Monthly Archives: February 2017

Indoor gloves

I live in northern California, where the weather is generally mild and Mediterranean. People in this area worry more about rain–which comes during the winter season, if we aren’t in a drought–and earthquakes. The weather here isn’t generally severe enough to be a health or safety problem. People usually dress for fashion, rather than warmth. And the weather is rarely a problem that would prevent you from safely traveling wherever you want. So when the rest of the country is in the depths of winter, it’s hard for people here to understand what winter–as in, a Midwestern winter, with actual snow and blizzards–can be like.

I’m not a native Californian. Not a lot of people here are, actually, but many of them appear to be from other places that also don’t have severe weather. I grew up mostly in downstate Illinois, and before that I lived in New York (state, not city) and New Hampshire. And whenever the subject of winter comes up in conversation, and I find myself trying to explain what real weather is like, I tell the story of my indoor gloves.

 This is a pair of gloves that I’ve owned since I was in college. I think I bought them at some outlet store, and I’ve had them ever since. They’re made of leather and lined with what is probably Thinsulate or similar. These have become the only gloves I now own, for the reasons described above, which means that whenever I’m wearing a coat, the gloves are probably in the pocket. So I pull out these gloves to explain. Here’s a pair of nice leather gloves that I’ve had for years. They’re well made and lined with Thinsulate. Great, warm gloves, right? Okay, here’s the thing: when I lived in Illinois, I wore these gloves indoors.

People usually do a double-take when I tell them that. So then I explain that these gloves are more accurately referred to as my driving gloves, because when you live in a place with four seasons coming at you hard, there’s a lot of things you have to think about in order to safely get from point A to point B, and keeping your hands from freezing when in subzero conditions but still able to manipulate car controls is one of them. I also tell them a bit about what it’s like just getting dressed to go outside, and then having to climb into a car that has its driver’s side door frozen shut, climbing over the gearshift in heavy winter boots, and starting the engine–and the heater–up. Then and only then do you get out of the now-running car and start cleaning it off.

This commercial is a pretty good illustration of what it’s like to get going first thing in the morning after a significant snowfall.

For the record, this guy appears to be wildly unprepared to live wherever he does–nobody who’s lived in a northern climate for any length of time would go outside without a hat or their coat open like that in winter conditions, and not having one of these in your car during the winter is…well, never mind. This guy also clearly doesn’t know that you have to get in the car before you do any cleaning, to start the engine and get it warmed up, so the punchline of him cleaning the wrong car is funny but not realistic.

So the point of the indoor gloves story is that the weather in places that aren’t California can be so bad that a pair of gloves that looks perfectly serviceable and warm is actually completely inadequate to keeping your hands warm in actual winter conditions.

So I’ve shoveled, and scraped, and swept, snow, face-planted on frozen driveways, hydroplaned in storm conditions, fishtailed on black ice, run for cover when tornado warnings sounded, and felt my lungs burn when opening the door in Illinois on a July afternoon during an extended 100-degree-plus heat wave. I’ve seen the rust on my car advance from season to season, and wondered for how much longer the car would be structurally sound, i.e., safe to drive. I’ve heard the windowpanes in old apartments rattle in blizzard conditions, and I’ve turned the key on a car during a cold snap only to hear nothing from an otherwise serviceable engine that was temporarily felled by the cold. Compared to that, drought and seasonal flooding and occasional earthquakes aren’t weather, they’re entertainment.

Culinary horse blinders

After several years of living in a tiny San Francisco apartment with my husband, we finally moved into our peninsula home that has a full kitchen (and a garage!). Due to a number of factors, including long commute times, crowded living conditions, plus abundant restaurants within walking distance, I had gotten out of the habit of cooking at home. It was something I wanted to get back into, for a number of reasons, including health, quality control, time spent in transit, cost savings, and sheer enjoyment of cooking. So when we moved, I set up my kitchen in the new space and got to work. But a problem that I faced when I was single–the last time I did any significant cooking–cropped up. We live in a time and place where you can have pretty much any food year round. By itself, this is a good thing, but it creates what’s been called the paradox of choice–if you can have anything, at any time, the sheer volume of choices can generate a lot of anxiety. I’ve faced this, and in the past have tended to fall into the habit of cooking the same set of familiar meals again and again. I wanted something better, especially now that I’m not just cooking for myself anymore.

But I found a solution that has been working very well for us–every other week, we have a farm share box delivered. The service we use is Farm Fresh to You, which has a variety of boxes of produce available for delivery at the interval of your choice. So now, a box of fresh, seasonal produce appears on our doorstep every other week. And I have to do something with this produce, which will go bad if we don’t eat it. So now I’ve limited myself to cooking with the contents of the box. I can–and do–supplement with trips to the grocery store, which is a quick drive. But using up what’s already in the fridge is a priority, and I’ve learned to cook with kale, dill, and beets, to name a few that I never had occasion to use before. When a box appeared with sweet potatoes, a quick search online found a recipe for sweet potato pie. I tried it and we enjoyed that pie for a week. I found a recipe to use up a bunch of parsley in a green olive-anchovy pasta sauce. I’d never had anchovies before, because I assumed I’d hate them like so many people claim to. Having finally tried them, I don’t know why I thought that, and I can’t wait for more parsley so I can make the sauce again. The previously mentioned beets became borscht, which I’d never had. I made roasted rosemary potatoes and paired it with a wilted greens salad–using up the beet greens–on the fly. I made a cilantro-garlic sauce to go over chicken and pasta. My husband tasted the sauce and liked it so much he immediately began imagining it as a spread on toast or other meats.

The selection changes from week to week, and not every meal I make is, or has to be our favorite. But I no longer have to come up with a varied list of meals from scratch. The produce in the box is seasonal and local, which means it’s traveled a shorter distance to us, which means it’s fresher and has more nutrients in it. I don’t feel strongly about the organic-vs-regular produce debate, but I don’t specifically object to organic produce, which this is. It’s true that we could also go to one of the farmers’ markets that are in the area. However, this would take me back to the issue of choice that was paralyzing for me–I would still have to plan meals and then schedule time to go and shop, which I don’t want to do. Perhaps paradoxically, by limiting my options, I’ve set up a situation where I’ve required myself to become a better cook, rely less on recipes than I ever did before, and meals are much more varied than I could have planned myself.

Fancy that.