My partner and I have returned to our getaway in the woods outside Wakefield, where the first three days offered only sunshine. I got fooled into thinking it was still summer as long as I stayed in the house, which was downright hot just from the sun streaming through the huge windows on three walls of the main room. It only took a quick step outside, though, to remind me that it is most definitely not summer, and that snow could be upon us at any time; perhaps even by the time you are reading this.
November is usually my least favourite month, when I become morose at the thought of the many months of cold and darkness ahead. With no trip to the sunny south again this year, I thought I might feel even more despondent as the days shortened and the temperatures dropped.
But, for some reason, I don’t feel as cheerless this year as I have in the past. Rather, I am easing into winter, thinking of it as an opportunity for some life reflection and appreciation.
It’s been a tough almost two years for all of us, and I have spent a lot of time being unhappy about what I have not been able to do. Now, it feels like it’s time to move on from that to a more positive – or at least, less negative – space.
Frost is on the sage
While I am here, even though I am working, I am creating the space to appreciate my surroundings. A couple of days ago, that meant a walk to the Gatineau River, where we saw a gaggle of geese loudly honking their way across the water in the sun. We passed woodpiles, offering the promise of warmth to come, a few red squirrels, scurrying to finish gathering their winter food supplies and a recently installed sauna, ready for its first visitors.
Yesterday, I wandered through the largely dormant garden of our friends whose house we inhabit while we are here, where I took photos of the still-thriving parsley and sage, crisp from the night’s frost as they slowly warmed in the morning’s sun.
Today, my treat is a trip to a spa in the area, where I can soak and relax in the water, perhaps as the snow begins to fall, and indulge in a foot massage.
The cats here are slowly settling in for the winter, after a summer and fall spent mostly outside. These cats are large and could almost be mistaken for small rugs when they sprawl on the floor in front of the wood stove. Without their usual outdoor dietary supplement of voles, moles and birds, they are voraciously hungry all the time and do their best to convince us that any time is feeding time.
I brought a box of political files with me to sort through this week, so that its contents can be passed on to be archived for anyone who wants to know more about the activism of the late 1900s and early 2000s. There are some real treasures to be found in the box: photos; police charge sheets; rally and demonstration speeches; addresses to the court; detailed maps and to-do lists related to non-violent direct actions we were involved in; notices banning us from various places where we have engaged in civil disobedience.
More than anything, I am struck by the hope that jumps out at me. We really did believe that we could change the world. While we most certainly did not effect the changes we dreamed of, I have to hope that we may have made the world, or our place in it, a little bit better or, at the least, stopped it from becoming even worse than it has.
Winter feeding habits
I find my eating habits, like those of the aforementioned cats, changing to adapt to the colder weather. Last week, my son bestowed upon me the six-pound neck from one of his recently slaughtered lambs. I was delighted, because the bits of animals often discarded by abattoirs — necks, cheeks, tails and the like — provide really tender, tasty eating.
I decided to make a ragu; a good dish for a chilly early winter evening. I browned the neck in olive oil, turning it several times, then removed it to a plate. I added finely chopped onions, carrots, celery and garlic to the pot and sauteed them until the vegetables were limp and the onions just starting to brown. To that, I added sprigs of rosemary and thyme, along with some salt and pepper, followed by ½ tin of tomato paste, continuing to stir and saute until the tomato paste had turned a deep red. At this point, I added about 4 cups of beef stock and a couple of cups of red wine, increasing the heat under the pot. Once the contents were boiling, I returned the neck to the pot, reduced the heat and let it all simmer, covered, for about three hours, until the meat was falling off the bones. I removed it from the pot and set it aside to cool, continuing to simmer the remaining ingredients until the sauce thickened. Once the meat was cool enough to handle, I pulled it from the bones and stirred it back into the pot.
I set the pot in a cool spot overnight so the flavours could continue to meld and put the bones in the freezer for soup some day in the future.
The first night, I served the ragu over pappardelle. A week later, I served it over fresh corn polenta. I still have enough in the freezer for three or four more meals, as well as at least a couple of meals of scotch broth from the remaining bones.
Not bad for one neck.