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Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

The Emotional Calendar is not the only book to recommend tracking moods as a way of better understanding your life and improving your well meaning.

And now, Anna and my home town is tracking moods as well. Today the New York Times reports:

When they filled out the city’s census forms this spring, the people of Somerville got a new question. On a scale of 1 to 10, they were asked, “How happy do you feel right now?”

Sounds familiar! The city plans to use the data to determine whether happiness increases with improved public transport and green spaces. But as Anna and I can vouch for, 1-10 mood ratings are highly variable and depend on all sorts of factors.

“I’m glad they’re trying to use 21st-century tools to get a feel for what people want,” said Conor Brennan, the owner of P J Ryan’s, a pub in Teele Square. “Of course, any survey like this is going to depend on the mood of the person at that moment. If they filled it out in the middle of this last winter, that’s probably going to lower the score.”

Ah, winter. If only city planning officials could do something about that.

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Migration

I know it’s April and I’m supposed to be looking forward towards sunnier times. But for the last month all I’ve been thinking about is cold. I wake up, I poke my head out of the covers and I think I am so tired of being cold.

I bike to work and no matter what super-nice gear I wear, I arrive freezing. My hands burn. My toes are numb. There is a chilling sensation in the very core of my body that can take hours to thaw out.  I am so tired of being cold.

It’s partially my fault. I put my down jacket away last month and swore not to take it out again until next year. Then it snowed. But I have stubbornly insisted on wearing my spring jackets and lighter sweaters, determined not to let New England’s endless winter win out.

Did I mention that New England’s winter is endless? Even if I was still wearing my down jacket and my wool hat, I’d be unhappy. The temperature may jump up to the forties at mid-day but it is still damned cold outside. “You know,” Anna said, “The main thing I’ve learned so far from tracking my emotional calendar is that winter is horrible.”

The emotional calendar has lots of recommendations for what to do once you’ve learned you hate winter. You can wear nicer clothing. Drink hot chocolate. Watch movies that take place in the desert. Go skiing. Find ways to reframe winter in a more positive light.

That’s all well and good but I think there are more productive ways to handle bad weather. I think it’s time to take a hint from the birds and start travelling south. Maybe to the Carolinas. Georgia. Texas. New Mexico. South America. The Caribbean.

How far would you go to escape the cold?

Weather: 48 degrees and cloudy

Moods:
Hannah: 5 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Tired.
Anna:  7.5 out of 10. It’s friday, it’s sunny, things are starting to bloom.

**Image credit to the New York Audubon.

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We tap our red maple tree using a tap, some plastic tubing, and empty milk jugs.

The plastic tubing helps keeps the bugs out, and the milk jugs provide convenient storage.

(The neighbors’ kids drink the milk)

 

Tapping the tree

The sap is reduced in batches throughout the season. Otherwise we would have 40 gallons of sap stacked in the garage!

The stove was obtained specially for this purpose. Other (more common?) uses include deep-frying turkeys, and boiling lobsters.

Boiling the sap with an industrial strength stove

 

To boil the sap down to the correct concentration without burning requires extreme accuracy.

Good thing my family is so good with precision.

 

 

Making the syrup requires intense concentration

After the syrup is ready, it’s poured hot into jars. As the air cools, the jars are sealed and the syrup is safe for the season.

The darker syrup is actually a batch made from sap gathered later in the season. I wonder what makes the difference?

Maple syrup. Note that one jar has already been eaten.

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You wouldn’t know it was spring by peering out the window today. After warm temperatures and sweater weather, it feels like February yet again. But despite the snow, today marks the first day of spring. I’ll take it!

A few posts ago, Hannah mentioned my recent blogging block. Sometime around the beginning of March, I just couldn’t get excited about self-analysis. I tried. I really did. For example:

What about March personally resonates with me?
Nothing, other than vague (tame) memories of spring break.

Are there weather events or cultural milestones that impact my emotional calendar this month?
Huh? Ummm. No.

Who likes self-reflection when winter refuses to gracefully exit?
Is that rhetorical?

