Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Skol: Come explore a Norwegian wood with farm, flowers, family in rural Scandinavia


Spending time with our Norwegian relatives was a highlight of our latest holiday.  Here, from left, Fredrik, Cookie,
Keller, Ann-Christin, Gunnar and Nora.  The scene is the Nystul family farm near Mysen. The doggie is Zac.
Gunnar Nystul, our Norwegian cousin, took this photo of
his acreage in rural Norway, 43 southeast miles from Oslo.


NEAR THE town of Mysen, in south-eastern Norway, we spent a beautiful day in the company of my cousin Gunnar Nystul, with his family and pets, tools and projects.
What a delight!
On a 16-day Scandinavian cruise and Atlantic crossing, we were thrilled that Gunnar and his wife, Ann-Christin, took time off from their government jobs to entertain us.
Gunnar serves dessert at the farm, prepared by Ann-Christin,
who made a beautiful meal to serve the American cousins. 
There's nothing like a "home visit," the enticing bonus of having friends or family in a destination to enhance a visit. It makes a place real.
Gunnar picked us up at the pier in Oslo in his Mercedes station wagon.
We drove southeast, visiting in English, which is compulsory in Scandinavia, learning about Norwegian farming, freeways, food, economics, medical plans and education (it's free at university level, with high taxes of course.)
Gunnar pointed out high-tech undersea tunnels which connect the many islands of Scandinavia. We took several enroute to the farm.
OSLO HAS a famed Viking past, when my people (on my maternal granddad's side) roamed the high seas, traveling as far as Canada and the Mediterranean to trade, explore and conquer.
Ann-Christin has a modern kitchen in an older home.  Her talent
for decorating  and artistic eye are obvious at every turn.
On several other visits, we'd enjoyed Oslo's stunning Viking Museum and fantastic Vigeland Sculpture Park.
This time, we vowed to make our time a family affair.  Leaving the city, we passed Akershus Castle, where our ship docked, the Parliament Building, National Theatre and Royal Castle. Our anticipation was high as a Viking mast.
NORWAY IS famous for its vast expanse of woods, moors and lakes.
My cousin, Gunnar, has a microcosm of his country on his farm.  It is resplendant with all that makes Norway famous -- glasswork, crafts, farm tools, sculpture, flowers, carvings and more. We couldn't wait, having seen a photo Gunnar sent to entice us. Approaching their place was like watching a movie with ourselves in it.

Several of the buildings on the Nystul
Farm date back 100 to 150 years.

 After about 50 miles of the city slowly giving way to woods and villages -- we reached Mysen, administrative center of the municipality of Eidsberg in the county of Østfold. The town is built on the grounds of an old farm named Mysen, thus its name. Our family name, my mother's maiden name of Nystul, means "new farm." We've traced Gunnar's and my connection back to twin brothers Nils and Olav, separated at age seven when their mother died.
Trees lead to hiking paths, and  a
pleasant afternoon spent with family,
flowers, dogs and delicious food.
Norway indeed has its midnight sun, here as we left Oslo, bidding a
bittersweet farewell to the Nystul family of Mysen, Norway, our cousins.
Gunnar and his wife, Ann-Christin, and their children, Fredrik and Nora, spend as much time outdoors as possible.  No wonder. Summer is fleeting, from  late June to early August. That's when the weather is warmest and days are long and bright. Temperatures reach the high 70s, and occasionally 80F. (25°C - 30°C.) It's perfect weather, with little humidity.
Jump to "Lilian's Last Dance' blog
Winters are another matter -- snow boarding and skiing are popular, with every winter sport one could wish. Dog sledding, anyone? The farm is, no doubt, lovely with a dusting of snow, too.
Danish writer Karen Blixen is buried in this simple grave in Rungsted, where her museum is.

