Cold, clear, crisp, with a wind to match. Or, cool and sunny. Both with a blue sky above like a canopy of joy. Winter. Which one of the two do I like best? Since I have experienced both, I can say without a doubt - both.
Fields of snow, a gale-like wind, tall trees with heavy white-laden branches. Hands stuffed in the pockets of a down filled jacket, feet in fur-line boots, woolen hat pulled down to my eyes. I am determined to walk. Good stuff, they say. Don’t ask who ‘they” might be – they are there all the time. I agree exercise in the outdoors pumps up oxygen making the brain work. And, you do feel good after. We learned that in school. On cold mornings when all we wanted was huddle at our desks, one teacher, in particular, made us march and run. We hated it. But, now, I understand why she did it and thank her for her wisdom.
Mary Oliver says in her poem – White Eyes,
“In winter all the singing is in the tops of the trees…” where she imagines the life of a bird in winter, sleeping in his nest on the top of a pine tree.
I encourage you to read the complete poem – you will be drawn in immediately, as I was, into a world that surrounds us which we ignore. How many times have I missed the chirping of birds as I walk briskly in an effort to pack as many steps as I can? Many times, to be completely honest. Now, while walking, I hear the chirping of birds. They seem happy. I want to see where they are and look around the frozen landscape. Finding no flying creatures, I continue on my path. However, there are plenty of bushes; add good strong trees with long limbs, and it tells you there’s a whole world carrying on over there. Such a delight!
It took me a while to come to terms with winter. This cold northerly one, so different from the soft, cool winters of my growing years. Although we did have cold rain in January. That didn’t put a damper on things. Youth doesn’t care if the air is moist, the floor damp, room cold. They are wired differently. At some point, we have all been there.
I have first-hand knowledge of the power of the lowly charcoal brazier. What warmth and comfort it brought us during our growing years! The dining room had an electric heater. We loved the charcoal brazier and plotted and planned to have it indoors all night. But our parents would have none of that and the container was banished outside before lights out. Upon reflection, I have to agree that the brazier with its combination of heat and comfort is perhaps one of my fondest memories of childhood. And why I love winter.
I remember having to climb up snowbanks piled high in front of the bus stop. This made it equally challenging for the driver to open the door to let in passengers. Streets were never cleaned well in those days. Things have changed - salt trucks are usually out before the onset of a snow-storm.
Winter is a time of waiting as the earth renews herself to the tune of drowsy lyrics sung by her companions also doing the same. For us, it can be a time to learn patience, tend to our inner selves, enjoy a slower pace. Rejuvenate our spirit.
Take care. Keep smiling.
In this photo, we are cooking rooti on the electric stove top.
The kitchen in my childhood home had two doors opening out to two corresponding verandahs. A nice sized room with plenty of sunshine coming in during the two months of really chilly temperatures with the added luxury of turning into a shadowy haven during the summer months. This ideal set up was challenged by rains during monsoon. We thumbed our nose at pouring rain by carrying cooked food from the kitchen to the dining room located in the main house, crossing the courtyard under shelter of a large black umbrella.
My earliest recollection of our kitchen is of Ma sitting on a peera (low wooden stool) in front of the unun while our cook/ helper rinsed and washed, cut and sliced vegetables fresh from the market. The unun (Bengali term) or Chulha (Hindi term) was made of bricks and clay. Its U-shaped top was wide enough for the cooking vessel to fit snugly, while heat rose from the depths of the stove’s belly. Through a small opening in front and close to the floor, one was able to fan at the flames. Fire came from burning wood and coal, and sometimes charcoal. Ma used to say that in our great-grandmother’s time all food was cooked in earthenware pots which, I was told, made the dishes extra-flavourful. By the time we came along it was the iron karahi that reigned supreme. Ma supervised, taking up the spatula when some fine tuning to the vegetables or fish or mutton was required. Rice is a must in a Bengali meal which is why I have a weakness for it. We also ate rooti – whole wheat unleavened flat bread cooked on a flat tawa or pan, then puffed directly on the flames. The unun was later raised so meals could be cooked standing up. Sadly, I don’t have pictures of our kitchen.
Food has a way of weaving into our conversations, especially during these times. Eating out is not an option for us now which makes home cooked meals just that more attractive. In this part of the world, we need to be mindful of the weather. During the darkest, deepest part of winter when going out is well-nigh impossible, hunting through the freezer section of the refrigerator will result in excellent finds - frozen vegetables, fruits and prepared meals - an essential part of our grocery shopping.
How a family cooks has a lot to do with what’s come down from grandparents. Which is why the story behind a dish is so attractive. I would even venture to say this is what draws people to their family favourites. Sitting at a table with people to share a meal is not only satisfying to the stomach but also to the senses – you get to see, touch, smell and feel a setting that has been the mainstay of human growth.
Ma’s pudding and custard were famous. In the absence of an oven, I think what Ma did was place the bowl with the mixed ingredients inside a large cooking pot that was half filled with water. And this pot went on top of the unun. I am sure it had to be cooked on medium heat which meant cooking it during that part of the day when lunch had been eaten and the evening meal yet to be prepared. Perfect timing because the coal ash was hot but the coals were not exactly burning bright. I have to really rack my brains to remember because I never took an interest in cooking those days. It wasn’t until Ma visited us here many years ago and baked pudding on top of the electric stove, that I paid attention.
Here we improvise – rootis cooked on stove top, croquettes made of fish from a can – to name just a few. I still don’t cook much but I do roll out the rootis.
Take care. Stay safe.
Thank you for being there for me. It is for you I get up every morning wanting to write more. You give me #hope, something we simply cannot do without. I went for a drive today and as the car swept around a bend, the #trees standing tall and strong in their winter darkness suddenly took on new meaning. They were waiting for the next season, #new #beginning. We can learn a thing or two from these majestic beings of the #forest.
If you have a #goal for #2022 pepper it with #positive energy. Like the trees, that positive energy will take you towards a fulfilling #life.
So, my friends, I wish all of you and your families the best of health and safety. Happy New Year.
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