A Cold Day’s Feast

Wintry House

Call me cruel and unkind, but I often fantasize about suing the entire fricking backlot of Disney characters. Growing up, I bought into their Technicolor rhetoric that all I had to do was wish upon a star or confide in a ridiculous talking cricket sporting a cheap morning suit to live a perfect, happily-ever-after life. And my 4-year-old brain believed it.

Then one day I awoke to discover that I had careened from underpaid to overqualified by the age of 40, and that I would outlive my IRA by two decades. It’s times like these I dream of slapping charges of whopping misrepresentation on Snow White and her chittering band of merry midgets, er, little people.

Then along comes winter in Connecticut, and suddenly I don’t feel so litigious. From December to March, I can skid out our front door and find the snow-covered clapboard houses, the hills hatchmarked with kids on sleds, and, occasionally, horse-drawn sleighs that most people only see on holiday cards. And even the sight of the plow guy writing his name  in yellow in the snow can’t burst my reverie.

WARNING: We interrupt this country idyll for a pissed-off homeowner’s update:

In between writing and publishing this post, the bucolic winter blizzard this past week has wreaked untold dollars’ worth of havoc. Thanks to a two-foot-deep ski slope of snow on our roof, water has started to seep into the back of the house. We now have eight—count them, eight—leaks. Water has been sploshing in around window casings, under baseboards, around the foundation, and even through a live electrical box, which I, in all my handyman brilliance, grabbed to see how wet it was. How I escaped my own private Death Row is beyond me. The flood is only now abating because a contractor friend and his crew spent the morning two and a half stories up clearing the snow off the roof—just in time for today’s insult: seven inches of snow capped off by an ice storm. How I yearn for the problems of that yellow snow.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled, and somewhat less enthused, wintry romp.

CT winters are an institution—and, according to Hollywood, a destination. Lucy and Ricky—with Ethel and Fred in tow—have been living here in perpetuity since 1956. Stepford wives wouldn’t frost their Martha Stewart-look-alike cakes anywhere else. And in the classic film Christmas in Connecticut, Barbara Stanwyck portrays Elizabeth Lane, a domestic columnist—and feigned domestic goddess—for Smart Housekeeping who pretends she lives in a sprawling Connecticut farmhouse, dishing out boffo recipes and entertaining tips for her readers. (In reality, Lane can’t find her way around the kitchen—a room her tiny Greenwich Village apartment is, in fact, missing.)

Part of the appeal of the film, which The One and I watched again during that blasted blizzard, has much to do with the appeal of a Connecticut winter. And no day is more of a poster boy for CT winter love than Sunday. It’s when The One and I pad around in slippers and sweats until noon and leave the bed unmade without kicking up too many OCD issues. It’s also a day that lures him into the kitchen to pore over cookbooks and me to my computer to scroll through recipes for the day.

But we have some rules about Sunday eating chez nous. First, breakfast is 86′ed. Sunday is strictly a two-meal day that kicks off with brunch. I’m not suggesting the twee quiche-and-fruit-salad duo of the 1970s (although I’ve suffered through my share of them, usually on blind dates; I’ll save the details for another post). The food should be substantial enough to make it worth getting out of bed but simple enough that you can cook it half-awake. Cranberry-Cream Cheese-Stuffed French Toast along with Chunky Ranch-Style Home Fries have strutted down the runway of our kitchen more than once in our house.

I’ve heard that some terribly misguided folk are fond of inviting guests for brunch, which, I understand, they find enjoyable. But that’s something else I nixed. It’s just us in the eat-in kitchen. Afterward, it’s a short post-brunchial trip from the table to the Morris chair for The One, where he slumps down and reads the newspaper in front of the fire. Me, I slouch on the leather couch and bury my nose in a book. Chances are I’ll nod off, which is always announced by my increasingly trumpetous snoring, something I’m sure any lingering brunch guest would find appalling.