NEXT UP:  Danish writer Karen Blixen
is known for her first book, "Seven Gothic Tales," and for "Out of Africa," which was made into a major film.  She lived many years in Africa, returning after her lover was killed in a plane crash. Back in Denmark, Blixen began writing, emerging to public scrutiny in the early 1930s. "Gothic Tales" was published in the U.S. in 1934 under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen. We spent time at Rungstedlulnd, the Karen Blixen Museum, a lovely country house in Rungsted on the Øresund coast north of Copenhagen, Denmark. Among its enticements is a fantastic bird preserve.  Blixen lived there much of her life and donated it, with the proviso that bird life and wildnerness be preserved. Remember to explore, learn and live. More Wednesday at: www.whereiscookie.com

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Last three Montana events begin with Writer's Voice workshop Saturday


The last Montana Writer's Voice workshop of the summer is Saturday in Harlowton.  Here is the first, held in conjunction with The Big Read in early May in Absarokee.  A few openings remain for Saturday's "Jump Start".
 E-mail Nancy Widdicombe at nwiddicombe@yahoo.com or register at the workshop at 9:15 a.m. Saturday.
Workshops and readings have had tremendous response,
here last month in Livingston,  below in Absarokee.


I'VE HEARD it thousands of times: "I could write a book."
Perhaps, so. But why not begin in a more subtle fashion, then work up to that lofty ambition?
Start with an essay or short story, a poem, or sketch about your life. Harlowton beckons.
If your muse needs a jump start, come to a writer's workshop Saturday in Harlowton.
You're most welcome.
I COME FROM a long line of teachers.
Christene gives individual tips
to each workshop participant.
And I've written about people, the arts and travel for more than four decades. But it never hurts to have a creative jump start.
This weekend, I share the fruit's of my life's work in two favorite Montana towns -- Nye, and Harlowton. Saturday's gig caps my writing workshops in Montana (one more yet to come in Wyoming) and crowns the Montana readings from my novel, "Lilian's Last Dance." In the Rockies, we've read and taught in Billings, Red Lodge, Hardin, Miles City, Glendive, Absarokee, Columbus, Livingston and Cody, Wyoming.
Head up the West Fork of the Stillwater River Sunday, for a 4 p.m. reading
and a look at Windy Flats Gallery's final photography show of the season.
It's been a productive, hectic summer -- with 26 readings and five workshops, including one last week aboard the Serenade of the Seas enroute home from readings from my novel in Europe.
A workshop on writing followed by a reading from "Lilian's Last Dance"
treated trans-Atlantic cruisers last week. (Christene Meyers at left.)
WHAT HAS thrilled me most is the range of ages in the workshops -- from a first-grader to an 85-year-old.
My finale in Montana with the Writer's Voice workshops unfolds Saturday in Harlowton, at 9:30 a.m. in the Harlowton Library's new meeting room. There are still a couple openings. We're keeping the class small, under 12, to give time to all participants.
WORKSHOPS on writing have occupied a large chunk of our usually quiet and reflective summer.
Not that writing can't be quiet and reflective. But planning five different workshops -- because some people take more than one -- has been a challenge.
I hope I've done justice.
A Writer's Voice workshop in June in Cody attracted 15
 writers with a wait list of a half-dozen writers.
 THE LAST of five Writer's Voice summer writing workshops unfolds in the new conference center of the Harlowton Library Saturday, and there are still openings. The goal is to encourage writing -- whether memoir, fiction, poetry or non-fiction.  Meyers has a new series of exercises, which will help jump-star the writing muse in all levels of creativity. To register for the day-long workshop, call 406-294-1620 or email corby@skinnerbenoit.com, or nwiddicombe@yahoo.com 
The experience includes a homemade lunch.

THEN THIS Sunday, we'll be reading at Windy Flats Gallery on the beautiful Stillwater River Road on the West Fork of the river.  Master black-and-white photographer Edward Barta will show his new work, featuring the Joshua trees of the desert southwest. A brief reading commences at 4 p.m., with a signing of first editions of "Lilian's Last Dance" following. Barta and his wife Barb always serve up delicious appetizers and wine.

A gorgeous landscape awaits readers as we spend a magical day
 with  our Norwegian cousins at their farm east of Oslo. -- photo by Gunnar Nystul

COMING NEXT: A weekend in the country -- an idyll with our Norwegian cousin Gunnar Nystul, his wife, Anne-Christin, their children and doggies at their beautiful farm southeast of Oslo near the village of Mysen. Come explore this picturesque "Norwegian Wood"  and see the land of Cookie's maternal grandfather's roots. More up next at www.whereiscookie.com

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Lively Livingston: Gil's Goods spices up Livingston, Montana, dining

Brian Menges, proprietor of  Gil's Goods , is hands-on, welcoming Cookie, and bringing water for Nick's and Nora's
doggie dish (on the table.) Polite dogs are welcome at Gil's Goods, next door to the famed Murray Hotel in Livingston.  


Gil's Goods attracts a host of regulars and tourists staying at the Murray.

BRIAN MENGES is an amiable entrepreneur who loves what he does and enjoys watching lively people appreciate the delicious food he prepares.
The ambitious 43-year old is proud of his eatery, Gil's Goods, and the inventive way he "recycled" the old Gil's Gifts sign to  read "Gil's Goods."
 While Livingston is embracing the eatery, Menges is giving back. He employs over six dozen people, making his one of the largest operations in town. Between Gil’s Goods at 207 West Park, the adjoining Murray Bar, and his fine dining eatery, the acclaimed 2nd Street Bistro (123 N. 2nd St.), he has a staff of 74 enthusiastic, capable people.
As one dines at Gil's, a view of the historic Depot, and the colorful
Yellowstone Park buses  provides additional entertainment. 
WHEN GIL'S Goods opened in May of 2012, Menges trumpeted his achievement: "I'd wanted to have a European-style cafe with sustainible, organic, local and ethical food," he says. (Thus his word play on "SOLE" food.)
Gil’s is open 17 hours a day, seven days a week, from 7 a.m. -- opening with a sure cure for hangovers for those who have had too much fun on a "Livingston Saturday Night" (or on any other day!) Try tasty huevos rancheros or spicy biscuits and gravy.
Menges also keeps the place open until midnight servings to nightowls hungry for a bite. (He'll stay open later if traffic demands.)
Gil’s serves its tasty fare with pride because it's made in the small, efficient kitchen with its bread and pizza ovens.
A beautiful brick wall, uncovered in
a two-year remodeling project,
adds charm and character.
  EARLY EACH morning, fragrant goodies begin to emerge: flaky croissants, lavish Danishes, warm biscuits, delectable scones, and European style bread with crunchy crust --- fantastic dipped in the herby tomato soup. A quesadilla appetizer is terrific.
Pretty cakes, truffles, cookies, éclairs and other elegant desserts are prepared on site for both Gil’s and 2nd Street around the corner.
Gil's Goods sign used the old "Gil's Gifts" sign
with just a few letters to change.
After the breakfast and brunch rush, Gil's segues to burgers, brats, wonderful soups, Niçoise salad, and a splendid Greek lamb kebob salad. Throughout the day, Gil's serves an ambitious 13 kinds of wood-fired pizza, and Livingston's own luscious Wilcoxson’s ice cream.
THE "GIL'S" name stuck -- both to honor the longtime store (remember those Gil's Got It signs on the highway?) and to preserve the landmark sign. 
Menges, as chef and proprietor, has a backstory dating to 2004 when he grew tired of cooking in Vegas, Boulder and Jackson Hole.  "I had an opportunity to buy this for about what I'd have paid for a three-year lease in Jackson," he said. "I had to do it. I'd earned my stripes in fantastic kitchens and dining rooms and was ready to blow the roof off Livingston!"
Christene taught and read last week on a trans-Atlantic crossing.
Her last Montana workshop is this Saturday in Harlowton.
Did he do it? The proof is in the returning customers.
"I don't know what we did without Gil's," says one satisfied diner. "It's really part of life here."

