wonderful time with your family this season.

    • Enjoy the venison. I haven’t had it in years. My dad used to hunt deer in Quebec and my brother still does. My mum, a townie English war bride, learned to cook it many ways to make it tender. Venison tew was a favourite.

  14. Happy holidays to all!

  15. Bestest wishes for the season to you too! And thanks for another great year of reading and good company! Lovely recipes, might try venison when back in UK and def latkes! But with sour cream for me 😉

    • There was sour cream in the venison recipe so I went with the contrast for the latkes (normally cranberries with venison, I think). Happy holidays!

  16. Wishing you and everyone else here happy holidays and a peaceful time without any stress. Merry Christmas or Happy Chanukkah to you all!

  17. Wishing you a Merry Christmas/ Happy Hannukah, Serv. I think I’m feeling sentimental right now because the last 2-3 lines in your post made me tear up 🙂

  18. Thank you,Servetus!
    Wesołych Świąt! for you , your family nad friends 🙂
    Happy holidays for all!

  19. Happy Holidays, Servetus! ❤ And the best wishes to your family.

  20. Liebe Serv, spät wie immer, wünsche ich Dir noch schöne Restfeiertage und alles liebe!!! Big hugs ❤

    • Gleichfalls — na, in Deutschland habt Ihr den 2. Weihnachtstag — hoffentlich ist es ruhig — festlich für Dich. Big hugs back.

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