Sunday dinner is another matter entirely. Our seating charts are filled weeks in advance, and a reservation is hard to come by, thank you very much. Because my ideal winter meals are slow-cooked affairs—soups, braises, and stews—I sit them on the stove or slide them in the oven hours, or even the evening, before. One thunderously good dish I can make ahead of time is Mario Batali’s Braised Short Ribs with Horseradish Gremolata and Pumpkin Orzo, or Ina Garten’s Pot Roast. That way the kitchen’s spotless when guests arrive, and I can sit on the sofa, Donna Reed-like, phsawing comments about my preternatural ability to whip up such extravagances with seemingly no effort—and on a Sunday in the country, no less.

Dessert is a must, a food group unto itself, a coup de foudre, and is unfailingly selected with care. The worst thing that can happen is to mar a flawless CTSY (Connecticut Sunday)  with something as shudderingly dull as fruit or as banal as sorbet. Nothing short of a rich indulgence will do, which comes in the heavenly form of a Chocolate Cloud Cake. The One tries to insist I cut meager portions and not offer doggie bags—all the more for him to eat on Monday. He should know better. I always cut hefty-hefty wedges and when guests turn down seconds, I slice more anyway. I find guests always lie. Just like most fairy tales.

David Leite's signature
Comments
Comments
  1. Sofia says:

    Enjoyed very much this post for two reasons. The first part, even though I am sure you were very frustrated at the time, was written with such sarcasm I can only enjoy. It also reminded me of an episode many years ago that I had totally forgotten about it. It was the very first time my parents had met my husband’s parents. After graduation we all drove from NYC to Beverly, MA, where my parents-in-law lived at the time. They had a beautiful Victorian home, fully restored, right on the water. In the morning, as we woke up, we heard drip, drip and sure enough not long after out came the buckets to catch water inside the house from three different places. It had been a stormy night. We later found out a raccoon mommy decided somehow to get into the attic of the house and was nesting, hence the holes from the roof. It was total confusion. My husband’s poor parents were embarrassed.

    Now the second part of your Sundays are absolutely delightful and similar to what as I grew up with, which again brought back amazing memories. Sundays were restful mornings, lazy days to enjoy the paper, snooze a tad, then later in the day the house would fill with guests, and my mother, my sister, and I preparing enough food to make sure everyone had plenty to take some home. Thank you for reviving memories of mine that yet are different than yours!

  2. Anne L says:

    Read your winter wonderland description very slowly as to savour every colourful phrase. Pictures danced in my head as I got up to look out my door and see if any white stuff was blanketing our house. No there isn’t, but short ribs are on my “buy today” list. Thanks for sharing.

    • David Leite says:

      Anne, well, thank you for your kind words. One hint about the short ribs recipe: I find making then one day, refrigerating them, then serving them the next is ideal. There’s a lot of fat that congeals in the fridge, and can be lifted easily. But if you need to serve them tonight, be mindful of getting as much fat out as you can. Makes all the difference. Oh, and I sometime use a tangle of lemon and orange in the gremolata. Squee!

  3. Zanne says:

    Suing the Disney characters–now that’s something I never thought of when I realized I had been lied to!

    Loved the post, but it’s early, I just had breakfast and now I want beef and chocolate.

  4. Joellen says:

    Enjoyed your post about the winter wonderland. I, too, live in an old house – and thank goodness we had the gutters repaired, but not before some evidence appeared on my eiling. Living not far from Conn in lower Westchester County, I can’t wait until there is just a smidgen of snow and no ice storms, as the school I work for is always in a tizzy. But I do get time off, and then I cook up a storm. My last venture was from the Silver Palate Cookbook and I made a delicious Port Ragu. I will now have to try Ina’s pot roast or Mario’s short ribs. Love your site.

  5. Mamie says:

    The cobblers children….well, you know the saying. My house sprung five leaks while my husband and crew were rescuing the town. All you can do is make the best of it. Perhaps cock-a-leekie soup for all???

    • David Leite says:

      Everyone, if you don’t know Mamie, she’s the proprietress of Mamie’s Restaurant, right here in good ole wet Roxbury, CT. It was her husband, Dan, and his crazy band of workers who shoveled the snow off our roof while hers was leaking. And it’s her restaurant where The One and I escape to when we want to play hooky in the middle of the day.

