Okay, technically it’s still fall, but I’ve never relied entirely on a calendar to tell me the season. I live in the woods and I often get lost in the passage of time. Spring begins with a chorus of peepers and fall begins when goldenrod takes over the fields beyond the trees. Don’t get me wrong – I adhere to our positional relationship to the sun just as strictly as the calendar. It’s just that I also entertain other methods of measurement as well – I mean, look around, there are multiple methods of measurement for everything.
So for me, winter begins with ice. Not the first, second, or even third snowfall, but when that snow is accompanied by the feeling of ice in the air, ice in my lungs, and the frozen soil beneath my boots. I usually try to get together with a few of my kayaking buddies for the last float of the season, with ice-shelves along the bank and just a thin channel of water running down the center of my creek. It’s a short window, maybe a few days at most when the conditions work out. Last year we got lucky on a Saturday, and had just enough to paddle – here’s a shot from my yard:
Sunday it looked like this:
And by Monday, life as we knew it was nothing but ice and snow.
That’s not entirely true. Life is vibrant in winter, and I find it to be incredibly fascinating. There are mink and fishers cautiously scampering. Deer occasionally come out to forage. The beavers are mostly underwater, but from time to time surface for one reason or another. Coyotes own the night. Summer birds are replaced by hardy, seed-eating winter species, while owls and the hawks that stick around search for rabbits and rodents that search for meals in their own right. The food chain is streamlined, with little room for error.
Except of course inside my cabin, where I—like all of us—enjoy hearty food and warming drinks to take the edge off the winter chill. Everything slows down in winter, which is perhaps why the slow cooker is your greatest kitchen ally throughout the season. The first stew or pot roast of the season is good, but I prefer when we get a bit deeper into things, because I’m the kind of guy who strains and saves my stock after each batch and uses it to start the next one – so by the time I make that fourth or fifth roast it contains multitudes of flavors and aromas for an indescribably savory meal.
I like recipes, but we all know you don’t need one here. Obviously there are some variations, additions and omissions, but the standard approach is stock, meat, veggie, seasoning. Cook it low and slow and let those flavors blend. There’s no magic to this one; it’s just a classic case of delaying gratification and then fully enjoying the rewards of your patience. But for the sake of conversation, I tend to start with a classic cut: a nice chuck roast. I’m sure you already know the tried and true veggies: potatoes, carrots, and onions. Well I’m a little bit extra when it comes to flavor, and I want my slow-cooker to pay homage to the glorious harvests of seasons past, so I get as much in there as I can: Yukon Gold potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, parsnips, turnips, celery, garlic cloves, lima beans, and Anaheim peppers. I halve the garlic cloves lengthwise and I deseed the peppers. Other than that, I slice or chop things pretty thick – it’s all about that perfect balance of bold flavors. I season to taste, and I season with love in my heart for how well I’m about to treat my belly.
Winter is a fascinating time of year – daylight slips by in a flash, but everything still seems to move much more slowly. After we’ve layered up, got our blood pumping with an exhilarating snowy activity, watched the winter animals thrive in a frozen landscape, and warmed our bellies with a hearty meal, there’s really only one thing left to do – warm the spirits with a good drink. Cold-weather holidays are the best holidays, every evening has a bit of a chill to shake off, and it’s always a good idea to raise a toast or two to the beautifully stark icy world around us. For me the answer is clear: whiskey.
I tend to go for a bourbon or rye, but any good whiskey will do. I sit on my sun porch, keep the fire burning, and enjoy a heavy pour while I watch the moonlight dance across the snow and frozen creek – there are countless ways to end your day, but I have yet to find one that rivals this. And however you spend your winter days and nights, we at InkPixi wish you warmth. Enjoy the cold air, the beautiful landscape, and the holiday celebrations. Cheers!