COMING THURSDAY: Our weekend blog publishes early this week, to give readers a chance to plan a day trip to Harlowton Saturday or Nye, Montana, Sunday, on a lovely autumn weekend. The last of six Writer's Voice summer writing workshops unfolds in the Harlowton Library, (There are still openings.) It encourages memoir, fiction, poetry or non-fiction writers.  Meyers' exercises will jump-star the muse in all levels. To register, call 406-294-1620 or email corby@skinnerbenoit.com, or nwiddicombe@yahoo.com
The experience includes lunch. A reading from "Lilian's Last Dance" follows in the Upper Musselshell museum. Sunday's 4 p.m. reading is at Windy Flats Gallery on the West Fork of the Stillwater north of Nye. All welcome to both days' events. More up next at www.whereiscookie.com

Friday, September 18, 2015

Family reunion boasts talent show, fabulous food, renewed relationships

Comings and goings at High Chaparral in the Northern Rockies:
 another fabulous family reunion features talent galore. 
Some had to leave the night before, but these cousins and close family said farewell until next time on the last morning.


Great nephew James, above, practices
his whistle, and great-niece Elliana,
in green hat with Nora, previews her

 costume while cuddling our Yorkie.

THE FORECAST was for intermittent rain, and that was indeed what transpired.
Wet though our weekend was from time to time, nothing could dampen our spirits.
Emcee Kenji Otokawa with his second-cousin
James Brian Ganner, strolling High Chap.
We had fabulous food, we'd flown and driven to be together from several states, and we had a talent contest to perform.
MY NEPHEW Kenji Christopher, named after me, was recruited to host the roast, which included affectionate stories about my travel mishaps and a few yarns I'd spun through the years. Kenji had 30 Cosgriffes laughing and crying as he tossed off bon mots between witty introductions of the performers. (He also brought his lovely lady friend, Lauren, with him from Atlanta, to introduce her to his family.)
At keyboard, Larry Giles, adopted Cosgriffe, & nephew James Hayes on guitar.
BETWEEN thunder storms and downright downpours, the Cosgriffe Family Reunion, Feast and Talent Spectacular unfolded partly outdoors and partly inside our garage-cum-auditorium. We'd converted Keller's work table to a picnic table as saws, hammers and projects in progress went on shelves to make way for a keyboard, electric base, drums, tables and chairs.
OPENING the show, Kenji welcomed people to the "unbirthday party," a la "Alice in Wonderland." We'd decided the occasion merited more than a mere birthday fete.
Pretty in pink:  Sister Olivia donned her sun hat to sing a song
with sister Misha: "Heaven's Radio" was a huge hit.
Cookie read from her paperback,
"Lilian's Last Dance" and played piano. 
Elliana gives her uncle Keller a hug.
Paying homage to me, ("Who but my auntie would serve me a martini when I was three?"), Kenji kept the action going, as
his cousins, aunties, uncles, mother and others came front and center to sing, dance, read vintage letters and original poetry, plus a poem by William Blake (this writer's favorite). Musicians rocked out with Mother Maybelle Carter favorites, Gershwin, Cole Porter and the Andrews Sisters. "In the Mood" one moment then Willie Nelson. Then Kenji, a gifted pianist, honored us with a classical performance. Janice Joplin's little known sister, Janie Joplin, made a guest appearance, singing a Cosgriffe version of "Mercedes Benz," with my brother Rick accompanying her (really Jane Milder, my sister-in-law) while doing a headstand.
Jim Hayes focuses on a photo
while his sister-in-law Misha looks on.
Kira Cosgriffe, right, gives her sister Aurora expert eyebrows. 
MY NIECES took time off to give one another facials, implementing the salon's latest techniques for removal of unwanted facial hair! (Never a dull moment with the Cosgriffes.)
I played keyboard, spelled off by the talents of adopted Cosgriffe Clan Georgian, Larry Giles, who with his beautiful and funny wife, Mary, are welcome members of the clan. We had drums and guitar, with the talents of my nephew, James, whose father, my brother-in-law Jim Hayes produced a spectacular slide show, "The Cosgriffes in California."
Gil's Goods by the Murray Hotel is a fine find in lively Livingston, Montana.
IT TAKES A couple years to plan and execute a proper family reunion. "Save the Date" notices went out months ago, then invitations in May, heralding the August gathering at High Chaparral, north of Nye, Montana.

UP NEXT: While we're in a party mood, come to Livingston, the Murray Hotel and Gil's Goods, a fabulous next-door eatery. There's always a celebration in this lively western town, where Yellowstone Park buses take tourists in the park's first entrance! Remember: explore, learn, live and catch us Wednesdays and weekends at www.whereiscookie.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Family reunion features foodie fest, favorite recipes, kitchen frolics***

"Food, glorious food," as the lyric from "Oliver!" goes.  The appetizers are being devoured as the main course is prepared.