With that attitude, I have a feeling the crocuses bloomed several days before I looked around long enough to notice them this Saturday. Hannah, at least, says she first saw them last week.

For today, they’ll be buried under a thin layer of slushy snow. I’m hopeful that I’ll spot them again soon, and this time as soon as they emerge—not five days after. And then I’ll marvel (again) at how quickly things change.

Weather: Snow.

Moods:

Anna –5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. No sun, no fun.

Hannah – 6 out of 10. She had a nice weekend.

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Happy Purim!

When I was a kid, I used to have a picture book called “The Adventures of K’ton Ton.” K’ton means little in Hebrew, and K’ton Ton is a variation on Tom Thumb, only with a Jewish twist. My favorite K’ton Ton story was when he fell into the hamantaschen dough on Purim. My mother says this is impossible because he was “just like a real boy, only tiny,” but as I recall, he was baked into a cookie and popped out just as his mother was giving the cookie away to the neighbors.

Giving away baskets of hamantaschen is just one of the traditions that make Purim the most fun holiday on the Jewish calendar. Purim celebrates the story of Queen Esther, who saved the Jews from the king’s adviser, a man known as Haman the Evil. When we were kids we would go to a party at the synagogue where we were handed groggers (really obnoxious noisemakers) and given the important task of drowning out Haman’s name anytime it was said aloud.

Purim is also a costume party: people dress up as characters from the story of Esther or, really, anything else you can think of. In 2008 I celebrated Purim in Tel Aviv, where it is thought of as an “Israeli Mardi Gras.” That was when I learned another interesting Purim tradition: according to longstanding practice, adults are obligated to “drink until you can’t tell the difference between good and evil.”

Sometimes I wonder whether that’s because of the end of the Purim story, in which the Jews exact revenge by slaughtering entire villages associated with Haman. But mostly I think it’s just an excuse for a good time.

Purim started at sundown last night. I had no wild parties planned this year, but my dad and I did make hamantaschen, the traditional Purim snack. The word “hamantaschen” means Haman’s Hat – Ashkenazi (European) Jews say that the triangular cookies are in the shape of a hat. But I learned today that according to Sephardic (Middle Eastern) tradition, the cookies are said to be shaped like Haman’s ears.

My plan yesterday was to type up a hamentaschen recipe and share it here for Food Friday (okay, Food Sunday). But unfortunately, despite trying two different recipes, we were unable to find one we really liked. Of the two recipes we tried, one was a sugar cookie base made with oil instead of butter, and the other was more like a pie dough, with the butter crumbled in. But the pie-crust recipe, from a cookbook of traditional yiddish recipes, was weirdly textured and required some emergency modification. And the cookie-dough recipe, from the New York Times, didn’t hold its shape and had a strange oily aftertaste. Still fun to eat, but a little disappointing. K’tan Tan would never have approved.

Do you have a hamantaschen recipe that you would recommend?

Weather: sunny and thirty five degrees.

Mood:

Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. More on the good mood to come later this week!

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No scones here!

This weekend I’m doing a two-day Wilderness First Responder recertification. I’ll be renewing my CPR and first aid skills. I’ll also be learning all sorts of emergency tricks for situations like: what to do if you fall on your ice-pick while climbing in the White Mountains in January. Or how to respond to a snake bite in the back country in Arizona. It should be a lot of fun.

Of course, now that I live in Somerville, wilderness survival is less relevant than it was three years ago, when I took the original course. These days, my emergency survival kit includes things like an extra T pass, several Starlite mints, and a travel toothbrush. Just in case.

And when things get really desperate (like they did last week), my response rarely involves binding a broken limb with twigs, an old t-shirt, and a sleeping pad. Instead, I turn to baked goods, like the Emergency Scones that I made last week. The recipe, modified from epicurious, is below. Whether you’re feeling desperate or not, I recommend these for a delightful Sunday morning treat.

I’ve also included some tricks for working butter into flour, and for not having to go out and buy buttermilk (especially during a snowstorm). Naturally you should feel free to disregard.