  6. I couldn’t agree with you more about the appeal of slow braised dishes in the winter and they are indeed perfect for serving to guests – especially now when it seems fewer people have (or make) the time to cook these types of dishes. Have yet to try Mr. Batali’s short ribs – my current obsession is made with substantial amounts of red and white wine, cippoline onions and chanterelles but his sounds wonderful!

  7. Donna Rose says:

    David, as a native Californian, I’m afraid I would be an absolute whining wimp if I were plunked down in your part of the country. I do admire everyone who deals with all the problems and extra work involved with living in a place where winter can be brutal as well as beautiful. You are all much tougher than I.

    Best regards,

    Donna

  8. Bill says:

    And tonight we get a few more inches! Loved the colorful language about the Disney fantasy. Too bad Walt 86ed Mickey’s bad brother. I think he was in your attic!

    The snow, ice, and ensuing cold got me to crank up a huge pot of soup, while waiting for your corned beef recipe to do its wonders on a flank steak–will cook it just in time for next Conn. cold snap & expect it to be tasty. Finished the soup tonight, more snow tomorrow, and corned beef Saturday. Yey!

    Thanks for your wonderful site. Am becoming a regular.

    Cheers,

    Bill

    • David Leite says:

      More snow for us, too. I’m laying low this weekend regarding cooking: We have huge fans and dehumidifiers in three rooms, including the kitchen, to dry up all these leaks. I never thought I’d ever say this, but I’m tired of snow.

      And get out of town: Mickey had a bad brother?

      Glad you’re enjoying the site.

      • Bill says:

        After digging out from the most recent ice storm, I hope your house is doing okay.

        I’ve also done some digging about Mickey’s bad brother, but can’t find anything online. I’m pretty sure that Walt made a good-bad combo, and that his brother was a cigarette-smoking, womanizing fellow that got thrown out after Walt & Mickey started to make the big time. He might even have gotten dumped just after Walt got back from being the ambulance driver in the First World War. Will keep looking-the library at Wes might have something!

        -Bill

        • David Leite says:

          Bill, I haven’t seen the house in a week, so I have no idea how it is. I’m just dying to find out about Mickey’s bad-boy, um, bad-mouse brother.

  9. Susan says:

    In the SF Bay area, amid the palm trees on a sunny day, I just have to say, I’m glad to be where windows can be open during the day and whining about the cold has to do with having to close said windows because temps are in the 40′s and I’m, hrumph, cooold! But, thanks to Disney’s influence, I can braise out a brisket and fantasize about winters in CT…or actually do them in Tahoe..then drive away when I’m tired of it. So, don’t go suing Disney or MGM for romantsizing snow and filling my poor dull head with dreams…Move! (kidding!) I was raised in MD inside the beltway where frozen pipes burst, where cars skid on freeways and country roads, where we suburbanites were left to fend for ourselves while our snow equipment and contractors would service the C(r)apital and dig them out first. I do feel your pain. Scones sooth a cranky soul!

  10. Paul Healy says:

    Dear David: I’m a newby to your website, with thanks and appreciation to dear Mamie Keys. My partner and I are Roxbury weekenders and we. too, sufferred the same humiliation from the massive snow and ice damming at our 1846 Greek Revival….. we have the same machines and fans running there as well. We, too, are grateful to the folks who have come to our aid with all the drips and all. We sing the praises of Spencer Houldin and his team at the Ericson Agency in Washington Depot, and we’re sorry for all of us who are experiencing damage from this unprecedented snowfall. However, it’s the wonderful humor, wonderful recipes, and all that you offer that give us joy and hope for a happy return to a more regular routine…. Thank you, Mamie, for for putting us on to this incredible website. Perhaps we can all meet at Mamie’s, bring towels and be on the lookout for ice damming leaks…all the while enjoying Mamie’s incredible offerings. Please keep us posted on the snowy conditions in Roxbury and please keep the fabulous menus coming!

    • David Leite says:

      Well, Paul, welcome to LC. We hope you’ll stop by again and again.

      It seems all of our friends in CT are having the same problem. We’re expecting another huge storm this week, but right now we’re cruising in the Caribbean, and I couldn’t be happier. Let’s see if we can’t get a small LC contingent at Mamie’s when the snow is gone.

  11. lisa says:

    You got away just in time as we had another storm last night with at least another 6 inches. Yes, it is lovely in CT and we are fortunate that the locals know how to run a snowplow. I wonder if Bill is related to Mamie Keys?

    • mamie says:

      A Caribbean cruise is definitely a cure for these winter blues. Not being able to get away myself, I opted to watch Dr Zhivago and made your suggestion, David, of Ina’s Pot Roast. How can I feel sorry for myself now?

      (Lisa, Bill who?)

      • David Leite says:

        Mamie, just what the doctor (though not Zhivago) ordered. How did the pot roast turn out?

        • Mamie says:

          David,
          I’ve searched many a year for a GREAT pot roast recipe……Now I have it!! Leeks, cognac, AND red wine. It leaves my mother’s pot roast as a very distant memory. Thank you and please say hi to the warm sun and the deep blue seas for me.

    • David Leite says:

      Lisa, Dan is related to Mamie–her husband. He’s our ever-trusty shovel-our-roof guy, although he really a hell of a contractor.

      • lisa says:

        I’ve done some Keys genealogy work if Dan Keys is ever interested.

        • Mamie says:

          Lisa, are you a Keys?

        • mamie says:

          Lisa, this is definite proof of “It’s a small world.” My husband would like to get in touch with you. He has been trying, without much success to research the Keys family. Dan ran into David and The One recently and while enjoying breakfast together they mentioned your work. Not sure how to connect, as I think we should leave this blog to food discussions. Maybe through David?

  12. Lynne says:

    I’d climb over George Clooney to anyone who was prepared to make me Chunky Ranch Style Home Fries on a Sunday morning! I love your writing – you make me smile so much.

    • David Leite says:

      Lynne, wow! Climb over Mr. Clooney, huh? I love a woman who’s serious about her home fries. Thanks for the kind words.

  13. David,

    I am one of the two Gildas from http://www.dosgildas.com who have put you on a blogger pedestal. Albeit a little late, I just read this post and understand why the other Gilda has been raving about you. I love your writing and I happen to agree with your idea of Sunday dinner…in Italian they call it pranzo domenicale. It’s a tradition in my family with my Italian husband and I fighting for space in our kitchen to outdo each other. Thank you for all your help and advice in changing over to WordPress.

  14. Is that your house in the photo David? How BEAUTIFUL. Even if a bit leaky.

  15. Beth says:

    Ugh. Stupid weather!

    But stupid weather aside, what a lovely picture you paint: cozy country house; dozing by the fire; slow-cooked meals simmering away. Though I see no reason to stay in your slippers and sweats only until noon. You could always change at the last minute, before guests arrive. Or better yet, instruct them to come in slippers and sweats.

    • David Leite says:

      Beth, I have gone so far as to tell folks to come in pjs and slippers, but The One, who adores the elegance of entertaining, always puts the kibosh on it. He often dresses for Sunday dinner when it’s just us two. Imagine!

      • Beth says:

        I just audibly, involuntarily “Tsk-ed”! But secretly, I appreciate that he does that. Sometimes, I do long for a time when things were a bit more formal and men wore hats. (Says the woman who’s about to run to the store in yoga pants.)

  16. Tara says:

    How I missed this post from what seems like eons ago, I have no idea. But I love it nonetheless. You pulled every reason why I adore winter in CT into a perfect piece of prose. It IS the dreaminess of the season here that induces those nesting instincts. Who needs Disney when we have CT?

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Send it along. Covet one of those spiffy pictures of yourself to go along with your comment? Get a free Gravatar. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

*

Daily Subscription

Enter your email address and get all of our updates sent to your inbox the moment they're posted. Be the first on your block to be in the know.

Preview daily e-mail

Weekly Subscription

Hate tons of emails? Do you prefer info delivered in a neat, easy-to-digest (pun intended) form? Then enter your email address for our weekly newsletter.

Preview weekly e-mail