The family gathers to nosh and talk and play -- here niece Aurora with her
daughter, Elliana, and at right, James, chasing Yorkie Nora.

WHEN ONE MENTIONS food and music, our family "comes big." That's the expression my grandfather used: "Come big or stay home." Everyone contributes a special dish or theatrical presentation when a family reunion is in the offing.
We grew up with violins, violas, trumpets, trombones, pianos, flutes, saxophones, clarinets, musical theater. We sang every Broadway score, from "The Sound of Music" to "The King and I," "Gypsy," "Guys and Dolls" and "South Pacific."
Breakfast time for Christena, in front,
and her second-cousin, James.
Sister Misha's "Famous Lemon Bars"  are always a hit.

We were also raised -- like many families -- with the kitchen as the center of the good times, the "first course" before the tunes.
Cookie's Famous Turkey Breast
is a family tradition, too.
FOOD AND MUSIC ARE the twin focus for all family fun. My sister Misha's lemon bars are part of every family reunion. Sometimes she sings when she serves them. (Usually the "Good Morning" song made famous in the movies by Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor.) Whether she's staying in a hotel, in a rented cottage or in one of our homes, she shops for the ingredients as soon as she and my brother-in-law David pick up her rental car. Then she prepares her delicious treats. here are never left-overs -- just crumbs.
My specialty is roast turkey -- a favorite of our late mother's and grandmum's and something no family fete is complete without.
Olivia makes a fantastic avocado pie and both sisters make superb green salads -- with berries, nuts, feta and raspberry vinaigrette.
Niece Amarylla prepares the dough for her "Famous  Bacon-maple Donuts."
I'D THOUGHT AHEAD -- arranging the paper stuff in pretty picnic baskets -- cups, glasses, silverware, napkins, plates -- again, to save time and keep our focus on visiting and enjoying one another. Keller and I hung balloons and put cloths on the tables.     
We'd also prepared several dishes ahead of time:  a huge tray of lasagna, a double-recipe of scalloped potatoes, dishes of baked beans, three jello salads, a fruit salad and a pan of brownies.We put out large coolers of iced beverages -- wine, beer, tea, sodas, lemonade, water -- ready and waiting for guests.
Great-nephew Connor readies the deep-fryer for the donuts. 
NIECE AURORA is famous for her lavish birthday cakes.  The vanilla lemon confection she made to celebrate all the Leos in the clan, was so heavy with thick Amish cream and filling that it toppled over in the frig! (We uprighted and relished it, to the last crumbs.)

 COOKING for four days for 30-plus people might have been daunting. It wasn't, because of all the help we had and because of prepping.
Everyone provided goodies -- fresh fruit, veggie trays, cheeses, appetizers, breads, cookies, "extras" -- lagniappes as they say in New Orleans. We set up the barbecue before hand, and placed borrowed tables and chairs.
While the barbecue cranks up, cousins pass paper plates
and arrange tables and chairs for the family reunion's finale.  
We provided main courses: that made-ahead lasagna, chicken, turkey, brats, hot dogs, hamburgers, turkey burgers and trout caught the morning of the first day of the reunion, by Keller and a neighbor. (Fishing license: expensive for out-of-staters.) Two of our party don't eat meat, but love fish.  Handy to have the Stillwater River near, although Keller paid nearly $80 for the license to catching a couple rainbows.

We'd put all the paper stuff in picnic baskets -- cups, glasses, silverware, napkins, plates -- again, to save time and keep our focus on visiting and enjoying one another. We hung balloons and had cloths on the tables.
Grand finale:  Famous Donuts laced with bacon bits 
and sprinkled with maple glaze, are a last,
 farewell hit at the family reunion.
      I"D MADE several dishes ahead: a huge tray of lasagna, a double-recipe of scalloped potatoes, baked beans, three jello salads, fruit salad and a pan of brownies.We'd also prepared large coolers of iced beverages -- wine, beer, tea, sodas, lemonade, water. Those were ready and waiting for guests.
                                                 WE ENJOYED several meals together, the last a morning brunch featuring my niece Amarylla's decadent donuts.  Deep-fried, they were a huge, fast disappearing hit. (We procured a deep-fryer for the occasion.  After frying, Amarylla sprinkled them with bacon bits (bacon, fried crispy and broken up) and maple syrup glaze. Talk about gilding the lily. Or as Oliver Twist asked, "Please, sir, could I have some more?"

