Every year, she reads Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, a story of hardship during seven snowy months in South Dakota. The coal runs out, the woodpile expires, and food is scarce, but the heroine and her family survive.
We’re a week away from the start of winter, but, even more than usual, ’tis the season of work-nights and event-nights; ’tis also the week in which renovations will reach the open-plan living room and kitchen. The combination of late hours and a fine layer of plaster dust on every surface can be as daunting as the forecast of a blizzard. It’s the sort of schedule that demonstrates incredible potential to leave us ordering lots of takeout food or ending up with pints of ice cream and spoons on our nightstands. We wanted to avoid those contingencies for obvious reasons of economics, nutrition, and just plain good sense.
While I was at work last Sunday, she prepared a menu and a shopping list; we marketed together, and then we spent the late afternoon and evening chopping and cooking and packaging.
I spatchcocked a chicken and roasted it. The backbone went into the slow cooker along with onion, celery, and carrots to make stock. When the chicken cooled enough to handle, we ate a little and distributed the rest. The breast meat went into a curried chicken-and-rice soup that was more like a stew. The dark meat was tossed in a bowl with celery, grapes, pecans, shredded spinach, and a not-at-all gloppy dressing to make a bright-but-hearty salad–the sort eaten with a fork, not spread for sandwiches. The rest of the bones then joined the stock. The last of a loaf of Italian bread from her favorite bakery was toasted into croutons that she mixed with ground beef and pork, spinach, and goat cheese to make a meat loaf that is way more interesting than anything I grew up with. Root vegetables were roasted to accompany them. The chicken’s giblety-bits were sautéed with onion, red pepper, and a few grape tomatoes and packed with the last bit of rice for one day’s lunch. Crisp, sweet pears were softened just a little with a bit of water, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a cup of cranberries from the freezer, then tucked into triangles of pie crust and baked into turnovers for breakfast, with a pot of overnight oatmeal for alternate mornings. The house smelled fabulous, and nothing was wasted.
By bedtime we knew we’d miscalculated a little: the fridge was stocked for a family of four rather than two, but that’s a better problem than the other way around. There’s enough variety that we haven’t gotten bored with our choices. The power wasn’t disturbed and the home microwave is in good working order (as are the ones in our workplace kitchens), so breakfasts and lunches were well-organized and we never felt helpless to do anything but call for pizza delivery.
The calendar shows that our next seven nights will be just as busy as the last. And now that the ceiling has been repaired, the painter will start on the kitchen and living room walls. It’s time for her to start reading her yearly reminder of courage in the face of adversity. But we have electricity, insulation, and we live along an emergency route to a hospital; in case of a storm, our street will be cleared of snow right away. If they could survive that winter, we can make it ’til Christmas…
We didn’t have time for a cookathon yesterday, but the toaster oven is set up in our office, and I could put the slow-cooker on my dresser. We can hitch up the wagon and get to town for provisions before The Long Winter sets in. There’ll be more daylight soon, day by day. There’s no cause for despair.