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.

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  1. 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!

  2. 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???

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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!

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