Rain forced the talent show inside the garage, but didn't dampen spirits.
The family reunion featured nephew James on base guitar.
NEXT UP: Now, the entertainment. What happens when the family reunion invitation requests a talent contribution as part of admission?  Music, music, music.  A swing trio, a roast, a toast, a bittersweet farewell. Country songs, show tunes, jazz, classics and more. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Wednesdays and weekends at: www.whereiscookie.com

Friday, September 11, 2015

Lilac's fresh from the farm produce pairs with inventive chef for delectable fare

From its proud place in the Billings Historic District, Lilac serves fresh, tasty fare kicked up a Lilac notch.
Lilac's blue cheese lamb ribs are a favorite of this writer.


THE RESTAURANT'S chief cook, bottle washer and bookkeeper are one in the same person.  That's probably why Lilac is celebrating its third successful year in downtown Billings
Dinner at the Lilac with, from left,
Bruce Keller, Christene Meyers
and at right, Corby Skinner.
The restaurant, named for those fragrant first blooms of spring, bills its repertoire as “modern American cooking” and is doing well in Montana Avenue’s historic strip of shops, eateries and galleries. Lilac owner and chef, Jeremy Engebretson, is hands-on all the way.
Dessert at Lilac is cause for celebration.
We've sampled his ginger flavored octopus fritti, blue cheese cured lamb ribs and fragrant beef tongue tacos recently, in a menu that changes every few days.
ENGEBRETSON prides himself on freshness. "The menu changes depending on what’s available and what we think our clientele will like," he says.
Engebretson was a boy when he knew he wanted to be a chef.
Lilac's unpretentious decor puts the
focus on the tasty, fresh food. 
Growing up in Billings, he graduated from Billings West High School, then University of Montana, working in Missoula restaurants, learning the trade.
“I experimented, observed,” he says.  As sous chef at Missoula’s popular Ranch Club, he prepared “simple, fresh, fairly priced offerings.”
The décor at Lilac complements the menu.  It is open and unpretentious, focusing on food, not surroundings.
Appetizers, entrees and desserts carry out his wish for freshness and aesthetics -- from roasted cauliflower, to chicken fried sweetbreads and an enticing grilled asparagus dish with shrimp, sesame and poached egg dressing. If you want exotic, order the succulent pigeon. Play it safe with a cheese burger, jazzed up with a tangy sweet and savory garnish of cheddar and bacon jam. 
Beef from area ranches provides the meat at Lilac. 
"I try for the simple, satisfied feeling I had in our kitchen growing up,” Engebretson says. Both parents were “good, basic cooks” and Engebretson’s favorite food was his mom’s green bean dish, “a wonderful, satisfying dish, with garden beans and a simple white sauce.” 
Desserts range from luscious sponge cake with berries to an unusual, rich rosemary and honey ice cream, pistachio crumble and sticky pudding with toffee sauce, raspberries and ice cream -- all cause for a celebration.
Sunday brunch at Lilac is a treat, too, with a filling pork burrito or colorful tacos, turnovers, blintzes and other pretty comfort foods, served with Lilac style enhancements.Everything is prepared in Lilac's small, efficient kitchen -- from fresh daily breads and pastries to Lilac's signature gnocchi, those succulent, savory little dumplings.
Donuts get kicked up a notch at a family reunion -- with bits of bacon and
maple drizzle complementing the deep fried delights. (It's only once a year.)

NEXT UP: While we're in a "food mood," come with us to a family reunion laced with food, fun, music and nostalgia. The menu ranged from roast turkey to homemade bacon-maple donuts. (Don't hold the cholesterol.) Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Wednesdays and weekends at: www.whereiscookie.com