Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Packing My Winter Survival Kit

It looks like winter has come early this year, if the recent cold temperatures here in New Jersey are any indication.  The older I get, the more I dislike winter.  I actually really loved it growing up, since it meant building snow forts, sledding, and staying indoors to play Connect Four and Battleship during recess.  Nowadays I have a little PTSD from my two winters in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where over 100 inches of snow fell both times and the sun came out maybe twice between Halloween and Easter.  After living in Michigan I spent three years in Texas, and really got used to not really having winter.  That experience has drastically reduced my tolerance for cold and lack of sunshine.

To survive winter with my mental state intact, I've started assembling a winter survival kit of things that will make the next few months bearable.  It follows, organized by category.

Certain foods seem to be meant for winter, where they warm both the body and the soul.  Oatmeal and grits thus become especially important at breakfast, when my stomach requires something hot.  This time of year I make a lot of chili, which always seems to lift my spirits.  In recent years I have also delved into the world of root vegetables, whose hearty warmth spreads throughout my limbs whenever I eat them.  My favorite is carrot-rutabega mash, but I also like to make parsnips, turnips, and sweet potatoes.  Soups and stews beyond chili are necessary for survival, and this time of year my shadow haunts Vietnamese restaurants, where I can savor a big old steaming bowl of pho.  There's practically nothing better on a cold dark afternoon, except maybe lamb stew.

Speaking of lamb stew, dark beers are a winter favorite for me as well.  Something about stout and porter especially fit the cold short days and freezing long nights, but I'll grab a bottle of Bell's Brown Ale in a heartbeat.  Other favorites for this time of year are the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter by Great Lakes Brewing Company, Yeti Imperial Stout by Great Divide, Samuel Smith's oatmeal stout, and The Kaiser by Avery, which we used to call "the ole ass-kicker" when I lived in Michigan.

I don't really drink a lot of whiskey during most of the year, but I go through quite a bit in winter time.  Many a night in a frigid apartment has been soothed by the golden glow of Irish whiskey.  While Jameson and Tullamore Dew were my first whiskies, recently I have been delving into bourbon, and the right kind of bourbon can unlock the same glowing fire inside.  These days I have become a fan of Old Grand-Dad, which has a wintry flavor (can't quite explain it) that survives mixing and costs only twenty bucks a bottle.  It's what I call a switch-hitting bourbon, in that it's good for mixing but rough enough not to make mixing a travesty, and yet smooth and tasty enough to stand on its own.

The right music is absolutely essential for making it through winter.  It has to speak to the season's difficulties, and the sad feelings that are more likely to wrap themselves around my mind.  I tend to listen to a lot of folk-inflected music, especially Leonard Cohen's first album, Tim Buckley, Fairport Convention, Richard and Linda Thompson, and Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan's first album, which is just about as perfect as winter music gets.  In addition to this stuff, I also go with The Smiths, Joy Division (super wintry), The Velvet Underground (whose drones are like a space heater for my soul), and early Miles Davis.  I have spent many evenings shivering under a blanket listening to 'Round Midnight, which is less an album than a kind of medicated musical balm.

Keeping warm is the operating principle behind my winter survival kit, and clothing its most crucial component.  I tend to wear a lot of sweaters, the thicker the better.  A cable knit sweater my wife got my for my birthday has reminded me why I like that genre of sweater so much for the winter time.  Over the years I have also built up a large supply of cardigans, which are an easy thing to grab when you need a little warmth.  I also go with lots and lots of flannel, shirts in the day and pajamas at night.  At those times when it is necessary to venture outdoors, I always have on a hat (tweed usually) and scarf.  Until the last few years I was not a scarf-wearer, but my two winters in Michigan cured me of that shortcoming right quick.  Slippers always get lost, so I like to slip on a pair of wool socks, they certainly make walking on the cold tile in the kitchen and bathroom less trying.

Anything in your own winter survival kits that I'm missing here?

No comments: