Friday, February 7, 2003
How to love winter when temperatures plummet . . .and snow piles up
by Priscilla Stevens
It's time to stop whining. It's winter in New England, and complaining that you'd rather be in Aruba is not going to improve your outlook. Besides, you'll be missing out on one of the most beautiful and important parts of Mother Nature's cycle of life. Winter is a time to rejoice.
You're more than skeptical, aren't you? You're about to skip this article and consign its author to that file drawer in your mind labeled "Weirdos, Quacks, and Nutcases." Not so fast, please. Carlisleans are always willing to listen to another perspective, aren't they? And perspective is the key.
Let's look at a few small practical reasons to rejoice, before we tackle the big issues of snow, ice, and darkness. First of all, your dog stays clean. There is no mud for him to track in. A few chunks of ice on his fur are not going to ruin your carpets. Come to think of it, your kids stay pretty clean too. Also, your dog does not shed much or get ticks, and insect pests of all kinds are at a minimum. No mosquitoes other than the one you're reading right now. Think about it • a whole quarter year without a mosquito bite! Or a bee sting, or almost any kind of insect attack. That may be reason enough to rejoice right there.
Next, the air is clean and clear. It's dry, so you can actually control the amount of humidity you care to breathe in your house. You don't have to wilt from heavy humidity and heat: your energy level is probably better than it is in the summer. Cold? Certainly, but it's a lot easier to pile on an extra soft fleece or cuddle under a comforter to get warm than it is to stay cool in the summer. There are only so many layers you can peel off without getting arrested! And I don't know about you, but I look a lot better in a turtleneck, sweater, and slacks than I do in a bathing suit.
All that nice cold air does you favors when you're shopping, too. You can pick up as much milk and ice cream as you want, and it won't spoil in your car while you go have a look in other shops or even stop for lunch or dinner.
Kick yourself out of the house
Here's a key to enjoying the winter weather: get outside in it. Move around. Take a brisk walk, go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing at Great Brook Farm or Walden Pond, or sledding and tobogganing with your kids on Punkatasset Hill. Build forts and have a snowball fight. Sculpt a snow family. Carlisle and Concord abound with beautiful woods, fields, and hills for these activities. If you're concerned about slipping on ice or snow-covered ground, use your ski poles or a walking stick. You'll be surprised at how warm you'll be once you get moving, and how much fun it is to be able to work out without immediately working up a sweat. If you're a sweat fan, you can always keep going until you get your workout right where you want it. Walking or skiing through snow takes effort, like water aerobics, but you don't need a pool or an ocean in this case. The exercise possibilities are right in our own backyards and they work all the muscle groups.
As an added bonus, protecting your skin isn't as tricky as it is in the summer, because not as much of it is showing. It will get dry, though, so lather the sunscreen onto your face, use lip balm, and when you do come back inside, try out some of those great new lotions and moisturizers. One avid winter athlete I know suggests coating your face with Vaseline® in really cold weather for added protection. Don't neglect to rub balm into your hands and feet, either. Natural Health magazine suggests a great little spa treatment for your feet: first, wet two towels and wring them out. Heat them in the microwave until they are very warm. Then moisturize your feet, wrap them in the towels, and settle into a good book.
We have had a long period so far this winter when the weather has been well below freezing. When it's really cold, it's best to keep outings short, but keep your sights set on Carlisle's ponds. The long cold spells have frozen them well, and as soon as the temperature rises a little, there will be the possibility of some great skating. And that, of course, is an excuse for a party. Invite some friends over, dig out those tiki torches you use for barbecues in the summer, and light them up around the meeting place at the pond. When everybody's had plenty of figure eights, sliding, and hockey, bring the crowd in for cocoa, fondue, and popcorn.
Things to do indoors, but out and about
When the weather really is too cold for outdoor activities, it's time to fight cabin fever with a little ingenuity. Last week's Mosquito was loaded with hints for enjoying indoor fun. Remember that the Super Bowl and the Australian Open are both played in January: this year the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Serena Williams, and Andre Agassi made for great parties like the one pictured in last week's Community Bulletin Board. Cold weather is also a good time to rent movies: hunker down with your family or invite friends over for a movie party. Catch up on the movies you haven't seen yet.
Many Carlisle organizations are offering activities close to home, too. The Mosquito publishes notices of local concerts and musical events, book signings and lectures, community theater performances, and social occasions of all sorts. The Carlisle Cultural Council's "Meet Musketaquid" program, the trails committee's moonlight walk, Drumlin Farm's "Owl Prowl," the Newcomers Club Winter Social, and the Friends of the Library's pot luck supper, book discussion groups, and evenings with authors John Mitchell and Janet M. Stone are all coming up in February and March. There's really no excuse for cabin fever in Carlisle.