Pea-Sized Pieces: the trick to making these scones is crumbling the butter into pea-sized bits. If you’ve ever made a really good pie crust before, you know that this is what makes flakiness happen – each pea-sized bit melts into a thin film that separates the layers of dough. If the bits are too big, you’ll get uneven dough. If they’re too small, you’ll get a heavy dough. And if you smear them together as if you were making cookies, then you’ll get, well, cookies. To make pea-sized bits: take a stick of cold butter and dice it as if it was an onion. Cut it lengthwise and widthwise until you have lots of discreet, rectangular butter bits that you can throw into the flour mixture. Dump the butter into the dough. Then use your hands and break the bits up until they are pea-sized, or really a little bit smaller. More like a lentil. Keep in mind, once you add the wet ingredients, that you want to keep those butter bits intact as you mix the batter.

Buttermilk Substitute: Buying buttermilk is silly since I never use it and it goes bad quickly. I mixed together 1/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/2 cup milk. Then I squeezed in the juice from half a lemon, mixed, and let it sit while I made the batter. Tasty, cheap, and I didn’t have to go to the store!

Emergency Scones

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat, plus some whole wheat, plus some white. go crazy.)
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • grated peel from one lemon
  • 3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips. (Or chop up regular chocolate chips, or a bar of chocolate).
  • 3/4 cup chilled buttermilk (or 1/4 cup yogurt, 1/2 cup milk, and the juice from half a lemon – see above)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon peel.

3. Add butter and work in until lentil sized. (see above for some tips.) Mix in chocolate chips.

4.In a separate bowl, whisk together milk/buttermilk, egg yolk, and vanilla. Pour into dry ingredients and mix gently to keep the butter balls intact.

5. According the original recipe, you can now take this dough, shape it into a large cheese-wheel on a lightly floured surface, and cut it into nice triangles. Instead, I scooped it up with my hands and formed it into scone-sized balls. Array the balls/triangles on a greased cookie sheet.

6. Sprinkle sugar on top.

7. Bake for 20 minutes or until crusty and a toothpick comes out clean.

Weather:

34 degrees and sunny. A great leap forward from yesterday’s single digits.

Moods:

Hannah: 6 and TGIF on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.
Anna: 6 and really antsy.


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The walk from the T to my apartment isn’t terrible. It’s not great either. I live 12 minutes away from the nearest station and the walk never feels long when I’m on my way to work, but returning from an evening event, it can seem treacherous. If there’s one thing that keeps me from going out at night, it’s that 12-minute walk back to my apartment, along the cold, dark, and not particularly well-lit sidewalks of Somerville. I can deal with the time spent on the dysfunctional green, orange, and red lines. Not the thought of The Late-Night Walk.

Last night I had yet another meeting in the financial district. I stayed put after it officially ended, throwing around ideas and getting updates from friends. Then I picked up a tray of sandwiches that were going to be abandoned unless I gave them a home in my empty refrigerator, realized I had left my heavy scarf at work, and darted out of the building into the depths of South Station, emerging 30 minutes later in Cambridge, still carrying my unwieldy sustenance-laden tray. Then I set out on The Late-Night Walk.

Without my scarf, the wind was biting. And given the tray, I couldn’t exactly fold into myself to conserve heat. So I hurried along, checking my surroundings, jumping over patches of ice, and thinking “almost there” until I was, indeed, almost home. Then the wind whipped up. For an instant, I tensed, anticipating the moment when the wind would take all the wind out of my lungs, leaving me breathless. Instead, the cold air entered the collar of my coat—unfortified without my scarf—and rushed down the front of my body, escaping at the bottom of my zipper.

Instead of discomfort, the chill triggered a surge of energy. Of exhilaration. And rather than shivering and gulping air, I ran forward, full of wind-induced vigor, happy to almost be home.

Weather: Cold, but blue skies. This morning at 7:30am it was 11 degrees. But it felt like

-15 with wind-chill.

Moods:

Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.

Hannah – 7 out of 10. Unreasonably  happy.

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