Friday, March 23, 2012

Changes Outside, Changes Inside

Here in Buffland, we've enjoyed the earliest of early Springs. For those not of the North, let me explain: when I was growing up down the street from SUNY at Buffalo's South Campus, (which was then in the heart of what was called North Buffalo), winter lasted a good six months, most years. You put away clothing from season to season. You ate hot, hearty meals for 2/3 of the year. Many people kept a reliable junker car for winter, so their good car wouldn't rust out from exposure to all the salt and snow. We often walked to school on a foot or more of hard-packed snow.

 Those days are long gone. My gloves got used less than a half dozen times this winter. I think I own all of one sweater now, and it's a lighter one, made for the cool evenings of old-fashioned Springs. I haven't worn it in two years.

 Our old houses are still constructed for the same weather patterns, though. And our markets,  contractors, and other goods and services still try to sell to us for the same types of seasons we had, back then. Flighty little canvas gazebos are dirt cheap, but they can't stand against the constant high breeze we've had, steadily, for the last several years-- they just blow down around you. And who wants to make a fruit pie in summer anymore, when the temp most June days is higher than it ever got for more than a week and a half in the Augusts of my childhood?

 But these cultural cues persist-- cues that that read like romantic fantasies now: pictures of large families having backyard barbecues, unworried about sun exposure or bugs or calories or the price of steaks. Recipes for fancy celebration cakes, or do-ahead menus that would take a second refrigerator to accomodate, and three days of heating up the stove to accomplish. What do these ideas have to do with real life? With real families? They set up scenarios that are impossible, now. What does this have to do with the way we actually cook and entertain and live, in the seasons we're getting this century?

 Not much, I think. When it's 78 degrees in the kitchen before you turn on an oven, there won't be homemade cakes and pies and cookies for ice cream sandwiches coming out of that kitchen. It's an unlivable scheme for most WNYers, who generally don't have the cash to install central air if it didn't come with the house. And if the house wasn't built in the last ten years, it probably didn't come with.

It's okay, though, our trusty markets are willing to do the work for us, and sell us those dream cakes for $8.99, made from a mix that costs a $1.50. They sell us on the fanstasy, and then sell a bunch of expensive, processed, tasteless trash to fill up on, if we'll buy into that false hope.

 So how do we adjust our eating, our cooking, to a new schedule of shifting seasons? What do you do when you're trying to eat local and fresh, and there's no strawberries because the rain beat them down, or the carrots all taste like soap from the chemicals in the ground? How to keep a budget when all the menus you planned are called on account of heat daze?

These last few summers, I've tried stocking up on frozen prepared foods, buying take-out, readjusting the menu, and just plain not eating. Not good ways to keep healthy, though, and not inexpensive, either. The best approach I can find so far is to eat more barely cooked or raw foods, mixed with a few well-chosen prepared items that need little or no heating. It makes us feel lighter and more energized, and it keeps us on a healthier food path.

 To accept this aproach wholeheartedly, is going to mean further commitment to change, and it's tough facing that. There are days when I wil be too tired to chop and assemble, and that's when I'm most susceptible to blowing my very necessary budget, and calling out for subs that leave us overfull and dyspeptic afterwards, or for hopping into the car and picking up a quick prepared meal at the deli. Which tastes wonderful, but makes the next week's budget tighter than ever.

 The answer for me, I'm afraid, is more pre-prep. Chop celery and soak nuts ahead of time. Have a good fresh sauce made before the heat hits. Precook pasta, grains, potatoes, rice and beans, and maybe pre-roast vegetables and make muffins in the cool of the morning. It's not tragic, it's different; it means using my usual thinking time to work, and shifting my writing work around to fit homekeeping needs.

 I'm aware, as I moan about it, how lucky we are to have choices at all, to eat as much and as well as we do. And still, I feel like this altered physical climate has sort of put me back into the social climate of my mother's early married days-- planning out my dusting, and gardening, and when will I have time to make those scones I wanted to share with my next door neighbor?

 I swear, I never meant to be this domesticated. Or maybe it was meant all along, in my blood, passed on like the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook my childhood food memories were born from. Brought out by strained finances and global warming.

 How are you adjusting your daily meals to the new weather?

 May the peace of this beautiful day be with you, Mari

 PS-- for lovers of the Dude, check out this event:, a charity extravaganza featuring a screening of The Big Lebowski. Worthy cause, and a good excuse to wear a bathrobe in public, too. I'll be there, in my growing-out blond hair, with a Dude at my side. Maybe we'll see you there?

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