|Well-Stocked Prairie Pantry|
This wacky winter in South Dakota has resourceful prairie people doing supermodel quick-changes—stripping off the down and woolies, then piling on 17 layers, then trying to coordinate Bermuda shorts with thermal turtlenecks. Last week, in the middle of January, it was 53 degrees. Over the weekend, Ray was shoveling snow and the wind chill got down to -25. My friend Bee calls it South Dakota’s “bipolar meteorological disorder.” Seriously, South Dakota…get some help.
|Knit Brain Hat in Progress|
Here on the Row, we’re busy with winter chores. Sinclair Lewis wrote, “Winter is not a season, it's an occupation.” Absotively true, and no one knows it better than SoDakians, except maybe Arctic tundra-dwellers. Take our wood stove, for example. It’s so romantic, right? that lovely warm glow? iron kettle of water on top—cinnamon, cloves & orange peel filling the house with steamy, spicy perfume? sleeping cat curled up on a sheepskin in front of the stove? Sigh…makes me wanna churn some butter. But I’m not sure Ray’s feeling the romance right now. Right now, mid-winter, that stove is Ray’s part-time job. Chop the wood. Split the wood. Carry the wood. Make a fire. Stoke the stove. Clean the stove. Dump the ash. Repeat. All. Winter. Long. I remember getting my first wood stove back in the 70’s. I was so thrilled. But my buzz-kill grandma said, “Why would you want something we couldn’t WAIT to get rid of?” I figured she was just too old to get it. O youthful arrogance…
Stocking the pantry is another winter occupation. Hearty prairie folk know how to “put food by.” Deeply ingrained in our psyche is the primordial walrus-like instinct to pack on blubber. And in the back of our minds we know that at any moment, the grocery store might be on the other side of a blizzard, just out of reach.
So we’re doing our usual winter panicky pathological food-hoarding. My sky-high triglycerides, revealed in a recent health screening, have us eating boat-loads of fresh tuna and salmon. (New research suggests that triglycerides, more than HDL or LDL cholesterol, are a risk factor for stroke and heart disease. It now seems I had EVERY stroke risk factor known to modern medicine. Sheesh.) Our freezer is full of organic grass-fed beef, lamb, and Bambi’s cousin. I keep a giant container of cooked blackeyed peas in the fridge now, which I add to everything, since it’s the single best food for lowering tri’s. Kale is also good for lowering tri’s, so I’m making kale chips, kale smoothies, and wilted kale with blackeyed peas. I make huge batches of rainbow quinoa and bulgur tabhouli, which we snack on for days. The pantry is full of canned peaches, tomatoes, applesauce, and pickled jalapenos. We could live on nothing but homemade jam from now till spring. We have homemade wine a’plenty, and I have several pounds of decaf Sumatra beans in the freezer, so we can keep our fluids topped-off and balanced as we wait out this nasty cold. We’re not quite as obsessive about stocking our larder as the spinster sisters in Kit Reed’s short story, “Winter,” but we’re close…wandering strangers, beware.
|Blackeyed Pea Salad, Tabhouli, Kale & Parsnip Chips|
Another of our winter jobs is keeping our peacocks alive. We’re holding steady at two males and two females. In spite of reported sightings, the rest of the flock never returned after last summer’s drought and predator infestation. So we’re giving our micro-flock every advantage we can (short of bringing them inside and knitting them sweaters). They’re feasting on dry cat food, dried corn, black oil sunflower seed, and occasional boiled eggs (mashed, shell and all). Giving them eggs might seem cannibalistic, but they need the extra fat in this brutal cold. Ray hasn’t put brooding lights up in the loafing shed rafters yet, but I’m sure that’s coming.
When I’m not grading student essays (ALWAYS a winter occupation) or having fun with food, I’m practicing another cottage industry: knitting. Two family members are cooking up new babies, so I dug out scrumptious angora yarn, and kitty hats will be underway soon. I recently sorted my yarn stash, so I’m also making colorful striped silly hats with bits of leftover texture-y yarns for next year’s Christmas stash.
|Keep the Home Fires Burning!|
When Sinclair Lewis said winter was an occupation, I think he was talking about the work it takes to survive the weather. But out here on the northern plains—land of vitamin D deprivation, cabin fever, and Seasonal Affective Disorder—I think we keep busy so we won’t turn on each other. Keep stoking that stove, folks, and bring in some more kindling...