By Axie Barclay
The sleigh bells are done jingling but the snow is still glistening and it’s still below zero here in the Midwest and, as my dad said after spending ten minutes bundling up to go outside to do chores, “winter is overrated.” Later in the day, when I was at my job milking cows and struggling in a knee-deep snow drift to open two large sliding barn doors that kept catching on the frozen ground, as well as each other, I kicked the doors, swore, and heartily agreed with his sentiments. So how to deal with winter when it drags on and on, and we as well as the livestock are up to our knees in snow? Here’s three ways:
1. Think warm, but act seasonally.
While watermelons and sweet corn are still months off, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy seasonal foods. While winter may drag, all the seasons have something to enjoy, and eating seasonally helps us get and stay properly in touch with the time of year. Just like candy canes and cranberries remind us of the season, so too can certain fruits and vegetables. This time of year oranges abound, but so do out of season cherries and asparagus, which, upon inspection, are usually revealed as natives of Chile or Mexico. While convenient, these out-of-season foods are usually expensive and, I find, rather tasteless.
On a recent trip to the grocery store, instead of succumbing to the siren song of summer produce, I confined purchases to winter citrus and vegetables, to parsnips, butternut squash, and kale, from which I made two seasonal soups, one a winter vegetable that turned out so spicy from the adobe sauce it required cutting in half with cottage cheese and the other a chicken soup, from one of our farm raised hens, to treat the rampant colds and stomach upsets my honey and I procured on a recent plane ride.
Seasonal eating does require certain creativity in the kitchen, and probably some failed experiments (see above accident with adobe). But how else will we know the gamut of ways to prepare kale? And kitchen accidents do help beat winter boredom. While we might prefer a lettuce, that summer crop can become course and bitter and has to travel (thousand miles, usually from California) to make it to our plates in Michigan. Why not try a delicious, farm-raised and winter-stored Acorn squash instead?
Using seasonal vegetables might be a challenge at times to keep flavor and variety, but it’s a great way to get the family involved in the meal. Not a parent myself, some parents report that their kids eat more variety of foods if they’ve helped prepare the meal, have seen what goes into the pot, so to speak. If interested in learning more about local foods in your area, try these links:
2. Plan for summer.
We get besieged by seed catalogues this time of year and I won’t say we fight over who gets to peruse the issues first, but there are a couple editions that have been torn in half. Whether you plant a full acre or just water a potted tomato plant on the back porch, it never hurts to plan ahead. Draft garden layouts, brush up on organic gardening practices, or even build a chicken coop. We start our chicks in May, though it might warm up in your part of the country earlier. If chickens are in your future, spend some time over the winter learning or reviewing ways that will work for your operation.
If you have a south-facing window, herbs in a window box are always an option, as are growing your own sprouts for salads and baby greens. Grow lights work well also, for growing fresh lettuces and herbs through the winter or starting plants in the spring.
There are a lot of resources out there for in-home winter gardening, in both web and print versions. Check out Portland Book Review for the latest reviews in gardening books, such as:
3. Enjoy the present.
While we’re all impatient for spring, don’t forget to enjoy the present, not just with food, but with the fresh air in your face. While only the most devoted probably want to do a five mile run in below freezing temperatures, most can manage a ten minute walk on sunny days to enjoy the sun on the snow, the crisp air, smell of snow, the bare trees and unique feel of winter in their area. It’s important to be present not only with your food, but with your physical space in the world. Each season, each moment, is unique. Learn to appreciate it. Don’t let winter bring you down, embrace it! And when the barn doors freeze shut, curse and move on.
Axie Barclay is a Michigan writer with a cow-habit. Having discovered the joys and potential for growth in alternative agriculture, she quests ever longer and harder for ways to combine farming and writing into a business. When not milking cows, making disgruntled noises at the latest disgusting thing the heeler dogs dredge up, riding horses, or keeping the fence up around her small beef herd, she’s holed up reading an eclectic array of books or tapping out pages. When not working, she enjoys kicking back with her honey, family, and friends at a bonfire with some beers. Chat her up on Twitter and Facebook, /axieb, or barclayfarmsandlit.blogspot.com where she delves into literature and agriculture with a relish… and occasionally ketchup. Soon to be homemade.