Stays against the darkness
What about the darkness factor? Many people suffer from a malady commonly known as sun deprivation syndrome, or seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.), in the winter. Shorter days and stormy weather do make our environment darker, and can cause vitamin D deficiency and even depression. The best way to combat S.A.D. is to take that walk, or that jog, as early in the morning as you can get up. It seems counter-intuitive, but drag yourself out of that warm bed and get yourself outside. Walk your dog. Get a buddy and stride right out or get on your snowshoes for thirty minutes. The cold will brace you and your body will get going much more quickly in order to keep you warm. At an early hour, there is less wind, so being outside is much more pleasant than you might imagine. You'll find yourself energized and much better able to cope with the darkness that comes by late afternoon. And take your vitamins!
Our ancestors used to light fires and lanterns with the coming of winter to stave off the darkness. That's why we enjoy candles all season long, and why coming inside out of the cold is one of the great pleasures of winter. Get your fireplace going, and enjoy a crackling good fire and something warm to drink. Local grocery stores have good bundles of wood and even Irish peat bricks, which smell marvelous, if you don't have your own supplies. Stoke up the wood stove and put a pot of water on it. Throw in some cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and apple peels, and enjoy the scent. Take a nice warm bath and light a few scented candles. Coming indoors is lovely in winter, because we can cocoon, and make our environment cozy and nurturing. We can actually change our temperature from cold to warm. Even in a power outage, we can still get those fires going and wrap ourselves up. In the summer, when we have to depend on air conditioning or fans, heat wave power outages knock out our sources of cooling. We must do more for ourselves in winter, but the great thing is that we can.
Comforts make memories
Can you call up a sensory memory of fresh bread baking, or your mother's chicken soup? Winter is the time to experiment with food and make those memories. Comfort food is the order of the day, but it doesn't have to make you fat or keep you at the stove all day. You can simmer a soup, stew, or cassoulet all day long in a Dutch oven on your stove at low heat or in an electric crock pot. If there's a power failure, you can actually manage it in your fireplace. Load the pot with root vegetables, beans, and healthy aromatics. Throw in leftovers. Slices of turkey kielbasa, chorizo, or leftover chicken can really liven up a basic 15-bean soup. Grab a good crusty loaf of bread and you have a great winter meal. Mull cider or wine, drink hot milk and cocoa, brew some tea. If you get that winter urge to bake bread, let your kids punch it down, and give a loaf to a neighbor. Make a crock-pot pot roast. There's nothing like the aroma of winter comfort food cooking in the kitchen. Don't forget to indulge in a little chocolate on Valentine's Day!
Sometimes we just want to curl up with a good book. You might recall the Mosquito's recommendations in December for gift books. Did you get any during the holidays? Now is the time to read them. If you don't want to tackle great heavy tomes during the darker hours of winter, choose lighter fare: pick a good mystery, Alan Bennett's The Clothes They Stood Up in and The Lady in the Van, Art Corriveau's Housewrights, John Updike's latest, Seek My Face, or my own favorite, Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris. There's no time like the winter to pick up Jane Austen or Oscar Wilde and watch wit effervesce off every page. Check at the library for a list of the newest additions to the collection. Or, re-read an old favorite. What could be better than a nice quilt or fleece blanket, a cup of something hot, and your favorite read when it's cold or snowing outside?
Slowing down in the car and centering ourselves
There is no arguing with the fact that it is harder to drive in winter than in the other three seasons. The key is to slow down and drive steadily. When I switch on a classical music station and drive slowly through Carlisle after a new-fallen snow has sugared the trees, I swear that the music sounds more beautiful and the scene I'm looking out on is truly breathtaking. Driving more slowly and carefully becomes a pleasure, and centers my concentration. I feel more alert because I have to slow down and focus.
It strikes me that slowing down is part of nature's plan here, and can be applied to almost everything we have to do to cope with and to enjoy winter. After all, when Mother Nature blankets the ground with snow, she is expecting her flora and fauna to hibernate, slow way down and recharge. We'll have a much more beautiful spring and a good planting season here in Massachusetts if we appreciate the snowfall. It's not a bad thing to keep in mind. When we must shovel this heavy white stuff, we should do it slowly. Take time to imagine the flowers asleep under the snow, to stand up and breathe the clean air, catch the scent of somebody's wood fire, enjoy the silence, stretch our backs, and appreciate the fact that we don't have to mow the lawn! If we are scraping ice and snow off our cars or chipping it off our front steps, easy does it: a little at a time. Break for coffee or tea, and then a little more. We may have to allow a little extra time to get to and from work, but so does everyone else. Slowing down gives us clarity, so that we can remind ourselves that all that solid water, in whatever form it appears, is nurturing spring flowers and summer vegetables, and protecting us from a summer drought.
Ah, but what about colds and flu? The very bane of our existence, and a very good reason to hate winter. Once again, a little protection, a little slowing down, is the key. Getting out of doors in the morning and starting our engines, so to speak, is an excellent stay against infection. The reason we catch all that stuff is that we are thrown together in close, improperly ventilated indoor quarters all winter. We can include plenty of citrus fruit in our diets, drink lots of liquids (which we should do anyway), eat chicken soup, wash our hands frequently, and take a leaf from Mother Nature's book and make a special effort to get enough sleep. Doctors tell us we are most vulnerable to colds and flu when we aren't getting enough rest. Winter gives us nice long nights: turn off that television and tuck up in bed. A little hibernation wouldn't hurt any of us! If the germs do catch up with us, sleep is even more important, as our bodies work through the illness. There are a lot of products on the market which tout cold prevention and the mitigation of flu symptoms, but most doctors say that eating right, sleeping enough, and getting enough fresh air are the best ways to avoid and combat those ills. That's a credo for any season, but an especially good one for winter.
Every season has its pleasures and its pains. Winter demands a little extra time and self-reliance, and better care of ourselves. It takes a little longer to dress for it, to get from one place to another, to move through ice and snow. It requires of us good sense and concentration. If we pay attention to its rhythm and move with it instead of fighting against it, we are granted comfort, energy, clarity, rest, peace, fellowship, fun, and spectacular beauty. Call me a weirdo, a quack, or a nutcase, but I think that's reason enough to rejoice.
Easy Crock-pot Pot Roast
1.In the morning, rinse and pat dry a 4-5 lb. pot roast and place it in your crock pot.
2. Cut into bite-sized chunks and strew on top of the roast:
3. Mix together and pour over all:
1 can Campbell's® Golden Mushroom soup
3 T. Worcestershire or steak sauce
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
4. Set the crock pot on automatic. If your pot doesn't have an auto setting, use, "low." Leave all day.
At suppertime, remove roast to a platter, let stand 10 minutes, and slice. It will be very tender, so you may get a sort of "pulled" effect instead of slices. Skim fat off the sauce in the pot and either puree it in batches in a food processor to make gravy, or ladle it as is over the roast. Save some in a pitcher to pour over mashed potatoes.
Easy Oatmeal Bread
Makes 2 loaves
Mix and allow to cool:
1 c. quick oats
2 c. boiling water
Dissolve 2 pkg. yeast in 1/2 c. warm water
Add to yeast mixture:
1 T. corn or canola oil
1/2 c. molasses
Combine in large bowl:
2 t. salt
5 1/2 c. flour
3 T. powdered milk
2 T. wheat germ
Add oatmeal and yeast mixtures to dry ingredients to form soft dough. Knead briefly and place in oiled and covered bowl in unheated oven or microwave to rise for 1 1/2 hours or until double. Shape into two loaves and place in oiled loaf pans. Let rise again (45-60 minutes). Bake 45-45 minutes at 350°F.
Firecracker Vegetable Roast (from Cooking Light magazine)
Combine in food processor or blender and process until smooth:
1 c. loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 c. loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 T. olive oil
1 T. low-sodium soy sauce
1 t. dried Italian seasoning*
1 t. curry powder*
1/2 t. salt
2 garlic cloves, halved
1 jalapeño pepper, halved
Combine this mixture with the following and toss well to coat:
2 c. cauliflower florets
2 c. broccoli florets
1 1/2 c. thinly sliced fennel bulb (about 1 small bulb)
1 c. red bell pepper strips
1 c. yellow bell pepper strips
1 c. thinly sliced red onion
Arrange vegetable mixture on jellyroll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 450°F for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Add:
1 medium tomato, cut into 12 wedges
1 (15 1/2 oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Bake an additional 4 minutes to heat through. Serve over 6 c. hot cooked basmati rice.**
*Adjust these seasonings to your own taste
**Substitute polenta or grits if desired
Note for Marilyn: If none of these appeal, I do have another really good one for a seafood cassoulet!
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito