Getting my winter jacket out of the hall closet the other morning depressed the heck out of me. But I have to admit that although I hate the cold, ice, snow, sleet and dark of night -- and morning -- that winter brings, I enjoy the coziness it brings.
I love getting out my winter sweaters and turtlenecks, fleece pullovers and sweatshirts. They are so soft and comfy, I feel like purring with delight. There's nothing like an old, ratty, over-sized sweater or sweatshirt (or flannel shirt) for puttering around the house. Add an equally ratty pair of jeans and a heavy pair of wool socks -- but no shoes -- and I'm ready for the day.
At the end of the day, there is nothing better than slipping between soft flannel sheets warmed by a heated blanket. Reversing the process in the morning though is a totally different thing ... please, just five more minutes ...
The house itself seems to take on a homier, more cocoon-like feel. Warm, cozy afghans on the back of the chairs invite you to snuggle down in them to watch TV or read. The added warmth and glow from the fireplace and scented candles only add to the warmth.
In winter, I turn from cooking quick meals on the grill to hearty casseroles and Crockpot meals. You know, the ones that smell so heavenly as they slowly bake or simmer.
One of my favorites comes from my mom's collection of recipes. She originally got it from a friend, who had clipped it from a magazine some 35 years ago. I'm a big fan of cooked cabbage, with or without the corned beef, and the addition of dried beef and a cream sauce is unbelievable! I rinse the dried beef under running water to remove most of the salt before soaking it in the warm water.
Creamed Cabbage and Dried Beef
1/2 head large cabbage
4 ounces dried beef
1 1/2 cups white sauce (recipe below)
1/2 cup buttered bread crumbs
Chop cabbage coarsely and cook in salted water until tender. Drain. Chop dried beef and soak in a little warm water for 10 minutes and then drain. Grease a casserole dish and in it place alternating layers of cabbage and dried beef. Pour the white sauce over it and top with the buttered crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
Basic White Sauce
Yield: 4 cups
3 tablespoons butter
4 cups milk
1/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper
Melt butter. Whisk in flour and cook a minute. Slowly add milk, whisking vigorously. Simmer for 5 minutes or until thick and smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
If not using all 4 cups, cool excess to room temperature, with buttered paper over top to prevent a skin from forming. Transfer to containers and freeze until needed.
If you see me slowly cruising the highways and byways these days, there's a motive to my madness -- I'm looking for hickory nut debris. I received an email from Edward Goldfrank who wrote:
"I live in Austerlitz, N.Y., so I am not too familiar with specific shag-bark hickory trees in North County, but I may be able to help you find one. Most of the mast crop (e.g. acorns, beech nuts, etc.) this year has been very scanty, but the hickory nut (e.g. shagbark and pignut) crop has been unusually abundant.
"What my wife, in her recently published ‘Field Guide to the Seasons' (I-Books), calls ‘tree shadows' (can be flowers, fruit, seeds, nuts, leaves, etc.) are readily apparent. Hickory nuts started falling about six weeks ago and, unlike other years, when the tree is next to a paved road, the husks have been breaking on contact with the pavement, letting loose the pale nut.
"So, as you drive around, look to the edge of the road for the litter of dark green husk quarters and lots of little pale nuts (similar to hazel nuts but very pale) mixed in. I can't remember another year when it has been so easy to collect the unhusked nuts.
"There is no other tree bark that even comes close to looking like shag-bark hickory (Google for image). However, I must warn you that getting the nutmeats out of that inner shell is a real chore. First, you need to crush the outer shell from flat side to flat side, rather than top to bottom. Then you'll need something like a dentist's pick to get the meat out. There are highly reticulated hard membranes inside the shell -- similar to walnuts, but much more finely divided. But they are tasty!"
Margaret Button is the city editor of the North Adams Transcript. Send recipes for inclusion in future columns to the North Adams Transcript, 85 Main St., Suite 2, North Adams, Mass. 01247 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.