Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Comfort and Joy

“In November, the smell of food is different. It is an orange smell. A squash and pumpkin smell. It tastes like cinnamon and can fill up a house in the morning, can pull everyone from bed in a fog. Food is better in November than any other time of the year.”
― Cynthia Rylant, In November

I've lived in a lot of cold houses. The house in Orland Park with no basement, the chilled brown tiles atop the concrete foundation laid across the frozen black earth of northern Illinois. The unheated second floor of the sandstone farmhouse in Calloway where we breathed frost into the air if our noses escaped the mountain of wool blankets. Our first house on the farm with neither furnace nor basement, where the electric baseboard heaters fought a losing battle with drafts from above and below and we preheated our bed with the electric blanket every night.

We fought back. With lath and plastic, hammer and nails, Blake covered every window, shrouding us in a blurry world until spring returned. It was not a pretty sight. When we moved out to the windy hill by Deadman's Hollow, our situation improved with the comforting on and off of the furnace blower and warm air coming out of the register. But I still covered the windows...on the inside this time...and felt virtuous and smart when the plastic breathed in and out like it was alive every time the wind attempted to get in.

This old house on Spruce plays by its own set of winter rules: slippers for everyone, an electric throw for Blake's uber cold feet, the friendly hiss of the gas log in the front room. The new windows thwart the sound and fury of winter with one exception: the sun porch upstairs where the houseplants go to spend the winter. And that's where I spent part of this glorious November afternoon, swatting away sun resurrected houseflies and late season lady bugs, spreading out cellophane and double sticky tape like generations have before me. When I am finished, the sun porch is winterized and the plants as cozy as I can accomplish. One more November task put to rest.

November is full of satisfactions like this. Harvest continues, but the acres are piling up behind the combines and there is cautious talk of an end in sight. The sun greets us in the mornings for a few days after the time change and helps compensate for the long evenings of work after the sun sets when other folks are headed home. By November, the mum mess has been picked up...groundcloth piled under bricks, irrigation lines rolled up, fertilizer machines and pumps put up where they won't freeze and break.The greenhouse work revolves around emails and phone calls and web sites.

This leaves time to cook. After six weeks of harvest meals, it takes some invention to present something for dinner ála Rubbermaid that hasn't been eaten recently and "travels well". Sandwiches are so summer cold cuts. Salad days are gone to frost; time for slow cookers of chili and stew, pot pies wrapped in dish towels, baked pastas of Italian extraction. Food that can be scooped with a spoon or cut with a plastic fork. Food that can be wrapped in foil, eaten in a cab, and doesn't spill enroute. Comfort foods....garlic bread, corn bread, soaking up sauce, mopping up honey.
As the calendar days pile up in November, the days fade and the temperatures wane. There's no better way to warm chilled hands than to put them to work stirring or peeling or soaking in hot dishwater. Cold mornings are an incentive to cook. All the meals in November are just a countdown to the most splendid meal of the year: Thanksgiving.

Sunday morning finds us women folk gathering after Sunday school to pool resources in the kitchen. There's a new recipe to try, a chicken enchilada casserole that promises to feed 12 people. In our line of work, a dozen is always an option, so I screw up my eyes trying to read the capacities of the largest casserole dishes in my cupboard...there it is! Found one....4.5 liters is the winner. The bean dip appetizer is partly for the meal...and partly to accompany the preparation of the meal. The cooks dip Fritos; the oven pings as it heats; the conversation warms as the kids check on dinner's progress and the dog sneaks in from the back porch to sit on someone's feet and be sociable. It's an anti-Martha kind of kitchen, crowded,noisy, busy, steamy, made more so by the growing stacks of dirty pans and the overflowing trash can.
Good news! The harvest crew is switching from corn to beans, leaving an hour free to shut down the machinery to eat while the beans dry on this November day. No paper plates today and no Tupperware! Spread out the tablecloth and count the forks...I'll make the tea. Crumbs and stains and seconds are emblems of plenty. Family AND dinner at the table...not out of a hatchback.

The new recipe is a success, even if Abbie and Josh would rather eat corn than casserole. After cake and ice cream, the guys pile into the pickup and head back to the field. There is a city skyline of dirty dishes in the kitchen. This is November's legacy, November's gift: the comforts of a busy kitchen and the abundance of a big home cooked meal for hard working people. The joy of preparing good food and the satisfying work of cleaning up afterwards.

O tidings, of comfort and joy...welcome, November....

1 comment:

  1. I almost can "smell" the autumn just from this post! Thanks for sharing it with us at Country Fair Blog Party! I always look forward to seeing what you share with us and so now I wait... for December! :) Jan@ Tip Garden